LATIN AMERICA

Caricom nations to seek reparations from Europe over colonial slave trade

Regional bloc will ask for compensation in terms of economic aid and investment

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) announced last Tuesday that it has formed a special commission to present a case at the United Nations to seek compensation from Europe for genocide and enslavement of Africans during the colonial period.

The 15-member-nation bloc has created a regional Reparation Commission, which is being advised by a noted British law firm, to formally file claims against Spain, Great Britain, Netherlands, France and Portugal at the UN General Assembly next week.

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said it was important “for each head of state, each head of government, each foreign minister, to insert in their statement to the world at the General Assembly a strong and positive message on reparations.”

“You can rely on the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines to have such a statement in his presentation to the United Nations,” Gonsalves told the daily Jamaican Observer at the opening of a three-day Regional Reparation Conference.

At the last Caricom summit in July, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the 15 nations agreed to seek compensation in the form of economic and development aid from the five former European colonial powers to ease the poverty that the region claims is a result of slavery. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the European nations kidnapped, trafficked and forced some 12 million Africans into slavery, according to conservative estimates.

The British made the most money out of slavery -- they got the lion’s share.”

Sir Hilary Beckles, a noted historian from Barbados and vice chancellor at the University of the West Indies, was appointed to chair the commission, which is made up of academics, lawyers and economists from all the nations represented in the bloc.

One of their first tasks will be to establish an estimate on the amount of compensation that Caricom will demand based on calculations on the damages slavery caused in each individual nation. His 2012 book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide is used by Caricom as a reference guide.

Even before he was appointed to head the commission, Beckles said that it was important for the regional nations to press a case against Great Britain.

“We are focusing on Britain because Britain was the largest owner of slaves at Emancipation in the 1830s. The British made the most money out of slavery and the slave trade – they got the lion’s share. And, importantly, they knew how to convert slave profits into industrial profits,” Beckles said on August 21 in Kingston during his book’s presentation.

The British law firm Leigh Day & Co. is the commission’s legal advisor and will work with Caricom in trying to negotiate an agreement on the impact colonial slavery has had on today’s Caribbean society. This is the same firm that successfully won compensation from the British government last June for the torture of some 5,000 Kenyan rebels during the Mau Mau insurrections over colonial rule between 1952 and 1960.

Lawyer Martyn Day said that Caricom would like to seek an agreement on friendly terms with the former colonial powers, but if not, the nations will file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

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