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CARICOM supports reparations call

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Before I continue from last week’s comments on the recent CARICOM Heads meeting, permit me to make a few brief comments on local issues.

First, let me add my own condolences to the families of two very different national treasures. I speak here of the late musical icon, Pat Prescod, buried last week and Vincie par excellence, Martin “Marty” King, supporter and promoter of national efforts in sports and culture. Each in his own way contributed to the national cause, part of the continuing nation-building exercise.{{more}} In the case of Pat Prescod, I can do no less than use this space to support ideas being floated for the Peace Memorial Hall to be named in his honour. Over to you, Culture Minister McKie!

On a different note, I offer my congratulations to new Acting Commissioner of Police, Michael Charles, on his appointment. Let me echo and give full support to the sentiments expressed in the SEARCHLIGHT editorial of last Friday in respect of the challenges before him which are going to test his mettle.

To turn to the issue at hand, I had promised to ventilate some more views on the matter of reparations for the victims of colonial genocide and slavery, which found its way on to the CARICOM agenda, primarily due to the efforts of our own Prime Minister Gonsalves and Antiguan leader Baldwin Spencer. Indeed, the Heads must be complimented on reaching unanimous agreement to pursue the claims for reparation, a major step forward.

On the basis of this agreement, the 34th Summit of the CARICOM Heads committed all member countries to establish Reparations Committees, the chairs of which would comprise a CARICOM Reparations Commission. The leaders of Barbados (Chair), Haiti, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and St Vincent and the Grenadines will provide oversight of the work of this Commission. Our own country has offered to host the first meeting of the Commission.

To get this politically diverse group of leaders to arrive at unanimity on this subject, given continuing scepticism in several quarters, represents a significant advance in political thinking and a most welcome maturity on the part of the leaders of member states of the Caribbean Community. Contrary to the fears of the more timid sectors of our societies, the claim for reparations does not amount to being anti-Britain, anti-European or anti-white, it is merely an expression of the awareness of historical reality and the need for redress of historical wrongs.

The Antiguan Prime Minister put this very succinctly in his address to the Heads’ meeting. In it, he linked the “….struggle for development resources….directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our people during slavery and colonialism”. PM Spencer went on to note that our countries entered independence “…with dependency straddling their economic, cultural, social and even economic lives”. On this basis, it is his view that the claim for reparations has to “…be directed towards repairing the damage of slavery and racism”.

This context is very significant in understanding why those of us who support the need for reparations continue to do so. There are also other parallel historical examples. In the United States of America, there is the recognition that there needs to be “affirmative action” in order to redress the impact of centuries of racial discrimination. In post-apartheid South Africa too, similar efforts have been undertaken nationally, in order to try and right the injustices of blatant racial oppression.

So, reparations is not some wild, leftist, black nationalist clamour, it is a perfectly rational human response to grave historical injustices which have their legacies in continuing poverty and underdevelopment. It has taken many years for us to understand and articulate this, to grasp the logic of our great teachers like Marcus Garvey, William Du Bois, George Padmore and C.L.R. James; but the time has come.

It is a pity that we have not yet collectively embraced the idea, and that too many of us clutch at all kinds of straws to try and undermine the reparations claim. This is not about Ralph, Baldwin or whoever; it is an issue which affects us all. All our countries are in an underdeveloped state, for obvious historical reasons. True, our own political and economic errors also retard our progress, but they are not the fundamental causes of our poverty. Those who throw all kinds of red herrings in our path, wondering about whether we can ever succeed in our claims, who would pay, or even whether our politicians can be trusted to fairly administer any proceeds from reparations claims, are wildly off the mark.

Whatever our reservations about the motives of our political leaders in taking up the reparations mantle, we need to put them on the spot and all get aboard – Government, Opposition, Private Sector, Churches, Labour Movement, Civil Society, the entire Caribbean Community. Let me conclude by again quoting from Prime Minister Spencer’s address:

“ It is important that there is solid people and multi-party support for our effort and we must impress on our colleagues in both Government and Opposition that this is not an issue we should use as political fodder……..(the national) reparations organisations must see the forging of bi-partisan political support and civil society consensus for reparations as one of their main objectives”.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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