Caricom takes reparations fight to OAS

Bert Wilkinson | 11/12/2015, 10:14 a.m.

The Caribbean Community grouping of nations has moved to enlist the 35-nation Organization of American States in its fight to make Europe compensate member states for the transatlantic slave trade. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the regional head of government who has been leading the fight for reparations from European nations that enriched themselves on the backs of free labor from African slaves, now wants Latin America to support the region.

Caribbean governments have already hired a British law firm to fight its case, and the early indications are that after a perusal of arguments, the region has a good, strong and just case. The firm had won compensation in British courts for survivors of a Kenyan resistance group whose members were brutalized and murdered by British soldiers during the colonial era.

Each of the 15 member states has a national committee researching the effects of slavery and is part of an umbrella body operating out of the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies.

“The struggles for reparation in the Caribbean involve essentially a mature conversation with those European nations for an appropriate recompense to correct the legacies of underdevelopment occasioned by native genocide and African slavery,” Gonsalves told the OAS’s Permanent Council in the past week.

But while he continues the campaign for nations such as Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal to pay up and acknowledge the horrors and negative legacies of the slave trade, the prime minister now faces an uncertain political future in the coming weeks. His tiny Eastern Caribbean island nation goes to the polls in early December. He is trying for a record fourth term in office even though his popularity has been declining fast in recent years to the extent that he has run the country with a one-seat majority in the past five years. Critics say it might well be tough to repeat. Regardless, he is giving it a shot at any international forum that is willing to listen to the region’s case.

“What we are addressing is the real, lived experience today of the legacy of under-development that can be traced directly to native genocide and African slavery. We want this to be adjudicated, agreed upon or adjudicated if it cannot be agreed upon not as something discretionary, but something which is legally binding.”

The bloc of nations is particularly irked because Britain had chosen to pay slave owners what would presently equal $18 billion when the trade was abolished rather than those who worked without a penny or their descendants.

“It is not about the representation in today’s value of the [$18 billion] paid by the British government to the slave owners in the 1834 to 1838 period in the Caribbean. Our quest for reparation is about repairing the legacies of under development which exist today and which are undeniably traced to native genocide and African slavery,” he said.