Reports circulating in the international media indicate 12 Caricom countries along with Haiti and Suriname have initiated proceedings to sue three former colonisers, Britain, France and the Netherlands. This is good news for many Blacks in the Caribbean who believe (and justly so) that the heinous practice of slavery must be addressed in a material way. Why should it be addressed? The societies of the mentioned colonisers have benefited from untold wealth which has been acquired as a result of sweat,blood and tears shed our ancestors. It does not matter if slavery was an accepted practice of those times. What matters is that it was a heinous act which has stained history’s page and said page should now reflect those who benefitted most address it!
The region recently appointed Sir Hilary Beckles to head Caricom’s reparations committee. He has not wasted any time lighting a fire under the issue. The committee has secured the services of British law firm Leigh Day whose reputation was enhanced recently when the it won compensation for hundreds of Kenyans arising from the Mau Mau rebellion.
Although there is no official figure given of the repatriations claim a few regional newspapers have suggested £200 billion, the equivalent to the £20 million paid to slave owners in 1834 when slavery was abolished. Prime Minister Ralph Gonzales, the most vocal of regional leaders, stated in a speech to the UN recently that “The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples.”
Although BU agrees with the move to exact reparations there is uncertainty about the approach. We are however hopeful our concerns can be explained.
If Caricom governments are suing for damages over the slavery of our ancestors, should it not be a class action brought by the descendants of the slaves themselves?
If the governments are doing it on behalf of the descendants, and they secure £200 billion damages, will the payment be made to the descendants of the slaves? BU is very interested (and we are getting ahead of ourselves) how any settlement would be distributed. We surely do not want regional politicians to have sole authority on its allocation.
Finally, Sir Hilary who is one of our decorated historians has confirmed many times that our slave ancestors were sold into slavery by their own people in Africa. Does Caricom intend to extend the scope of defendants of the action to include the African states?
Let us get this right!