Despite repeated calls by several Caribbean territories to be paid reparations by European nations for their involvement and benefit from slavery, the United Kingdom (UK) believes that such calls are not the way forward. The calls are for financial compensation to be paid to descendants of enslaved peoples but the UK, Guyana’s former colonial ruler, indicated that countries should look to the future rather than the past.
This was the expressed view of British High Commissioner to Guyana, Greg Quinn who told media operatives that his country is maintaining its position regarding the reparation calls.
“We as a Government do not believe that reparations are the way forward and that we need to look to the future and not the past. I know Caricom Reparations Committee has been looking on this but I’m not quite sure what the status is of what they may have produced and whether they would have made that claim or request to the UK,” the Ambassador explained.
For over 400 years, colonial European powers benefited from slavery. The trade brought over 10 million captured Africans to work in sugar and cotton plantations throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. Governments in the Caribbean have estimated that reparations for the slave trade could be trillions of dollars, and some have floated the idea of debt relief.
Caribbean leaders in 2014 had approved a 10-point plan to seek reparations from the former slave-owning states of Europe. In July 2017, Guyanese President David Granger suggested that more awareness and education was needed to allow for support in calls for reparative justice.
“Reparative justice is not a ruse for development finance or international handouts. It is a demand aimed at ensuring recompense for crimes against humanity, enslavement and native genocide, and for the atrocities of indentured immigration. The demand for ‘reparative justice’ must not be confused with developmental assistance,” the President stated at the National Rastafarian Conference earlier this year.
Ambassador Quinn recalled that it was his country’s past Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had suggested that reparations were not the way forward.
“Look back at what Prime Minister Cameron said when he was in Jamaica in September 2015 and that is still the position,” Ambassador Quinn maintained.
When Cameron had visited that Caribbean island, Jamaica’s then Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller reiterated calls for reparations to be paid by Britain but on a sidelines interview, the former UK Prime Minister had responded in the negative.
“I don’t think reparations are the right answer but the purpose of my visit is to look to the future,” the former Prime Minister, who later resigned in 2016, had stated.
Some 46,000 British slave owners, including a distant relative of former Prime Minister Cameron, and distance relatives of UK television and film actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, were among those compensated at a current-day equivalent of £17 billion for “loss of human property” after the country emancipated its slaves in 1833.
Britain subsequently replaced slavery with indentureship, offering immigrant workers small payments and marginally better living conditions. (Shemuel Fanfair)