Letters & Opinion

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

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

2020, Year of COVID-19, was not only about the pandemic. The virus took lives and ruined life for too-many-to-count worldwide. But it also registered events worth chronicling in, around and for the Caribbean, especially relating to CARICOM governments’ quest for Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide, launched in 2013.

Picking-up steam…
United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) governments have continued to ignore a collective 2016 request by governments of 14 Caribbean nations, as former British and European colonies, for a discussion on a settlement for the long-outstanding demand.

While reviewing and recalibrating approaches in light of the deadly effects of COVID-19, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), primarily through its Chairman Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, engaged in 2018 with US Black Congressional leaders and national reparations entities, sharing common and different experiences and approaches.

Throughout 2019, the Black Lives Matter movement and later protests against police killings of Blacks across America turned the reparations issue into a hot political potato that saw US Democratic Presidential Hopefuls trip over each other to say what they’d do to fast-track reparations if voted into the Oval Office.

Then came the killing of George Floyd in May, which changed everything…

The 2020 Presidential election result has produced a promise by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamla Harris to be the first US Administration to start Reparations payments across America.

US States are discussing how and when to board the Democrats’ reparations train next year, while Republican opponents seek to derail it before Biden enters the White House on January 20.

But the train’s left the main station — and from all evidence since George Floyd, there’s no stopping it now.

The final destination hasn’t been determined, but it’s definitely moving along on America’s tracks.

The Lewis Factor
The CARICOM train also gathered speed in 2020, with the CRC and the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) co-hosting the first Sir Arthur Lewis International Symposium (SALIS 2020) on June 16, which coincided with the 29th anniversary of the legendary Caribbean economist’s death.

The virtual symposium, addressed by Sir Hilary and Caribbean presenters from universities across the world, also unveiled Sir Arthur’s historical primal role as the ‘Intellectual Author of the Blueprint for Caribbean Reparations’, outlined in his first major book Labour in the West Indies (1939).

On August 1, during observance of Emancipation Day across the Caribbean, Professor Beckles announced the Reparations settlement being sought from Europe would be valued at US $500 Billion, in the form of a regional economic package to finance the modern equivalent of that advocated by Lewis in 1939, following the 1938 revolutions that forever shook the foundations of British colonialism across the then British West Indies.

Also on August 1, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, as Chair of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Subcommittee (PMSC) on Reparations, announced the region’s 14 Heads of Government had agreed to adopt Sir Arthur’s 80-year-old formula as the template for the settlement package being sought from the UK and Europe.

New Caribbean History
September 15 saw the launch of the Virtual Regional Schools’ History Lecture Series, initiated by the Saint Lucia NRC and the island’s UWI Open Campus unit, coordinated by the Jamaica-based Center for Reparations Research (CRR) and supported by the CRC.

The two-hour lectures, held during school hours once a month, allow historians, researchers, sociologists and writers worldwide to previously present untold, unheard and unseen versions Caribbean History — backed by facts and figures, maps and charts, Power-point and other audiovisual means — to students in classrooms and at home under COVID lockdown (as in Saint Lucia).

Schools in some CARICOM territories are attending with official permission or direction, while principals and teachers in other states tune-in and participate voluntarily, while education officials tighten arrangements for formal participation when the virtual schools’ Caribbean history lectures resume in January 2021.

Meanwhile, the UWI Open Campus, which reaches dozens of sites in over 30 offshore non-campus territories in the region and beyond, broadcasts the lectures through its Facebook and YouTube online platforms.

And ditto UWItv Global, expected to package similar related programs for broadcast during 2021…

First People, Last Citizens?
October saw joint and separate Caribbean observances of a Day of Recognition of Aboriginal Peoples (October 12), during which the region’s original inhabitants recommitted to the goals of rescuing their stolen identities, re-igniting the integration that existed between their civilizations before the Europeans arrived.

The CRR also observed its third anniversary on October 12.
On October 22, ahead of International Creole Day on October 25, Dame Pearlette Louisy, Saint Lucia’s longest-serving Governor General and Chair of the island’s Nobel Laureates Festival Committee (honouring its two Nobel Prizewinners Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott), delivered the first-ever Online Kweyol Reparations Lecture on the topic ‘Reparations Delayed is Justice Denied’.

Delivered in the creole language indigenous to millions of Caribbean people in Dominica, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Haiti, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago and throughout the global Kweyol Diaspora, including Africa, The Americas and Europe, Dame Pearlette’s lecture drew encouraging remarks from Kweyol-speakers in Haiti and worldwide, as well as English-speakers assisted by Power-point notes and visuals, who tuned-in to the widely advertised event.

In October and November, the untold histories of the region’s indigenous people were presented to regional schools, as students again came face to face – many for the first time — with leaders of different Caribbean indigenous communities.

The October 29 schools lecture on ‘The Myths of Extinction – Indigenous Peoples and their Survival Strategies’ featured presentations by acclaimed Caribbean Historian Dr Lennox Honeychurch, Dominica’s Minister for Kalinago Affairs and Rural Upliftment Cozier Frederick and President of the Garifuna Nation of Belize, Egbert Higinio.

Then on November 19, former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and current Chair of the UWI Open Campus Council, Ambassador Dr June Soomer, delivered a regional lecture on ‘First People, Last Citizens: From Native Genocide to National Isolation – What Next?’ in an event also featured online presentations by the Kalinago and Garifuna leaders and another on the indigenous people of St. Kitts and Nevis by the twin-island Federation’s NRC Chair, Carla Astaphan.

The three lectures on the region’s First People followed a June 11 Virtual Caribbean Reparations Youth Conference hosted by the Saint Lucia NRC, coordinated by the CRC and moderated by Saint Lucia’s Ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS Dr Elma Gene Isaac, which also featured online contributions by the Kalinago (formerly Carib) Chief in Dominica and the Santa Rosa First People community Chief from Trinidad & Tobago.

The First Peoples regional and schools’ lectures were followed in Caribbean indigenous communities, as well as by students and teachers, university lecturers, sociologists, historians and academics at high schools and universities across the region — and beyond.

The lectures also identified common themes of interest to the different First Peoples worth following-up, such as DNA-based identification and documentation of indigenous peoples’ regional traces, renaming of misnamed people and places and correction of falsified history.

They also pledged to rescue and preserve aboriginal and slave burial sites being unearthed in construction projects on former slave plantations and previously isolated or preserved areas across the region being opened-up to favor construction projects funded by uncaring foreign investors. “End of part one, read part two in next Saturday’s publication.”

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