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Caribbean ups reparations pressure on Europe

Bert Wilkinson | 8/10/2017, 9:03 a.m.
Caribbean governments are stepping up the pressure on Europe to pay reparations for the brutal transatlantic slave trade, adding Norway ...
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Caribbean governments are stepping up the pressure on Europe to pay reparations for the brutal transatlantic slave trade, adding Norway and Sweden to the list of countries they have identified as culpable players.

The bloc of 15 nations headquartered in Guyana said in the past week that a decision was made at last month’s annual summit in Grenada to expand the number of countries receiving demand-payment letters for their role in slavery, as additional research has shed new light on the role of the two countries in the slave trade.

Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart has already been ordered to send the formal notices to the two countries whose roles admittedly pale in comparison to the bigger players that brought millions of enslaved African to work on sugar, coffee, cocoa and other plantations in the West Indies. Stuart is the PM in charge of the reparations effort.

Demand-payment letters have long been sent to France, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, with all replying except Portugal. Officials say Portugal fears that any engagement with the Caribbean will open a proverbial can of worms for the country because it was among the last European nations to abolish slavery and had brought large numbers of Africans to work on sugar and other plantations in Brazil. Brazil is the country with the largest Afro descended population outside of Nigeria.

Norway had interests in the region from 1660 to 1806 and is now ruing the day it became so involved; the past is now coming back to haunt the country at a time when it struts around the world promoting its squeaky clean image as a global do-gooder. It had interests in the now-American dependencies of St. Croix and St. Thomas, and hundreds of its seafaring nationals worked on slave ships for other European countries plying the Caribbean.

Sweden had a presence in St. Barthelemy, acquiring the tiny territory from Britain in 1748, and handing over the territory to France in 1784, ending its presence in the region.

The Swedes have already said they are open to talking with Caribbean governments, but Britain and France have remained quite resolute. The Guyana Reparations Commission said that it is convinced that those two countries and Portugal will try as long as possible to block engagement with the region because of the enormous financial implications of any agreement to pay, because demands would come from other parts of the globe where those countries had an oppressive presence.

And as large parts of the Caribbean Community observed emancipation from slavery at the beginning of August, the government of Trinidad publicly threw its weight behind regional efforts to win reparations or compensation from Europe.

“We in Trinidad and Tobago must view the call for reparations in the context of the duty we owe to our forefathers who made the ultimate sacrifice and whose contributions to our present well-being must be recognized in a world which now accepts that compensation and reparation are prerequisites in the dispensation of justice,” President Anthony Carmona said in a brief to mark the occasion. “As such, the case for reparations is not too late, but it is timely.”