In recent years, Caribbean Community governments have made what critics call lukewarm attempts to pressure western nations that had participated in the genocidal Transatlantic Slave Trade to begin formal discussions about reparations with Europe. Nations are yet to agree to a summit to discuss the issue.
This week, however, a multiparty parliamentary delegation from The Netherlands is in the former Dutch colony of Suriname on a fact-finding mission that delegates say is aimed at getting a real fix on the effects of slavery on today’s generations, and to determine what actions the Dutch government should take to deal with this horrible aspect of its colonial past.
At the center of the issue, local media reported Monday, is whether a formal apology should be made by governments in The Netherlands and what form reparations should take when discussions reach that stage. The lawmakers will also visit current Dutch colonies of Curaçao, tiny Bonaire, and St. Maarten among others on a similar mandate, and are slated to hand in their reports and observations to the cabinet for scrutiny.
“We now have to look ahead. We have to see what is needed now for Suriname and the inhabitants,” said leader Kiki Hagen. It is important what is going on about the slavery past [sic] in Suriname.”
The visit comes ahead of plans to observe the 150th anniversary year of the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies in the Americas. Hagen and others say research material gathered during this trip will be handed to the cabinet to decide on whether a formal apology should be made for the horrors of the slave trade and what will flow after.
The local and the umbrella Caribbean Reparations Commission (CRC) have long demanded that nations such as England, France, Spain, the Dutch, Portugal and others be made to pay billions in compensation to the region for slavery given the fact that the English, for example, had had the political gall to compensate slave owners for the loss of their human property.
The CRC also argues that many western institutions including well-funded commercial banks like Barclays and universities including those in America, built their wealth on the backs of free labor of African slaves and should be made to pay in the billions.
Johan Roozer, chair of the National Committee for the Remembrance of Slavery, says the visit is timely. “It is a very serious matter for the future generations, for the descendants of the enslaved. We must translate that into actions to sustainably promote well-being and prosperity among the descendants of the enslaved. It is important to us that if the Netherlands opts for reparations, we would opt for research and sustainable projects to strengthen the future generation. How much depends on the extent to which the Netherlands recognizes that the slavery past has an impact on today’s society. We can state that very concretely and we will do so,” he told reporters.
Apart from holding talks with the Surinamese government and other lawmakers, delegation members have already visited several sites linked to the former slave trade including sites where the enslaved were beaten, beheaded and suffered other forms of genocidal punishment.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is scheduled to visit the Caribbean Community nation of about 500,000 people in September, returning a state visit by President Chan Santokhi earlier this year. The issue is on the agenda for discussion, officials say.
But even as pro reparations groups say they are encouraged by the visit and these initial baby steps to deal with atonement, local author and academic Armand Zunder says that there is still fierce opposition to reparations and apologies in The Netherlands.
“On the one hand, in the delegation you have members of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), who have difficulty offering apologies and are not at all oriented towards repairs or restoration. And on the other side SP (Socialist Party), Green Left, D66, Denk and Party of Labor. And they are in principle in favor of recognizing the slavery past and offering apologies. They have not yet commented on recovery,” he told the leading De Ware Tijd newspaper. “These apologies must be offered here in Suriname and by the highest authority: the king or the prime minister of the Netherlands.”
The VVD is not represented in the delegation.
Historians have noted that the Dutch were among the cruelest of slave masters during that era and must be pushed into paying reparations like their European neighbors.