Reparations now

The visit by Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica was intended to maintain links with a Caribbean that is fast cutting the last colonial tie by becoming Republics and jettisoning the British Monarch as head of state. But in the wake of concrete progress in the US on the question of reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans, the leaders of The Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, then Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados seized the opportunity to remind Britain of its debt.
The British Duke in Jamaica expressed “profound sorrow” for the “appalling atrocity of slavery”. He added, “Slavery was abhorrent and it never should have happened. I strongly agree with my father, the Prince of Wales, who said in Barbados last year that the appalling atrocity of slavery forever stains our history.” But as so many times in the past, he was reminded in no uncertain words that “saying sorry” is not enough.
As one Jamaican Anglican Priest said, there must be a formal apology coupled with reparations: “They (the Royal couple) displayed a lack of common decency, emotional intelligence, and sensitivity for the pain and suffering endured by our revered ancestors and the manumitted who were never even compensated for the centuries of Great Britain’s prosperity at the expense of their lives and dehumanising experiences. The insult to our human dignity, self-worth, and autonomy is so palpable that many no longer realise the ongoing effects of the sheer cruelty wrought upon us by the genocide and holocaust of the transatlantic slave trade.”
Back in 2013, the CariCom heads of government had launched a formal process for reparations and had promulgated a comprehensive “Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice”. The Plan outlined “the path to reconciliation and justice for victims of crimes against humanity and their descendants” and called for: 1. A full formal apology, as opposed to “statements of regrets” that some nations have issued. 2. Repatriation, pointing out the legal right of the descendants of more than 10 million Africans, who were stolen from their homes and forcefully transported to the Caribbean as the enslaved chattel and property, to return to their homeland. 3. An Indigenous Peoples Development Programme to rehabilitate survivors. 4. Cultural Institutions through which the stories of victims and their descendants can be told. 5.
Attention to be paid to the “Public Health Crisis” in the Caribbean. The Caribbean has the “highest incidence of chronic diseases which stems from the nutritional experience, emotional brutality and overall stress profiles associated with slavery, genocide and apartheid”. 6. Eradicating illiteracy, as the Black and Indigenous communities were left in a state of illiteracy, particularly by the British. 7. An African Knowledge Programme to teach people of African descent about their roots; 8. Psychological Rehabilitation for healing and repair of African descendants’ populations. 9. Technology Transfer for greater access to the world’s science and technology culture. 10. Debt Cancellation to address the “fiscal entrapment” that faces Caribbean governments that emerged from slavery and colonialism.”
In an address delivered by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission to the House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain, 16 July 2014, he broadened the ambit of reparations to include “Asian contract slavery”. This will certainly resonate in the southern Caribbean. “100 years of colonial oppression followed 250 years of slave trading and chattel slavery. Slavery which ended in 1838 was replaced by a century of racial apartheid, including the denigration of Asian people. The regime of enslavement was crafted by policies and attitudes that were clearly genocidal. Indigenous genocide, African chattel slavery and genocide, and Asian contract slavery, were three acts of a single play – a single process by which the British state forcefully extracted wealth from the Caribbean resulting in its persistent, endemic poverty.”
The bottom line is that we cannot speak about justice in the present and ignore the injustices from the past that are systemically embedded through the hierarchies of coloniality that remain from the colonial experience. Repatriations are one initiative that can help equalize the playing field.