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Iniko Ujaama
Posts: 539

« on: March 26, 2014, 05:31:19 AM »

The Path to Reparations

The Repa­ra­tions Debate

At this epoch of Mankind’s evo­lu­tion, where democ­racy and respect for human rights are being immor­tal­ized as indis­pen­si­ble virtues which every soci­ety must pos­sess and are uni­ver­sal yard­sticks by which the actions of gov­ern­ments are mea­sured, it is almost incon­ceiv­able that there are still those who con­tinue to reject the idea of repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African slaves. Recently, a book on the sub­ject by Pro­fes­sor Sir Hilary McD. Beck­les, pro-​vice chan­cel­lor at the UWI Cave Hill cam­pus a lead­ing activist and eco­nomic his­to­rian was pub­lished. Enti­tled Britain Black Debt: Repa­ra­tions for Caribbean Slav­ery and Native Geno­cide, it sets out a com­pelling case for Repa­ra­tions from Britain which can­not be coun­ter­acted by any of the sophisms and spe­cious rea­sons posited by cyn­i­cal detractors.

Due to the for­mi­da­ble case put for­ward by the dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor and oth­ers as well as the almost ubiq­ui­tous accep­tance of cur­rent def­i­n­i­tions of con­cepts such as jus­tice, democ­racy and equal­ity, a fur­ther detailed rehearsal of the oppos­ing argu­ments in the repa­ra­tions debate is not required. For those inter­ested in a detailed analy­sis of the var­i­ous aspects of the Repa­ra­tions debate, you are invited to make ref­er­ence to the above­men­tioned book by Pro­fes­sor Beckles.

For those who wish to quickly dis­pose of the argu­ments against Repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African Slaves, this can be done with a few intro­duc­tory remarks:

With respect to the moral argu­ments, out of respect for human dig­nity, it is self-​evident that the descen­dants of African Slaves should be com­pen­sated for gen­er­a­tions of their ances­tors being born into servi­tude. With respect to the legal argu­ments, unless one’s juris­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of law and legal sys­tems is that they are not, by their nature, justice-​oriented, then there is no legal basis upon which com­pen­sa­tion can be denied. Based on the rhetoric of the for­mer Col­o­niz­ers and other West­ern pow­ers that the law and legal sys­tems, in par­tic­u­lar the inter­na­tional rule of law are the means to the ends of achiev­ing democ­racy, jus­tice and equal­ity; such means should never be used to defeat those ends and the law should evolve if nec­es­sary so that such ends are served.

There­fore in this dis­cus­sion we move beyond the Repa­ra­tions debate and focus on the recent polit­i­cal con­sen­sus reached among Cari­com mem­bers on the sub­ject of Repa­ra­tions and explore some of the dif­fi­cul­ties going for­ward, in par­tic­u­lar the imped­i­ments to com­pen­sa­tion caused by a new global social order and lin­ger­ing Impe­ri­al­ism and pos­si­ble prac­ti­cal ways to over­come such difficulties

An Emer­gence of inter­est and Polit­i­cal consensus

Since inde­pen­dence from Britain 41 years ago, the call for repa­ra­tions has been echoed by politi­cians, aca­d­e­mics and cul­tural per­son­al­i­ties through­out the region. How­ever, the past calls for Repa­ra­tions dur­ing the tumul­tuous inde­pen­dence era of the 1960’s and 70’s, com­ing from small, newly inde­pen­dent nations seemed to lack a uni­fied polit­i­cal will and the unequiv­o­cal clar­ity and per­sis­tence required to gen­er­ate any reac­tion. Polit­i­cally, the call for Repa­ra­tions may have been too uncom­pro­mis­ing and unapolo­getic for some.

After the inde­pen­dence era, the momen­tum behind the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments through­out Africa and the African Dias­pora began to wane and along with them related con­cepts such as Repa­ra­tions for the descen­dants of African slaves. By the early 1990’s, decades had passed since the pass­ing of the Civil Rights Act in Amer­ica and the grant­ing of inde­pen­dence to Euro­pean Colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. In South Africa apartheid was abol­ished and Nel­son Man­dela was elected Pres­i­dent. With Aid from West­ern nations pour­ing into Africa, the fight for equal­ity for descen­dants of African Slaves and inde­pen­dence for Africa seemed all but won, avoid­ing the need for fur­ther repair through repa­ra­tions. Though there were a few iso­lated voices, such as the British-​Jamaican lawyer, Lord Anthony Gif­ford and the late Dud­ley Thomp­son sup­port­ing the case for Repa­ra­tion, these were gen­er­ally lost in the whirl­wind of other geopo­lit­i­cal events.

Recently how­ever, there has been an emer­gence of an intel­lec­tual and polit­i­cal inter­est amongst mem­bers of the Cari­com States to address the sub­ject of Repa­ra­tions and a momen­tum of polit­i­cal sup­port for repa­ra­tions which was dev­as­tat­ingly absent dur­ing the inde­pen­dence era. In 2013, Cari­com mem­ber states made a com­mit­ment to sup­port the estab­lish­ment of a high-​level com­mis­sion to address the modal­i­ties of com­pen­sa­tion for slav­ery and geno­cide by the trio of for­mer colonis­ers — Britain, France and The Netherlands.

Presently, the regional repa­ra­tions com­mis­sion has also been formed, Repa­ra­tions Com­mit­tees exist in St. Vin­cent, Antigua and Bar­buda, Bar­ba­dos, Jamaica and Suri­name and the remain­ing Cari­com mem­ber states pledged to form repa­ra­tions com­mit­tees of their own. Bar­ba­dian Prime Min­is­ter Fre­un­del Stu­art cur­rently leads the com­mis­sion. Other mem­bers of the com­mis­sion include Gon­salves, Prime Min­is­ter Kamla Per­sad Bisses­sar, and the pres­i­dents of Haiti, Guyana and Suri­name, Michel Martelly, Don­ald Ramo­tar and Desi Bouterse respectively.

These efforts have not gone unno­ticed by the crit­ics. On one side of the spec­trum, there are the com­men­ta­tors who reject the idea of Repa­ra­tions and claim that Cari­com is refus­ing to take the blame for the Caribbean’s lan­guish­ing econ­omy. Such crit­i­cism is expected from those who con­tinue to deny the bru­tal legacy of slav­ery despite all evi­dence to the con­trary and for the sake of avoid­ing wasted time and effort, such crit­i­cism should be ignored.

On the other side of the spec­trum, there are the pro­po­nents of Repa­ra­tions who remain sus­pect of the efforts by Cari­com. The Pan Afrikan Repa­ra­tions Coali­tion in Europe has warned Cari­com that a “top down approach” to repa­ra­tions would not aid the Caribbean’s indige­nous and African descen­dant pop­u­la­tions. A “top down approach” seems to have been sug­gested by Pres­i­dent Gon­salves of St. Vin­cent when he said that “any money received is not going to be handed to indi­vid­u­als, but will go towards eco­nomic, social and cul­tural programmes.

Also, at the Kingston-​leg of the Rasta­fari Stud­ies Con­fer­ence and Gen­eral Assem­bly 2013, held at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies (UWI), a con­trib­u­tor was even more skep­ti­cal of Caricom’s efforts say­ing “What is going on now is just the same slavers try­ing to ben­e­fit. Tell me, who do the gov­ern­ments of Cari­com rep­re­sent? The slaves or the slavers?”

While the valid­ity of such crit­i­cism will be explored, the polit­i­cal con­sen­sus reached by Cari­com lead­ers on the issue of Repa­ra­tions is long over­due and must be applauded. Now a clear and unam­bigu­ous posi­tion has been taken, it would be impor­tant to ana­lyze pos­si­ble prac­ti­cal approaches to mak­ing the dream of Repa­ra­tions a reality.

A Prag­matic Approach

In terms of an over­all approach to the quest for Repa­ra­tions, at a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 250th anniver­sary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt in George­town, Guyana, Sir Hilary Beck­les urged Cari­com coun­tries to emu­late the posi­tion adopted by the Jews who were pros­e­cuted dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and have since organ­ised a Jew­ish repa­ra­tions fund. The posi­tion adopted by the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity is an inter­est­ing case and may very well be a prag­matic approach for the Caribbean Com­mu­nity but impor­tant dis­tinc­tions must be made.

“The Posi­tion adopted by the Jews”

While there is no rea­son to doubt that the Caribbean Com­mu­nity, Gov­ern­ments and regional orga­ni­za­tions can muster the same firm­ness in resolve and the per­sis­tence as the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity, mate­ri­ally the Caribbean Com­mu­nity is at a seri­ous short­fall. Unlike the Jews, the Caribbean Com­mu­nity does not wield the eco­nomic and polit­i­cal power in Europe and the United States which the Jews pos­sessed in the after­math of World War II. At the end of World War II, Europe and Amer­ica had very pow­er­ful pro-​Jewish and pro-​Zionist ele­ments in their polit­i­cal and eco­nomic struc­tures and with the defeat of the Nazis in Ger­many and the more extreme forms of right-​wing pol­i­tics in the rest of Europe; sup­port for Repa­ra­tions for the Jew­ish Holo­caust was non-​controversial and polit­i­cally expe­di­ent for the for­mer Colonizers.

How­ever the sub­ject of Repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African Slaves remains con­tro­ver­sial as it high­lights the aggres­sion of the for­mer Col­o­niz­ers and it is not a topic that they are will­ing to be engaged on. This is evi­denced by the fact that there has never been any for­mal acknowl­edge­ment by Euro­pean and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments of the injus­tice of slav­ery and more specif­i­cally its legacy; the severe impair­ment of the capac­ity of mil­lions of Africans for advancement.

Con­se­quently, apolo­gies from the Col­o­niz­ers have been few and far in between. In 2006, for­mer British Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair expressed deep sor­row for Britain’s role in the slave trade but stopped short of offer­ing an apol­ogy. The injus­tice of slav­ery is some­times even por­trayed as a fig­ment of the imag­i­na­tion by the polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tual class of Europe and Amer­ica. Mil­ton Fried­man, described as one of most the influ­en­tial econ­o­mists of the 20th cen­tury and the engi­neer of Reaganomics, address­ing a ques­tion posed by a Uni­ver­sity stu­dent in a sem­i­nar in the 1970’s stated that “it’s sim­ply untrue that the wealth that arose in West­ern coun­tries was due to slav­ery…When the West col­o­nized Africa they brought with them tech­nol­ogy that greatly improved the con­di­tion of the peo­ple that lived there and actu­ally made them bet­ter off.

The wheel for exam­ple had not even been invented in Africa in the 19th cen­tury. As a result of Africa’s con­tacts with the West their con­di­tion improved greatly from what it pre­vi­ously was. …..it has always cost the mother coun­try more to main­tain its colonies then what was ever received in direct or indi­rect eco­nomic ben­e­fit. In the famous case of India, con­clu­sive stud­ies have shown that it cost Britain far more to main­tain India then if it had never had it. Fur­ther­more, many West­ern nations never pos­sessed colonies yet became wealthy despite that fact”.

Appar­ently the issue of repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African slaves con­tra­dicts his belief in the supe­ri­or­ity of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion and cap­i­tal­ism and so his­tory is sim­ply rewrit­ten by the economist.

There­fore when emu­lat­ing the posi­tion adopted by the Jews it would be impor­tant to always make the dis­tinc­tion that the call for repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African Slaves, in stark con­trast to the posi­tion adopted by the Jews, is being made against the tide of still dom­i­nant impe­ri­al­ist ten­den­cies and atti­tudes. To make mat­ters even more dif­fi­cult; for over the past 150 years West­ern Impe­ri­al­ism has been always masked under the veil of good­will. At the time of slav­ery and colo­nial­ism they were using bru­tal­ity to civ­i­lize Africans and other infe­rior races around the world.

In the after­math of World War II, the Allied pow­ers took the oppor­tu­nity pre­sented by their vic­tory against Nazi Ger­many, to con­ve­niently veil them­selves as the pio­neers of democ­racy and human rights while simul­ta­ne­ously pur­su­ing their impe­ri­al­ist poli­cies in third-​world nations. From 1947 to 1989, dur­ing the inde­pen­dence era, count­less atroc­i­ties were com­mit­ted by United States of Amer­ica, Britain, France, Por­tu­gal and Spain in South Amer­ica and Africa in their fight against the “new evil in the world”, Com­mu­nism. It was also dur­ing this era that the most dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of the divide and rule pol­icy imple­mented in Africa after the Berlin Con­fer­ence of 1884 – 1885 mate­ri­al­ized. From all indi­ca­tions thus far, noth­ing has changed. Today we still see impe­ri­al­ism being masked under a veil of good­will; this time the veil of national secu­rity and the fight against another “new evil”, terrorism.

To over­come this imped­i­ment, there is only one option: The call for Repa­ra­tions must be tied in with the wider fight against impe­ri­al­ism which is being waged on many fronts around the world. Net­works must be formed between all pro­po­nents of Repa­ra­tions within the African Dias­pora and the call for Repa­ra­tions must gain inter­na­tional sup­port. There must be cor­re­spon­dence and con­sul­ta­tion with advo­cates in the African Union and orga­ni­za­tions in the U.S., such as the NAACP, the Caribbean Rasta­fari Organ­i­sa­tion and EWF. Rela­tion­ships of reci­procity must be formed between Cari­com and other Gov­ern­ments that are sim­i­larly taken steps to address griev­ances caused by West­ern Imperialism.

Cari­com must look to its neigh­bors in South Amer­ica, coun­tries which have suf­fered equally heinous crimes under impe­ri­al­ism, from the era of the con­quis­ta­dors to the era of U.S.-backed Oper­a­tion Con­dor and are now today secur­ing their sov­er­eignty free from West­ern Hege­mony. Form­ing link­ages with the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity is an absolutely essen­tial step for the Caribbean Com­mu­nity, a small region to amplify the call for repa­ra­tions on the inter­na­tional stage.

Addi­tion­ally, to emu­late the posi­tion adopted by the Jews it will be cru­cial to mobi­lize and engage the local pop­u­lace to sup­port the Repa­ra­tions move­ment. Khafra Kam­bon, head of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Sup­port Com­mit­tee of Trinidad and Tobago spoke to this fact when he said that with­out grass root sup­port the ini­tia­tives of Cari­com would not bear fruit. There­fore a lot of ground work must be done to engage the grass root com­mu­nity and civil soci­ety. Gen­er­ally, in coun­tries with a sub­stan­tial pop­u­la­tion of the African Dias­pora, the Caribbean, the United States of Amer­ica and Brazil, the topic of repa­ra­tions is not given the crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion it deserves, there are lim­ited medi­ums for effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and as a result there is an acute lack of aware­ness on the subject.

The younger gen­er­a­tion seem to be com­pletely alien­ated from the impor­tance of the con­cept and regret­tably, among the older gen­er­a­tion, there are still many unin­formed men­tal slaves who hold the view that slav­ery took us out of Africa, (the coun­try of war and poverty as por­trayed by the main­stream media), gave us Chris­tian­ity and con­se­quently it was for our own ben­e­fit. The wealthy upper class within coun­tries of the African Dias­pora must also be engaged; a large part being direct descen­dants of for­mer col­o­niz­ers (some firmly ingrained with a psy­chol­ogy of priv­i­lege) or non-​African were never pre­dis­posed to sup­port black empow­er­ment ideals and related con­cepts such as Repa­ra­tions. To com­pound mat­ters, we are con­stantly bom­barded by images and infor­ma­tion from the main­stream media where the sub­ject of repa­ra­tions is scarcely even mentioned.

In an advanc­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and indus­trial world, the script for the Inter­na­tional polit­i­cal scene is appar­ently already writ­ten for more impor­tant issues and there is no room for any­more dis­course; the sub­ject of repa­ra­tions may not even appear as an extra in the background.

Fur­ther­more, one of the most pow­er­ful moti­vat­ing fac­tors for the local pop­u­lace in the Caribbean and the rest of the African Dias­pora may also be lack­ing; that of moral­ity. The call for Repa­ra­tions has not received any wide­spread com­mit­ment from the spir­i­tual com­mu­nity and reli­gious groups in the Caribbean (apart from the Rasta­far­ian move­ment). It is not in any spe­cific way a part of reli­gious dis­course and so many of the faith­ful do not see the request for repa­ra­tions as part of “their mis­sion in this world”. This is in stark con­trast to the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity, where the dis­tinc­tion between polit­i­cal and reli­gious issues is often blurred and some­times non-​existence. There­fore, as a prac­ti­cal step, it may be nec­es­sary for pro­po­nents of Repa­ra­tion to engage the reli­gious community.

A coali­tion of the Catholic Arch­bish­ops from each Cari­com mem­ber state, sym­pa­thetic to the cause, could peti­tion Pope Fran­cis, a so-​called “cham­pion of the poor” and the Vat­i­can to sup­port the call for Repa­ra­tions. If the Roman Catholic Church made pur­su­ing repa­ra­tions for slav­ery part of their mantra, this could mobi­lize mem­bers of the African Dias­pora and even cause Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans to throw the full weight of their sup­port behind the idea and even­tu­ally bring some polit­i­cal pres­sure to bear on Governments.

There is also the finan­cial fac­tor. The Jews had access to vast amounts of cap­i­tal and found no dif­fi­culty in financ­ing the work of schol­ars, intel­lects and experts whereas the Caribbean econ­omy still remains weak and Gov­ern­ments are run­ning deficits. A repa­ra­tions com­mis­sion estab­lished in 2009 by the Jamaican gov­ern­ment, to con­duct hear­ings among Jamaicans and research as to what forms repa­ra­tions should take, was stalled due to lack of finan­cial sup­port. Though the com­mis­sion was revived in 2012, the sit­u­a­tion high­lights the loss in time and effort due to lack of finances.

Polit­i­cal and legal tactics

It has been reported that Cari­com has hired Leigh Day & Co., the legal firm which recently won the case for com­pen­sa­tion for the Kenyan Mau Mau rebels, who were tor­tured by the British gov­ern­ment in the 1950s and 60s, wherein the British gov­ern­ment agreed to pay £19.9 mil­lion to thou­sands of Kenyans sur­vivors. Again, this case illus­trates the British government’s cus­tom­ary reluc­tance to accept lia­bil­ity for their past wrongs. At first, the British gov­ern­ment claimed the issue was the respon­si­bil­ity of the Kenyan gov­ern­ment on the grounds of “state suc­ces­sion” for for­mer colonies, rely­ing on an obscure legal prece­dent relat­ing to Patag­on­ian tooth­fish[and the dec­la­ra­tion of mar­tial law in Jamaica in 1860. To avoid dis­clo­sure, the For­eign Com­mon­wealth Office attempted to destroy much of the evi­dence doc­u­ment­ing the crimes of the for­mer colo­nial gov­ern­ments in Kenya.

After the lit­i­gants were granted the right to sue, the British gov­ern­ment made what was described as the “morally repug­nant” deci­sion to appeal the rul­ing. The agree­ment to com­pen­sate the Kenyan vic­tims only came after it was clear that the crimes of the British colo­nial gov­ern­ment were going to be aired out and fully exposed in the court of law. Mr. Jus­tice McCombe, the Judge who ruled that the Kenyan lit­i­gants had stand­ing to sue the British gov­ern­ment had this to say:

“ It may well be thought strange, or per­haps even dis­hon­ourable, that a legal sys­tem which will not in any cir­cum­stances admit into its pro­ceed­ings evi­dence obtained by tor­ture should yet refuse to enter­tain a claim against the Gov­ern­ment in its own juris­dic­tion for that Government’s allegedly neg­li­gent fail­ure to pre­vent tor­ture which it had the means to pre­vent. Fur­ther­more, resort to legal tech­ni­cal­ity … to rule such a claim out of court appears par­tic­u­larly mis­placed”

Besides seek­ing a judi­cial rem­edy, there is also the leg­isla­tive route which will be essen­tial if sim­i­lar legal tech­ni­cal­i­ties resorted to by the British gov­ern­ment suc­ceed in pre­vent­ing com­pen­sa­tion via a judi­cial rem­edy. The use of a leg­is­la­tion to pro­vide repa­ra­tions has prece­dent in the United States. On August 10, 1988, Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan signed H. R. 442 that autho­rized the pay­ment of repa­ra­tions to Japan­ese Amer­i­cans who were ille­gally impris­oned in Amer­i­can con­cen­tra­tion camps dur­ing World War II. Dur­ing World War II, the United States gov­ern­ment impris­oned nearly all Japan­ese and Japan­ese Amer­i­cans resid­ing in the United States sim­ply because they were Japan­ese and con­sid­ered, as a com­mu­nity, a threat to the secu­rity of the United States. In 1997, Con­gress­man John Coy­ers attempted to use the leg­isla­tive route to pro­vide repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of African slaves in the Usbut the bill he intro­duced failed.

Gen­er­ally, while the law may pro­vide redress, the case for com­pen­sa­tion must be firstly pur­sued with the use of shrewd polit­i­cal tac­tics. In all cases where repa­ra­tions were actu­ally received, the indi­vid­u­als involved, con­sis­tently agi­tat­ing and oper­at­ing in sol­i­dar­ity as a lob­by­ing group, made oth­ers polit­i­cally con­scious of their plight. In the case of repa­ra­tions for the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity; their polit­i­cal potency in Europe and Amer­ica has already been noted. In the case of repa­ra­tions for the Japan­ese Amer­i­cans; ten years of tri­als had gar­nered almost noth­ing. Lit­i­ga­tion had proved costly and, ulti­mately, fruit­less. For­tu­nately how­ever, the Japan­ese Repa­ra­tions Move­ment began relent­lessly pur­su­ing their case for repa­ra­tions using polit­i­cal tac­tics since 1976. In the case of repa­ra­tions for the Kenyans, in the years fol­low­ing Kenya’s inde­pen­dence, there was no pos­si­bil­ity of the Mau Mau build­ing a case against the British government.

The Mau Mau Upris­ing was sup­pressed as a sub­ject for pub­lic dis­cus­sion in Kenya dur­ing the peri­ods under Keny­atta and Daniel Arap Moi. In April 1963, Jomo Keny­ata, the then pres­i­dent of Kenya stated in a speech that “Mau Mau was a dis­ease which had been erad­i­cated, and must never be remem­bered again”. How­ever by 2001, Mau Mau sites were turned into national mon­u­ments by the Kenyan gov­ern­ment and since 2010, Mashu­jaa Day is cel­e­brated as a time for Kenyans to remem­ber and hon­our Mau Mau and other Kenyans who par­tic­i­pated in the fight for African free­dom and Kenya’s inde­pen­dence. The BBC doc­u­men­tary Kenya: White Ter­ror which aired on 17th Novem­ber 2002 was based on Har­vard Pro­fes­sor, Car­o­line Elkins’ research on the Mau Mau Upris­ing detailed in her 2005 pub­li­ca­tion, Impe­r­ial Reckoning.

Sim­i­lar to the way the Mau Mau Upris­ing was not dis­cussed pub­licly in Kenya, the sub­ject of repa­ra­tion for descen­dants of African slaves was polit­i­cally untouch­able in the Caribbean in the years fol­low­ing inde­pen­dence. Though Prime Min­is­ter Por­tia Simp­son Miller of Jamaica has since come on board; her state­ment in 2012 before a visit from Prince Harry that she would not join the calls for Repa­ra­tions is typ­i­cal exam­ple of the lack of tenac­ity shown by polit­i­cal lead­ers to address this issue in the past. How­ever now polit­i­cal lead­ers have taken up the call, no oppor­tu­nity must be wasted in sen­si­tiz­ing the world to the idea of repa­ra­tions. Polit­i­cal lead­ers must be com­mit­ted and unafraid of tak­ing posi­tions which may seem controversial.

All polit­i­cal chan­nels must be uti­lized. Polit­i­cal chan­nels through Inter­na­tional groups such as the Rotary Inter­na­tional, whose stated pur­pose is to bring together busi­ness and pro­fes­sional lead­ers in order to pro­vide human­i­tar­ian ser­vices, encour­age high eth­i­cal stan­dards in all voca­tions, and help build good­will and peace in the world. Some of the Masonic Lodges in the Caribbean still main­tain ties with lodges in the UK, most notably the United Grand Lodge of Eng­land and they should advo­cate for repa­ra­tions within their secret cham­bers. Though, because of their secrecy, there is no evi­dence of the scope of their influ­ence in Caribbean pol­i­tics; there is doc­u­mented evi­dence of their exten­sive polit­i­cal influ­ence in Africa.

In 2013, Mau­rice Robert, French Ambas­sador under Gen­eral De Gaulle and mem­ber of French Secret Ser­vice stated in an inter­view for the Aljazeera news net­work that Pres­i­dent Mitterand’s Chief Adviser, Guy Penne, used his freema­sonry net­work to gain influ­ence in Africa and that most African lead­ers belonged to a Masonic lodge. France used this secret net­work to secure access to oil and main­tain a firm grip over its for­mer colonies. In the decades fol­low­ing inde­pen­dence, France sup­ported the lav­ish lifestyles of African dic­ta­tors while their peo­ple endured extreme poverty. A com­pli­cated net­work of gov­ern­ment and non-​government employ­ees laun­dered money through the country’s pub­lic oil com­pany, Elf Aquitaine. Despite the egre­gious crimes of their coun­ter­parts in Africa, there is no rea­son to ascribe ill-​intent to the Masonic lodge in the Caribbean and hope­fully they can uti­lize any secret polit­i­cal chan­nels they may pos­sess to push for the idea of reparations.

Efforts to shape pub­lic opin­ion are crit­i­cal as pub­lic inter­est usu­ally has some bear­ing on legal processes. The poten­tial judge or leg­is­la­tor who will pre­side over a claim for repa­ra­tions will not make his deci­sion in a vac­uum but within the con­text of social expec­ta­tions and where a deci­sion hangs in a del­i­cate bal­ance (e.g. a deci­sion to uphold a legal tech­ni­cal­ity bar­ring com­pen­sa­tion), he may just be swayed by pub­lic opinion.


There are a myr­iad of ways in which the for­mer Col­o­niz­ers may pro­vide com­pen­sa­tion and many prac­ti­cal meth­ods have been sug­gested. Admit­tedly, pro­vid­ing com­pen­sa­tion for 400 years of slav­ery, geno­cide and unpaid labour to mil­lions of peo­ple scat­tered around the globe is by no means an easy task. The fol­low­ing is a non-​exhaustive list of prac­ti­cal means by which of com­pen­sa­tion can be made:

- Free education

- Free healthcare

- Land grants

- Interest-​free loans

- Reha­bil­i­ta­tion centers

- Cul­tural and Social pro­grams to instill sol­i­dar­ity among the mem­bers of the African Diaspora.

Though there may be many other spe­cific ways of pro­vid­ing com­pen­sa­tion, ulti­mately repa­ra­tion has to become a com­plete sci­ence of doing repair and pro­vid­ing redress for injus­tice. After the repa­ra­tions pro­gram is under­taken, there should be experts and fields of study in pro­vid­ing repa­ra­tion. The ben­e­fits to be derived will be tremen­dous. Effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion would help fos­ter under­stand­ing and pro­mote tol­er­ance; unit­ing the global vil­lage under a com­mon ban­ner of good will.

The respon­si­bil­ity of Caribbean gov­ern­ments and polit­i­cal leaders.

Going for­ward, lessons should also be learned from the past. On the quest to obtain repa­ra­tion from the for­mer Col­o­niz­ers, Caribbean gov­ern­ments must be cog­nizant of their own fail­ures to make a com­mit­ted attempt to repair the poor­est descen­dants of African slaves.

The his­tor­i­cal facts speak for them­selves. After slav­ery was abol­ished in all the islands, the major­ity of the arable land remained in hands of the descen­dants of the Col­o­niz­ers and the land­less for­mer slaves and their descen­dants were aban­doned and had to work for the descen­dants of the Col­o­niz­ers who were the own­ers of the means of pro­duc­tion. The descen­dants of the land­less slaves were grad­u­ally included in the polit­i­cal process, but they remained at the bot­tom of the eco­nomic lad­der. Gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies lived their entire lives earn­ing min­i­mum wages in farms and fac­to­ries, mak­ing just enough to sur­vive to work for another day.

Many were forced to set­tle in squat­ter com­mu­ni­ties around urban cen­ters in search of employ­ment. After inde­pen­dence, the Gov­ern­ments who came to power pro­vided decent hous­ing accom­mo­da­tion through the use of Hous­ing Schemes but failed to address the prob­lems of inequal­ity through com­pre­hen­sive land reform. In most islands there were also grad­ual eco­nomic shifts away from agri­cul­ture to indus­try and then there was a sub­se­quent influx of peo­ple from rural areas to the squat­ter com­mu­ni­ties in search of employ­ment. From such com­mu­ni­ties arose the ghet­tos in and around urban cen­ters in islands such as Trinidad, Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica and oth­ers. The fail­ure to address land reform laid the foun­da­tions of inequal­ity in the Caribbean and as a result many descen­dants of African slaves never had an oppor­tu­nity for eco­nomic advance­ment. They could not obtain loans from the bank to pro­vide ter­tiary edu­ca­tion for their chil­dren. They had no cap­i­tal to start a com­mer­cial enterprise.

They never owned land which could be sold to the Gov­ern­ment or to mer­chants who migrated from the Middle-​east and China. Today, the descen­dants of those same land­less slaves work in hotels serv­ing tourists and in fast food out­lets owned by big con­glom­er­ates earn­ing the same min­i­mum wages, mak­ing just enough to sur­vive to work for another day.

The squat­ter com­mu­ni­ties around urban cen­ters where land­less ex-​slaves set­tled now have the scourge of crime born out of poverty, from the fave­las in Rio De Janeiro to the slums of Kingston and the solu­tion pro­posed by the Gov­ern­ments has never been eco­nomic empow­er­ment but more police, sol­diers, state of emer­gen­cies and cur­fews. It is no won­der why the dis­ease of crime can­not be solved, because Cari­com gov­ern­ments have never tack­led the cause, only the symp­toms. Polit­i­cal par­ties pay lip ser­vice to the poor at elec­tion time but shortly after vic­tory the pub­lic cof­fers are pil­fered by Gov­ern­ment offi­cials for per­sonal gain.

Since the call for repa­ra­tions by polit­i­cal lead­ers is based on the desire to repair the descen­dants of African Slaves, in par­tic­u­lar the poor­est, how is one to believe that polit­i­cal lead­ers are com­mit­ted to repair when they have a dis­mal record on alle­vi­at­ing poverty.

Pro­fes­sor Beck­les, at a pub­lic lec­ture and launch of his book Britain’s Black Debt at St Augus­tine Cam­pus, UWI, Trinidad, said that “Caribbean nations which ignore the human and civil rights of the cit­i­zenry will never be able to access repa­ra­tions” Con­se­quently, for any future repa­ra­tions pro­gram to be suc­cess­ful, there must be greater efforts to com­bat cor­rup­tion within Gov­ern­ments as every tax dol­lar which is stolen is rob­bery of the poor, those most in need of repa­ra­tions and most depen­dent on Gov­ern­ment fund­ing for essen­tial needs such as edu­ca­tion and health­care. From now until the day of com­pen­sa­tion, Cari­com gov­ern­ments must take greater strides to act in accor­dance with the prin­ci­ples of good gov­er­nance and ensure that a sense of moral­ity pre­vails in pub­lic office. If such steps are not taken the grass roots com­mu­nity and civil soci­ety will not be engaged.

There must also be an hon­est recog­ni­tion by Gov­ern­ments that they have in some ways con­tributed to the per­pet­u­a­tion of sys­tems of inequal­ity because of the abject fail­ure to address land reform and, in some cases, the whole­sale accep­tance of neo-​liberal eco­nomic poli­cies from the World Bank and IMF. The cre­ation of a dynamic eco­nomic pol­icy befit­ting of the Caribbean’s econ­omy is needed. If Caribbean gov­ern­ments fail to act on these ini­tia­tives, the ben­e­fits of repa­ra­tions will be fleet­ing and the “top-​down” approach sug­gested will surely come to naught.

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