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The Reparations Issue

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The political climate in SVG is not one conducive for any sane discussion on the matter of reparations. I could well understand why some persons being crushed by the prevailing economic situation would want to argue that there are other matters to which we need to give priority. I am not sure what kind of priority is going to be given to this since it is an issue that is not likely to be resolved in the short run. Perhaps the foremost advocate of this issue is Professor Sir Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill.{{more}}
 
He gave a lecture in Belize City in 2010 and made a very convincing case for a matter which he said could be the most important global movement of the current times. There is, of course, a great deal of misinformation about what this means. I have actually heard people ask who is going to collect all of that money. The matter is not as simple as that and does not necessarily amount to the handing out of money.

Beckles in his presentation placed it in a framework of the issue of globalisation on one hand and created on the other a sketch of the historical structures that facilitated what were undoubtedly crimes against humanity. He argues that it was all about the economic development of the North Atlantic system and its dominance and cultural hegemony. He identifies the following as the structures that facilitated that goal; military colonisation, genocide, destruction of native cultures, appropriation of land, the enslavement of peoples and the exploitation of contract labour.

Globalisation, he defines, as the flattening of the earth to provide access for corporations. While military colonisation and slavery are no longer really part of our reality, the movers of the North Atlantic system had prepared themselves for this.

I want to introduce here the matter of culture. The Kenyan writer Ngugi O’Thiongo has made the point that the use of guns for control in a colonial situation was effective only when the guns remained and were positioned. The powers understood this and therefore put a high priority on destroying the culture of the colonised and enslaved. In that situation guns were not necessary. They played on the psyches of the people with talk of primitivism, barbarism, cannibalism and being uncivilised.
 
Europe was, they preached, the fountain of civilisation. Today their thing is globalisation which we have readily accepted although there is no level playing field and we are always going to be at a great disadvantage. Look even at our inability to make use of the offerings from the EPA. I am arguing that the part they have mapped out to sustain their cultural and economic hegemony is the one we are seeking to follow, even at the expense of our bananas which we are forced to sell on the open market which is not really that open.

Beckles argues too, that it was in the Caribbean that they perfected the structures that led to their dominance and the techniques that facilitated crimes against humanity. He emphasises the point that International Law makes it clear that you cannot hide behind national laws, so the fact that the laws recognised chattel slavery is of no consequence now. Examples are provided of the efforts and success by the Jews, the Japanese, South Koreans and the Maoris of New Zealand. On the other hand we need to recognise that the new Haitian nation had been forced to pay enormous sums of money to France that strangled that country from day one. The indigenous peoples and African peoples have been left out of all of this.

We have to ask why? The answer is one of our powerlessness as a people.

Beckless had made the point that black people are the most disorganised politically. How then can we move forward in a situation where the North Atlantic powers are even reluctant to discuss this issue? But issues of social justice, equality, equity and reconciliation within the human family remain outstanding and will always be a barrier to how we move on and relate to those who colonised and enslaved us.

To achieve anything will have to involve mass mobilisation of energy and resources on our part, but how far are we likely to get given how divided we are and how limited we are in terms of resources? The issue of reparations is one we should not allow to go away but I agree that we have serious issues that we need to tackle urgently. Until we give priority to these we might be unlikely to motivate our people to undertake a battle that is going to be long.
 
I had suggested that the video of Beckles’ address be carried on national TV for the education of our people, given the misunderstanding we have of what this whole matter is and means. In the same way we are trying to awaken peoples’ consciousness about reparations being a just call we need to motivate and mobilise our people around a task that is even more urgent and necessary, that is the need to lift ourselves out of the doldrums and set the country on a different path than that of the slippery slope that we are now climbing.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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