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Reparations and reparations

The regional reparations conference which opened on Sunday at the Victoria/ Freedom Park was remarkable for the groundings by Verene Shepherd. A few weeks earlier, her colleague Hillary Beckles had broken down some of the walls of doubt that surrounded the campaign for reparation. On Sunday, Professor Shepherd provided a telling tale of enslaved Africans, plantation owners, uprising, work stoppages, dismemberment, rape, executions, buyouts, reinvestments in Britain and other incidentals of the slave programme. And she added names, ages, attitudes and addresses to the general category “slaves”, to bring them face to face with our imagination and our feelings.
Our damaged ancestors, with Shepherd’s help, stood there in front of us, dressed in fortitude, calling for redress, as they sought in their time reparation and a relief.{{more}} The second salvo by Verene Shepherd added to the breach that Beckles made in our reluctant spirits, recruited and enlisted more disciples into the reparation cause, and not only on the level of our thinking cerebral selves, but more so in the depth of our feeling and bleeding souls. That was a strategic move which needs to move onwards to more substantial levels of popular conscientization. Otherwise we will be caught in a reparation movement with a small (r): only reparation with a big R is worthy of our efforts on behalf of our fore parents and our kalinago and Garifuna ancestors. Only Reparation with the big R will open the door to their full humanity in this global cauldron for our children and grandchildren.


Any struggle to transform our lives and our history always presents us with more than one part to take, more than one roadmap, more than one strategy. We must see Reparation for the Caribbean in this way. It represents a struggle to transform our lives and our history as a region, as a people, and as one unit in a large transatlantic and global shift towards justice and global reform. Colonial slavery and emancipated colonialism had earlier seen a transformation of lives and history. Sidney Mint cites historian Richard Konetzke as noting that “the Mediterranean center of Europe was seen to be swiftly replaced by an ‘Oceanic’ or Atlantic center: planetary empires, spanning oceans were created for the first time”.
Let us keep in mind that just as Britain’s invasions and massacres, and its transatlantic and colonial slavery were welded into the transformation of Europe, in the same way the reparations process in the Caribbean is part of a large change movement that embraces the Atlantic hemisphere. At least, Reparation has a big R, but as yet, there is a gap in our presentation of the case. That is why I suggest that reparation come in 3 sizes – large, medium and puny and each one presents itself differently. We are presently a reparations cause that is medium sized and compromised in its analysis and forensics.

I classify Caribbean reparation according to how they analyze the wreckage and the damage from the massacre of our peoples and the rapacity of colonial slavery. Because the transformative repair, or the reform agenda they put forward will spring from the assessment that they make. Modelling the three types of damage and the three types of reparations demands, gives us this outline:

  •  Slavery still handicaps our development, therefore we call for more development assistance, negotiated at a special conference;

  •  Slavery massacred our Amerindians and African people by the millions, therefore we call for compensation in cash and kind through a legal settlement and political leadership;

  •  Invasion and colonial slavery slaughtered millions, denied our humanity, stole and degraded the land, exploded our history, culture and sexualities, blocked our resurrections, encircled us in underdevelopment … therefore we call for this 20-year long regional transformation agenda under our multi-sector governance to be empowered and capitalized.

Our earlier anti-colonial and anti-slavery scholars like Eric Williams, C.L.R James, Arthur Lewis, Walter Rodney and latterly Hillary Beckles have made it that the political economy effects of colonialism and slavery are also a human cost. Not just slaughter, but also production relations and production capacity. It is essential that we numerate and commemorate the human holocaust as Verene Shepherd helped us do, but our reparation programme must ensure that never again must e.g. the loss of a market for banana or other crop, mean impoverishment and destitution. We must lift ourselves above that and I put it out to your consideration that reparations with big R must not be a CARICOM project, but a Caribbean process.

(Round table postponed part 2 of LOVE and UNLOVE in order to comment on Reparation)