Regional academics, politicians and researchers spent two days in idyllic Antigua last week breathing new energy into the movement to make European nations pay for their part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and organizers say they have walked away from the sessions with new momentum to confront this monumental task.
In the past, the movement had spent considerable energy working on the historical and legal aspects of the reparations fight but this time the focus was on a collective effort to examine the role commercial banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions had played in the slave trade and strategies to make them pay.
African customers of Barclays Bank, and mega insurer Lloyds of London for example, may not know today that these two companies had made billions from financing of slave ships hauling African people as cargo from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. The same is true of several commercial banks from Switzerland. Recent information to this effect is now holding the attention of the umbrella Caribbean Reparations Commission (CRC) and its affiliate organizations.
Official documentation from the conference noted that the time has come to “explore the historical roots of western banks in the financing and profiteering from the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in the Diaspora,” adding that these very same institutions still play a “role in the support and expansion of colonial and neo-colonial rule in the Caribbean.”
The level of energy in the movement against Europe had taken a bit of a dip in the past year largely because of an unsurprising change of government in Barbados. Then prime minister Freundel Stuart, then lead Caribbean government head on reparations, was swept out of power by a 30 to zero seat margin. In the ensuing months, new PM Mia Mottley was so caught up trying to save the country from economic ruin that some of the momentum had fizzled a bit.
Going forward, officials at the Guyana-based Caricom secretariat say there is every indication that Mottley will now become more involved even as academics and researchers now focus more on western banking, colonialism and reparations. One of the main new targets has to do with the latest set of research showing that Swiss banks were also involved in the slave trade, a fact that was largely hitherto unknown.
“The shiny image of the Swiss is not as we think it is,” said Dr. Hilary Browne of the secretariat. “We are now all only learning about the details of their role from economic historians, the role banks and shipping companies played in moving human cargo. It is a side of the issue we are now exploring in depth, for the first time,” she said
Experts say any acknowledgement from authorities there about their past could help to put pressure on European neighbors to act.
Caricom leaders have already retained a British law firm to represent their case in court while at the same time trying, albeit with little success so far, to arrange a summit meeting with European counterparts.
Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne was among the dignitaries addressing the meeting. He suggested that there was “no need to be intimidated to make a financial claim to complement any in kind settlement that may be offered. The Europeans used an inhumane and brutal extractive economic model to control the Caribbean, as a zone of wealth creation to fund their development.”