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From Emancipation Through Recognition, Reconciliation, Respect

By Earl Bousquet
By Earl Bousquet

AS Saint Lucia joined the world in observance of Emancipation Day on August 1, the emphasis could not have been anywhere else than on CARICOM’s quest for Reparations from Europe for slavery and native genocide.

Saint Lucia has been slower than some other CARICOM member-states in the level of public discussion and activity relating to the reparations cause.

The National Reparations Committee (NRC) hasn’t been as active as critics would have liked it to be. The Prime Minister has earned his regional and international spurs as one of the most ardent promoters of the reparations cause among his fellow CARICOM Heads of Government, but the NRC is yet to arrange public activities that would tax his broad knowledge on the issue at home.

Be that as it may, no one can say that the reparations issue isn’t one being spoken of here today in a bigger way than yesteryear. More people are coming out ‘for’ or ‘against’ the idea, many also remain in doubt admitting they want to know more about the issue, while others simply say it was ‘about time’ that this discussion took place.

The NRC is preparing to roll out its immediate plans. But even before that, certain facts and truths remain that must be told and understood relating to Saint Lucia’s place in the historical quest from Europe for reparations for slavery.

For starters, if any Caribbean country has any claim to early association with the cause of reparations, Saint Lucia can make the claim. Why? Because a Saint Lucia named John Quinlan (from La Clery in Castries) wrote and adumbrated on the first resolution by the Pan African Congress (PAC) mentioning and seeking reparations for slavery.

Quinlan – who was also fluent in French (the language on international diplomacy at the time) had migrated to England in the 19th Century and he was chosen by the PAC to singlehandedly address a Royal Commission on Reparations for Slavery in 1987. He eventually died in England, but his contribution is recorded in British history and is now (fortunately) in the treasured hands of the Saint Lucia High Commission in London for onward transmission home.

There’s another unique factor about Saint Lucia and the reparations claim: the French connection. As a result of France’s role in slavery here during the periods the island was under its control, Saint Lucia’s claim for reparations will have to be two-fold: to the British and French.

There’s more about Saint Lucia and reparations to be considered in making the island’s legal case, including the fact that the island was under control of a mixture of English and French laws in the earlier colonial period, which were designed to preserve and enforce slavery and native genocide here (and in neighbouring Martinique).

Saint Lucians or all racial and ethnic mixes have absolutely no reason for worry and consternation, or even over-anxiety, regarding the reparations case. CARICOM isn’t demanding that Europe set up a Caribbean bank account to pay ‘our grandfather’s backpay’ at the government Treasury every month-end. Instead, what is being sought is both an apology and establishment of a fund that will be accessible to all affected states and people within the region for use to address (and where possible correct) the lingering historical injustices – with roots in slavery — that still affect the region.

No, this is not about empowering governments to seize lands and properties inherited by descendants of slave masters. Nor is it about empowering descendants of victims to claim and seize lands or properties that their ancestors would have laboured on under whips.

Instead, it’s about CARICOM being in a position to both galvanize national support for the regional cause and ensuring that the regional grouping seizes the time now to encourage Europe to come to the table to first talk and discuss, failing which other measures will be employed at the international legal and judicial levels.

Contrary to the critics who claim CARICOM is ‘moving too slow’, the regional governments have properly outlined an approach over time that is being coordinated and implemented according to plan. All’s been going well so far, to the extent that other regions are also borrowing pages from the CARICOM approach.

The African Union (AU) and the Pan African Congress (PAC) have taken note of CARICOM’s approach, while in the USA, African American groups and personalities – from Congressional representatives to racial equality groups, earlier this year adopted the CARICOM template to pursue Slavery Reparations for African Americans.

The NRC participated in an Emancipation Day panel discussion on NTN that went some way in engaging and encouraging some level of public discussion, while related radio and TV programmes were also held, plus other related activities were planned here and there.

There isn’t yet the national momentum required to say the CARICOM reparations cause is definitely on the national agenda in Saint Lucia, but there are reasons, which the NRC is discussing as it plans how it will take the debate around the country for what is left of 2015.

There are more people asking related questions, more organizations offering to join the movement and a general willingness by all to entertain discussions. Not everybody agrees on everything.

Some feel it’s a good cause, others feel it’s useless; some feel it’s unfair to expect persons who weren’t involved in slavery to compensate for the historical misdeeds of their fore-parents, while others feel historical anomalies can always be corrected with time.

Some feel Europe will never agree to pay reparations, some feel if they agree they will ensure they will only pay peanuts; and others feel it’s worth the wait until there are European governments ready to acknowledge that slavery not only existed but was the greatest crime against humanity every known to mankind.

Recognition, Reconciliation and Reparations go hand in hand and CARICOM will accept no less than admission by Europe that its role in creation, preservation and profiting from slavery did leave a legacy of deprivation that continues to this day and needs to be both acknowledged and atoned for.

Yes, slavery existed in Saint Lucia and there were lots of registered ‘Saint Lucian families’ that owned slaves. Their names are all registered with the numbers of slaves they all owned. Some (many) of these (family names) still exist here and across the Caribbean. But the objective is not to find out who they were/are to deprive them of their inheritances, but to let them (and the rest of Saint Lucia) understand the roles played, the consequences suffered and thus the need for atonement in ways and means that will be both possible and acceptable to all involved in the discussion and debate.

No, the CARICOM reparations movement is not about the sons and daughters and heirs and successors of African slaves seeking vengeful equality or superiority over any other race or group of Caribbean people. Nor is it about making greedy or unrealistic demands on Europe that the European Union cannot afford.

Yes, reparations is all about CARICOM seeking for the Caribbean the justified claims that will be tabled in Europe for atonement for the misdeeds and legacy of slavery.

No, by pursuing reparations from Europe for slavery and native genocide, CARICOM isn’t seeking to invent the wheel. It’s all been done before – and for causes that took and affected less lives and nations, people and tribes than was the case with slavery.

Facts: After World War II, the USA compensated Japanese Americans with reparations for their illegal incarcerations during the war. The Germans are still paying the Jews for their sufferings during Hitler’s holocaust. And the British (not too long ago) agreed to reparations for the Mau Mau victims for atrocities suffered at Britain’s hands during Kenya’s independence struggle.

CARICOM’s reparations demand is also gaining momentum and support in the UK and across Europe among African and Caribbean people and progressive forces who understand why the struggle in this respect just has to continue.

The British press is busy exposing just how many of those still in charge in the UK, including Prime Minister David Cameron, descended from slave-owning families that were compensated heavily after Abolition in 1834.

Whether these exposures will hasten the time it will take to get them to agree to start the discussion on reparations with CARICOM is left to be seen. But while CARICOM cannot force any European government to come to the table if it refuses to, there will be (and are) those willing to talk.

Besides, CARICOM also knows what it’ll have to do next if the EU refuses to take an approach that hinges around dialogue.

Here’s simply hoping that between now and the end of 2015, enough is said and done here – and everywhere else – to ensure the momentum is maintained and accelerated in the days, weeks, months and years ahead!

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