Caribbean gets involved in congressional reparations fight

Bert Wilkinson | 6/27/2019, 11:47 a.m.

As the fight to make a racist U.S. government compensate African-American descendants of slavery heats up, the head of the Caribbean Community’s Reparations Commission has been invited to testify before Congress, to share the progress the region has made so far in its fight with former European slave trading nations. 

Sir Hilary Beckles, the vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has in recent years become one of the best-known advocates of the reparations fight globally. In the past he has addressed both houses of the British parliament and has made devastating presentations to a number of American universities, which recently owned up to being beneficiaries of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Harvard is among them. 

Barbadian media reported in the past week that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, extended the invitation to Beckles as hearings on reparations continue on the floor of Congress. Jackson Lee has been leading the floor fight on the issue amid indications of racist discomfort from Republican lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill. 

“Given your long standing interest in H.R. 40 as a model for legislative action that has positively impacted the Reparations movement in the Caribbean, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, lead sponsor on the bill, would be honored by your attendance at this momentous hearing,” the Nation News Barbados reported. 

The invitation comes just two weeks after the Caribbean Reparations Commission updated the region on its efforts to make European

slaving trading nations pay for their role in the trade. At least 1.2 million Africans were believed to have been shipped from Africa to the Americas. Millions died along the treacherous, dehumanizing journey to plantations. 

In its most recent update, the CRC added Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Russia to the list of countries that also participated in the trade, basing its findings of intense research involving regional academics and that of the City University of New York, CUNY.

This is in addition to the well-known nations like Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands, which were leaders of the slave trade and built societies based on blood money from slavery.

Based on the latest findings, CRC spokeswoman Prof. Verene Shepherd said that governments will write letters of demand for payments to the new countries added to the list just as they have done for those like Britain and France. Most of these countries have replied to the letters in one form or another. Officials said The Netherlands more than the others have signaled an interest in talking with the region about its participation in an inglorious past.

Caricom leaders hope that Europe will soon agree to a summit on the issue. If that falls through, they have the option of taking it to the World Court where they are super confident of a win. Leigh Day, a British law firm which had forced Britain to pay millions in compensation to the descendants of slaughtered Kenyan tribesmen, has already been retained to fight the region’s case.

Beckles will appear at reparations events with the likes of actor Danny Glover to whip up public interest in the fight while in the U.S.