Despite COVID-19, the Caribbean Reparations Train Remained on Track in 2020! Part 3

  • By UWI Centre for Reparation Research
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December started with news, on Day One, of a massive new effort under way in the USA to name 12.5 million Africans sold into slavery through a database that will allow for an unprecedented view of who they were, where they were kidnapped and who they were sold to.

December 2 then saw the European Parliament adopt its observance of The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which recalls the adoption of the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on 2 December 1949.

In 1985, a UN Working Group on Slavery report proposed 2 December as the World Day for the Abolition of Slavery and Europe has finally, maybe grudgingly, all of 35 years later, accepted the proposal.

Much has been made of the hypocrisy of Europe’s reluctant admissions that its dirty past needs cleaning-up, in ways that more strongly suggest the continent built on the blood, sweat and tears off the backs of slaves is seeking a quick-fix way out – and at the most minimal cost, if any.

But during his presentations to the European Parliament event, in responses to questions, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, noted that while several Universities in the UK were forced to admit their respective roles in perpetuation of the economic system of slavery through servitude, discovery of the nature of the atrocities they supported has resulted in many undertaking to ‘Research and Run’ – ducking their own findings, making impressive public statements promising to atone, only to stop short of delivery.

Indeed, even while the top leaders of the European Parliament spoke, the Al Jazeera News channel, also during December’s first week, repeatedly exposed how far the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was going to whitewash Britain’s role in slavery.

Sir Hilary, also Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), featured in several in-depth interviews in May after George Floyd’s slow death with a policeman kneeling on his neck, starting with one with Reuters (UK) that resulted in another with The Wall Street Journal (UK) and The Guardian (UK), that led to requests for others with BBC Radio, as well as with international TV news channels Al Jazeera and the popular US-based Caribbean network TEMPO. CNN International and Russia Today (RT) were also interested in talking to the CRC chair on the state of the Reparations movement today.

The Black Lives Matter Movement and the protests generated across America and the world after George Floyd also resulted in the Reparations demand being placed squarely on the US national political table; and the decades-old HR-40 Reparations Bill was again taken off the dusty congressional shelves and in less than two years placed on a hopeful fast-track to final passage, with states discussing not if, but how Reparations should be paid.

On July 6, (as part of observances of CARICOM’S Founding Anniversary on July 4) Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, as Chair of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on Reparations (PMSC), hosted an online CRC panel discussion on ‘From Apology to Action’ that also included Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports Olivia Grange and Sir Hilary.

In the first week of December, Black American entities demanded that President-Elect Joe Biden prepare to issue a direct Presidential Executive Order for Reparations Payments, immediately upon taking office on January 20.

The Black Vote having played such a decisive role in the election of the Biden-Harris ticket on November 3, the President-elect has been called on to accept that there should be no more Congressional and partisan road blocks to Reparations, which was an issue all the major Democratic Party contenders for the Presidency campaigned on across America.

COVID-19 also overly exposed the inherent differences and difficulties in accessibility to health care between Whites and Blacks in America, while the national Reparations debate allowed for examination of the CARICOM’s Reparative Justice approach that seeks an atonement package to benefit all Blacks and Brown people and their entire communities, instead of just some African Americans and descendants of slaves.

The year saw positive Reparations developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including the CRC Chair addressing important related top-level meetings of the UN Security Council, the European Parliament, US Congressional Black Caucus leaders, as well as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Other positive Caribbean developments this year included adoption of ‘The Lewis Model’ for an Economic Development Package for the Caribbean (akin to the Marshall plan for Europe and the Colombo Plan for East India enacted by Britain and the USA with no such plan for the British West Indies after World War II).

Also, the removal of the 213-year-old statue of British enslaver Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson from its pedestal in Bridgetown, the Barbados capital, where it stood predominant for over two centuries, although he never, ever set foot on the island London referred to and treated as ‘Little Britain’ – and where a British Parliament existed before Whitehall.

Naturally, Naysayers, Doubting Thomases, perennial pessimists and reluctant optimists still hold that never mind all the above, the Reparations Train is still dead in its tracks, jammed by congressional roadblocks in the USA, blocked by the political and economic heirs and successors of enslavers in Europe and much delayed by the hesitance of most CARICOM leaders to fly the Reparations flag at home – or at all.

But while their optimism may understandably be in very short supply on the basis of the sloth of progress in previous years, it may be better to pause and consider how far and wide the Reparations message rang during 2020, when the bells tolled louder than ever before, ringing ripples across the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, with the rest of the world looking on — and slowly but surely, joining in.

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