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It has been centuries in the making. Leaders from several Caribbean countries are asking for reparations from their former colonizers including Britain, France and Netherlands.
It is no secret that for much of the 19th and 20th centuries Europe’s economy was based upon the free labor of slaves and the selling of natural resources from Caribbean countries like Jamica, Trinand and Haiti.
Many believe that their current economic conditions are directly tied to Europe’s unwillingness to acknowledge the billions of dollars that were made off of the backs of Caribbean citizens.
According to the AP: “The notion of forcing the countries that benefited from slavery to pay reparations has been a decades-long quest. Individual countries including Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda already had existing national commissions. Earlier this month, leaders from the 14 Caricom nations voted unanimously at a meeting in Trinidad to wage a joint campaign that those involved say would be more ambitious than any previous effort.
Each nation that does not have a national reparations commission agreed to set one up, sending a representative to the regional commission, which would be overseen by prime ministers. They agreed to focus on Britain on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean as well as France for the slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America that is a member of Caricom.
In addition, they brought on the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.
Lawyer Martyn Day said his first step would likely be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans.
“I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably,” Day said of the Caribbean countries. “But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business.”
Caribbean officials have not mentioned a specific monetary figure but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, both mentioned the fact that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today.
“Our ancestors got nothing,” Shepherd said. “They got their freedom and they were told ‘Go develop yourselves.’ ”
British High Commissioner to Jamaica David Fitton was quizzed on the issue Wednesday during a radio interview and said that the Mau Mau case was not meant to be a precedent and that his government opposes reparations for slavery.
“We don’t think the issue of reparations is the right way to address these issues,” Fitton said. “It’s not the right way to address an historical problem.”
If reparations are “not the right way to address an historical problem,” then what is?
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