Caribbean nations demand slave reparations



In an unprecedented move a coalition of 14 Caribbean states, including Jamaica is embarking on the first united campaign for reparations from Britain, France and Holland over its Atlantic slave trade.

The united campaign will argue that those European countries that became supremely enriched by a commercial endeavour which included murder, rape, forced removal and forced labour - which lasted for over two hundred years and involved up to 20 million people.

The united Caribbean countries represented by CARICOM, a regional organisation has hired the London law firm Leigh Day, who won £20 million for the Kenyans tortured by the British during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950’s.

On behalf of the CARICOM, the lawyers will ask for an apology, compensation and a pledge that this should never occur again.

The British Government has said that it will firmly resist any claims for reparations with the terse statement that ‘the past should be left to the past’.

This of course has always been the default position from Nation States, individuals and companies who have directly benefited and continue to benefit from those ill gotten gains. Big companies that operate today who have been identified with links to slavery include: Rothschild’s, Imperial Tobacco, Barclays, The Bank of England, Lloyds, Barings and P&O.

Individual's today whose families accumulated huge wealth directly from slavery lead a trail that goes to the heart of British society including the Prime Minister's family David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette, the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen's cousin. Many of these families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy.

All this knowledge breakthrough came very recently when last year researchers at University College London (UCL) have published a database of roughly 4000 British slave owners who were compensated by the British government in 1833 for the emancipation of their slaves. Their Legacies of British Slave-ownership project also includes details of 613 companies that benefited from their histories of slave ownership.

In spite of the compensation to companies who already made vast fortunes in the business of slavery, no country has been compensated for the atrocities that many have found difficult to recover from.

Professor Verene Shepherd, the Chair of Jamaica’s Reparations Committee, said British colonisers had

“disfigured the Caribbean,” and that their descendants must now pay to repair the damage.

“If you commit a crime against humanity, you are bound to make amends. The planters were given compensation, but not one cent went to the freed Jamaicans”.

Here I think we should support the CARICOM countries demand for reparations and an apology - but be prepared for a brutal fight. Opponents of reparations and an apology will viciously turn the tables on us and our communities claiming that Caribbean countries are poorer because they are ‘lazy or corrupt’, or both, rather than accept that a terrible wrong needs to be put right. Even after slavery was abolished, it was replaced by 150 years of colonialism, which meant Caribbeans were free, but still grossly unequal. When children and their families look across the Caribbean today, they see that the majority of big businesses are still in white ownership. The legacy of slavery and colonialism is still present and debilitating if your Black.

Good luck CARICOM, we support you!

Simon Woolley