Pay us money for slavery, region tells UK PM

Bert Wilkinson | 10/1/2015, 4:59 p.m.

Special to the AmNews

The head of a group appointed by Caribbean leaders to force Britain and other European countries to compensate the region for the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade wants British Prime Minister David Cameron to own up to the genocide against Caribbean people and be prepared to act accordingly.

Professor Hilary Beckles, vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has written an open letter to Cameron, just days before he visits Jamaica and addresses a joint session of the island’s parliament.

Cameron is coming to Jamaica against a background of statements by at least two British ministers who have made it clear that Britain has no intention of paying reparations to the Caribbean for the slave trade, despite the fact that it was one of the biggest players, and several firms, such as Barclays, that still have interests in the region have built their wealth on the blood of African slaves. Others in the sights of the region include Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and France.

“It is not an issue that can be further ignored, remain under the rug or placed on back burners, as your minister who recently visited us so aptly described your agenda for Jamaica and the Caribbean,” Beckles wrote in a tough piece to Cameron. “You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil, who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors.”

Two years ago, regional leaders decided to set up a Caribbean-wide team to research the horrors of the slave trade and to make a case for Europe to compensate the region for it.

The governments have already retained the services of a British law firm that not so long ago forced London to pay financial compensation to surviving members of a Kenyan resistance group who were brutalized by British soldiers during the colonial era.

Preliminary advice from the attorneys indicate that the Caribbean already has a strong case and should remain resolute in its plans to take the case to courts in Europe for final determination.

Beckles even dared to suggest to Cameron that London has plans to undermine the collective regional effort by treating Jamaica better than the other members of the regional trading bloc.

“In the four corners of Kingston, there are already whispers that your strategy will be to seek a way to weaken Jamaica’s commitment to Caribbean reparations in a singular act of gift granting designed to divide and rule and to subvert the regional discourse and movement. You, sir, are a Briton, not a Greek, and we have no reason therefore to fear what you bear. But we do ask that you recall that the Caribbean region was once your nation’s unified field for taxation, theater for warfare and space for the implementation of trade law and policy. Seeing the region as one is therefore in your diplomatic DNA, and this we urge that you remember.”

The umbrella reparations commission has branch groups and representatives across the Caribbean and is engaged in intense research to prove the negative effects of the slave trade and its lasting effects to this day, and to provide other evidence that would be needed in a court.