Caribbean steps up fight for payment from Europe

Bert Wilkinson | 7/10/2014, 4:20 p.m.

Not surprisingly, Caribbean trade bloc leaders, who wrapped up their four-day main annual summit in the small but idyllic eastern Caribbean island of Antigua on the weekend, pressed on the accelerator regarding their demand for payment from European nations that participated in and benefitted from the African slave trade.

Since they first threw their weight behind the Rastafarian Movement and other civil society groups for justice at the Trinidad summit exactly one year ago, the region has become more organized and increasingly determined to make Europe compensate member nations in the form of cash, official apologies and assistance in improving the regional infrastructure for health, education, policing and other key areas.

The final communiqué, issued at the end of the meeting, showed that the leaders, after extensive discussions among themselves and briefings from the regional umbrella body organizing the case of the Caribbean against Europe, decided to ask for a Caribbean-Europe reparations summit sometime later this year or early in 2015.

That meeting, officials said, will be used as the main sounding board to determine whether a negotiated settlement will be arrived at or whether the case for reparations will have to be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Britain, one of the key nations that snatched Africans from the continent, put them on slave ships and dumped them on sugar and other plantations, forcing them to work in oppressive conditions without a cent in pay, has already said it will not recognize the case or pay any money.

However, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair might have well weakened the British stance against payment because he had, back in 2007, expressed regret for the “unbearable suffering” caused by the UK’s role in slavery. He did not consider the expression of regret as an apology, though.

In 2010, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had found it necessary to acknowledge “the wounds of colonization” and as a gesture cancelled $56M Euros of debt owed by Haiti.

The leaders think the Caribbean region has a strong case for payment and have taken heart from other international judgments against Europe in this regard. The UK, The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal are among nations firmly in the sights of the Caribbean leaders.

To this end, governments have already met and reviewed parts of the arguments with the British law firm, Leigh Day, the firm that won $21.5M in compensation payments for surviving Kenyan Mau Mau fighters who were brutalized and tortured by the British government during an anti-colonial rebellion against oppression in the 1950s and 1960s.