…other political and economic ramifications in the pipeline
By Alexis Rodney
guyana Reparations Commission Chairman, Dr Eric Phillips, on Monday said the fallout of Britain’s exit from
the European Union will have no impact on Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean in their call for reparatory justice.
Guyana has been calling on Britain, and several other EU States to pay compensation for what is said to be the severe impact the Transatlantic Slave Trade has had on the descendants of slaves living in Caribbean.
Caribbean countries said European Governments (in addition to being responsible for conducting slavery and genocide) had also imposed 100 years of racial apartheid and suffering on freed slaves and the survivors of that genocide.
Slavery ended throughout the Caribbean in the 1800s in the wake of slave revolts, and this left many of the Region’s plantation economies in tatters. Caribbean leaders have said the Region continued to suffer from the effects of slavery today.
According to Dr Phillips, Britain is considered a sovereign State when it comes to reparations, noting that its exit from the Union will not affect what the Caribbean countries have been calling for.
“We are not addressing the issue as a European Union Issue, so [Barbados] Prime Minister Freundel Stuart wrote letters to several Heads of State. It shouldn’t impact us at all, Britain has its own empire and we are addressing slavery and genocide in Guyana created by the British, not by the EU, so it shouldn’t impact us at all,” he told Guyana Times on Monday.
Dr Phillips said, however, that the move would very much have other political and economic ramifications, which, ultimately, may have some long-term impact. “But in terms of us specifically, I doubt,” he affirmed.
Dr Phillips also stated that while British Prime Minister David Cameron would leave office, someone else would have to take up the mantle, as the issue is a sovereign one between Guyana and Britain, and to a wider extent, the Caribbean.
Caribbean leaders in 2014 had approved a 10-point plan to seek reparations from the former slave-owning states of Europe.
These points include those countries providing diplomatic help to persuade countries, such as Ghana and Ethiopia, to offer citizenship to the children whose foreparents were brought to the Caribbean to “return” to Africa; devising a developmental strategy to help improve the lives of poor communities in the Caribbean still devastated by the after-effects of slavery; supporting cultural exchanges between the Caribbean and West Africa to help Caribbean people of African descent rebuild their sense of history and identity; supporting literacy drives designed to improve education levels that are still low in many Caribbean communities; and providing medical assistance to the Region that is struggling with high levels of chronic diseases, such as hypertension and type two diabetes that the Caricom Reparations Commission linked to the fallout from slavery.
It has been reported that if the European powers fail to publicly apologise and refuse to come to the negotiating table, the Caricom nations will file a lawsuit against them at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Governments in the Caribbean have estimated that reparations for the slave trade could cost trillions of dollars and some have floated the idea of debt relief.
Some 46,000 British slave-owners, including a distant relative of Cameron’s, were among those compensated at a current-day equivalent of £17 billion (US$36 billion) for “loss of human property” after the country emancipated its slaves in 1833.
The issues of slavery and reparations have reverberated in the United States in recent years as well. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist for the Atlantic and recent “genius” grant winner, wrote an influential article in 2014 making the case for reparations.
Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Sir Hilary Beckles has warned the Region to brace for the impact of the United Kingdom’s break with the European Union, as he predicted that every aspect of life in the Caribbean would be negatively affected.
The Brexit vote last Thursday has already caused ripples across the world, with the value of the pound falling and stock markets dipping.
Sir Hilary said the Region’s fragile economic recovery was now under threat and Britain’s exit should trigger immediate strategic regional reactions, even before Heads of Government meet in Guyana for their July 4-6 Summit.
“The predictable, highly individualistic action poses both a short-term as well as a long-term threat to the performance of Caricom economies,” he said in a statement issued Saturday.
“From trade relations to immigration, tourism to financial relations, and cultural engagements to foreign policy, there will be a significant redefinition and reshaping of Caricom-United Kingdom engagements,” Sir Hilary further warned, as he urged Caricom to use the development to deepen and strengthen its internal operations and external relations with the wider world.
“It’s a moment for Caricom to come closer together rather than drift apart. The Region should not be seen as mirroring this mentality of cultural and political insularity, but should reaffirm the importance of regionalism within the global context for the future.”