There were two important developments this week in the fight by Caribbean Community governments to make European nations pay for their role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the first relating to plans by the Netherlands to formally apologize this month for its part and the second linked to successful efforts by Barbados to engage a wealthy British family to take responsibility for its slave past. If successful, this would be the first time a family has been individually targeted for its direct role in the genocide.
Since the September state visit to Suriname by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Netherlands has been giving strong indications that it wants to atone for its slavery past, at least by first formally apologizing for its role in Dutch Caribbean and continental territories. The Dutch had been Suriname’s former colonizer.
This is even as several Dutch institutions, commercial banks and mayors of several cities have already done so, putting pressure on Rutte’s cabinet and parliament to apologize and to commence talks on various forms of compensation.
Reports both in Suriname and from The Hague say that the apology could come as soon as Dec. 19 but even as expectations are rising in Suriname, the local National Reparations Commission wants the Netherlands to indicate in writing what it is apologizing for.
“In order to offer the apologies to the satisfaction of the descendants of the natives and the Africans, it would first have to be made very clear in writing why the Dutch government wishes to apologize. This is the key question. It must be explained in detail what has been done wrong and what the material and immaterial damage has been caused in hundreds of years of slavery and genocide,” the local Star online news quoted Commission Chief Armand Zunder as saying.
The commission has also stated that the two sides must agree on a compensation program that is fitting and respectful. Indications from the Hague in the past month had pointed to plans by the Dutch to initially create a special fund of 200 million Euros to be set aside to build awareness and improve the delivery of education, while an additional 27 million is expected to be budgeted for a slavery museum and memorial in Suriname.
In Barbados, meanwhile, the administration of Prime Minister Mia Mottley is reported to be negotiating with a wealthy British business and conservative lawmaker to make him the first person/family with former slave trading links to pay reparations.
The UK Guardian reports that Richard Drax has already traveled to the Eastern Caribbean island of just more than 300,000 for private talks with Mottley and other officials on the issue.
Said to be outrageously rich from their ancestors’ links to slavery, his family is known to have been among the pioneers of the plantation system in Barbados and other territories. The Cabinet is preparing to discuss the issue in the coming days. In the 15-nation bloc of countries, Barbados has led the charge for reparations.
Already local activists are saying that if cordial negotiations for some kind of settlement fail, legal action would be taken against the Drax family as there are tons of records linking his family directly to some of the more brutal aspects of slavery.
David Comissiong, Barbados’ roving ambassador to the bloc and deputy head of the commission, pointed out that apart from the Draxes, there are others whose ancestors had profited from slavery. This includes the British royals.
“It is now a matter that is before the government of Barbados. It is being dealt with at the highest level. Drax is fabulously wealthy today. The Drax family is the central family in the whole story of enslavement in Barbados. They are the architects of slavery-based sugar production. They have a deep historical responsibility. The process has only just begun and we trust that we will be able to negotiate. If that doesn’t work, there are other methods, including litigation. Other families are involved, though not as prominently as the Draxes. This reparations journey has begun. The matter is now for the cabinet of Barbados. It is in motion. It is being dealt with,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Caricom nations have already formally written Europe asking for a summit on the issue, while at the same time engaging a British law firm that had won compensation for British genocide against Kenyan tribesmen during the colonial era to represent them. The lawyers say the region has a very strong case to present when the time comes.