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Diaspora wants ‘In’ on Regional Reparations Debate

Successful 42nd Saint Lucia Independence Observance Webinar

Saint Lucians in The Diaspora want to know more about, get involved in and be part of the continuing discussion at home and across the Caribbean about the quest by Caribbean governments for Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide.

The calls were sounded loud and clear on Sunday as Saint Lucians abroad joined those at home to observe their 42nd Independence Anniversary.

Image: Presenters to the February 21 Independence Anniversary Webinar for the Saint Lucian Diaspora: (Left to right) Dame Pearlette Louisy (GGE), Monsignor Dr Patrick Anthoiny, UWI Open campus Council Chair Ambassador Dr June Soomer, Ambassador to CARICOM and OECS Dr Elma Gene Isaac and Ambassador for Diaspora Affairs Dr Jocelyn Clark-Fletcher.
Presenters to the February 21 Independence Anniversary Webinar for the Saint Lucian Diaspora: (Left to right) Dame Pearlette Louisy (GGE), Monsignor Dr Patrick Anthoiny, UWI Open campus Council Chair Ambassador Dr June Soomer, Ambassador to CARICOM and OECS Dr Elma Gene Isaac and Ambassador for Diaspora Affairs Dr Jocelyn Clark-Fletcher.

The calls for inclusion in the national and regional reparations discussion were made when the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) and the Office of the Ambassador for Diaspora Affairs on Sunday, February 21, 2021, co-hosted the Inaugural Webinar on Reparations for the Diaspora, with participation by ten associations of Saint Lucian nationals in the Caribbean and Canada, the UK and the USA, as well as the British Virgin Islands and French Guiana.

Held in observance of Saint Lucia’s 42nd Independence Anniversary and aimed at the estimated 57,000 Saint Lucians in The Diaspora, the online event involved prominent presenters in Saint Lucia and leaders of Saint Lucia Associations abroad, led by the President of the Saint Lucia Union of Overseas Associations (SLUOA). Ross Cadasse

The two-hour, timed to fit across regional and continental time zones, opened with an invocation by Historian and Cultural anthropologist Monsignor Dr Patrick Anthony, who quoted scriptures and writer Langston Hughes to make the connection between the struggle for Reparatory Justice and historical struggles for Social Justice from Biblical times.

Saint Lucia’s Ambassador for Diaspora Affairs, Dr Jocelyn Clarke-Fletcher, welcomed the Diaspora leaders who mobilized their members through the ten national associations — in Atlanta and Florida (USA), Bridgetown (Barbados), Tortola (BVI), Cayenne (French Guiana) and London (UK) – and said her office was pleased to participate as it allowed Saint Lucians in the Diaspora to learn more about Saint Lucia and the Caribbean’s quest for Reparatory Justice while also observing the nation’s 42nd anniversary, mainly Under Lockdown.

Ambassador Fletcher said by their presence and the number of questions posted online even before the session started indicated the extent to which not only the associations of nationals, but youth in particular, feel they need to be part of the discussion and are pleased to have finally been included.

Saint Lucia’s Ambassador to CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Dr Elma Gene Isaac welcomed the regional and international participants and those logged-in across The Diaspora, offered a brief history of how the CARICOM governments agreed to pursue Reparations in 2013, noted it is also a matter affecting Saint Lucians and Caribbean people in the Diaspora and pointed out that ‘While reparations is grounded in the past, it also has to do with our future.’

Ambassador Isaac said not all quests for Reparations have been fruitless and pointed to Virgin Islanders being granted Danish citizenship on account of Denmark’s role in Slavery in the Caribbean; and, pointing to the universality and globalization of Reparations oday, the ambassador also urged Saint Lucians everywhere to follow the Reparations debates in the USA, where the Biden-Harris administration has had to revisit and discuss the HR-40 Bill 30 years after it was first presented by Representative John Conyers in 1989.

Saint Lucia’s longest-serving Governor General, Dame Pearlette Louisy, also Chair of the National Nobel Laureates Committee, noted that while there was ‘no pageantry’ in the Independence celebrations this year due to COVID-19, ‘We are nonetheless also celebrating the 42nd anniversary of Sir Arthur Lewis wining the Nobel Prize for Economics’ in 1979.

Dame Pearlette also spoke briefly on the historic contribution of Sir Arthur as the ‘Intellectual Author of the Blueprint for Reparations for the British West Indies published by the Fabian Society 82 years ago — the seminal ‘Labor in the West Indies’ (1939), which blueprint was adopted on August 1, 2020 by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as the template for the US $500 Billion Reparatory Justice regional economic package being sought since 2013 from Europe for Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide.

Ambassador Dr June Soomer, Chair of the UWI Open campus Council (also former Saint Lucia Ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS and Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States) noted that ‘Historical struggles for independence for Black-majority colonies in the Caribbean have always been linked to nation-building,’ but also bore costs – like with Haiti that has p[aid dearly for its Independence.

Ambassador Soomer underlined the need for CARICOM governments and people to together continue to pursue Reparatory Justice ‘because we cannot get it done if we don’t do it together,’ adding that ‘Independence, regionalism and reparations are intertwined.’

Image: The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) Ten-Point Plan matrix.  (Courtesy: A.L. Dawn French)
The CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) Ten-Point Plan matrix. (Courtesy: A.L. Dawn French)

NRC Chair Earl Bousquet, who also served as Moderator, explained ‘The CRC’s 10-point plan’ and the commission’s relationship with national committees and fielded questions online and from speakers on issues ranging from what is being demanded by way of reparations, how much is being sought, whether Caribbean governments are ‘at one’ in pursuit of Reparations, what legal cases are being made and what economic approaches are being considered, to how Saint Lucia associations in the Diaspora can come ‘get in on the discussions’ and ‘whether the CRC and CARICOM governments are catering for The Diaspora’ in the regional quest for Reparations.

Like all previous speakers, the NRC Chair also noted that ‘Reparations is also for The Diaspora’ and invited ‘Saint Lucians abroad and Caribbean people across the Diaspora’ to ‘Tune-in to the Reparations debates, not only in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean, but also in the USA, Canada and the UK, as well as the non-independent Caribbean territories’ still under direct European control in the Caribbean Sea and Latin America.

President of the SLUOA, Ross Cadasse, speaking from Canada, said because ‘The Diaspora’s knowledge of Reparations may not be advanced,’ there was much interest in participation in the online event. As evidenced by the number of associations of Saint Lucian nationals that unhesitatingly agreed to join the webinar and submit questions in advance.

Lawrence Pologne, a lecturer in Meteorology at The UWI Cave Hill Campus (representing Petra Pologne, President of the Barbados Association of Saint Lucians) said the issue was ‘long overdue’ for discussion and was one that ‘can unite’ Caribbean people to address ‘the economic inequalities’ bequeathed by slavery and colonialism.

Speaking out of London, Mrs Felicia Hippolyte welcomed the initiative and said there was interest in finding out ‘what economic models’ will be followed with reparations, whether there are ‘differences in national and regional approaches’ and ‘plans for collaboration’ among and between CARICOM governments in pursuing reparations.

Cornelius Alfred, speaking from Atlanta, Georgia (USA), said Saint Lucians there were interested in issues such as ‘Apologies and Compensation’ and how they can join the national conversation.

Aaron Francis in Tortola, the BVI, pointed out that ‘Reparations is a passionate issue’ in the BVI at the moment, especially after the islands’ Governor said recently that ‘Britain has not taken a position’ on Reparations, but islanders were also interested in issues such as ‘How much’ is being sought from Europe and ‘What case’ is being made for reparatory Justice.

William Sonny in Cayenne (French Guiana), speaking entirely in Kweyol, said ‘many, many Saint Lucians’ in the large French colony on the north-eastern shoulder of South America largely populated by descendants of early Saint Lucian loggers and miners were tuned-in and logged-onto the program and described it as ‘Bien jolie!’

Sonny lamented that ‘Despite Saint Lucians having been present in French Guiana since 1832, we are still not given our due recognition by the French state,’ adding that: ‘The British and French colonialists did not intend for us to be free and fully independent, which is why we are still fighting for Independence and reparations…’, which is why, he said, ‘We must not wave the white flag [of surrender].’

Uhanna Obaizamomwan and Kevin Williams also both spoke from Canada representing different associations, Ms Obaizamomwan recommending a Diaspora Reparations Committee and questioning about the arguments of those opposing Reparations and Mr Williams interested in whether ‘foreign assistance’ will continue after Reparations and ‘What strategies’ are being employed to address related issues.

A.L. Dawn French, author of the ‘Peanut’ series of illustrated storybooks for Caribbean children , made a power-point presentation on ‘Peanut’s Family Tree – A Reparations Story’, the second in the series inspired by the inaugural NRC National Reparations Lecture in August 2016, explaining she was inspired so to do because she felt children aged ‘11-and-under’ were left out of the discussion ‘and we need to engage our children…’

The event, though packed, was graced with what Moderator Earl Bousquet described as ‘Saint Lucia’s National Reparations Anthem’ – a 2014 music video of Herb Black’s song ‘Reparations’, directed by (current National Television Network Principal Information Officer) Davina Lee and another of the late national folk songstress Dame Sessenne Descartes performing her legendary folk hit ‘Mamai-la di wai’.

Dr Morgan Dalphinis, an acclaimed historian, writer and poet whose latest book on ‘History & Language in St. Lucia (1654-1915)’ was published in 2019 and delivered the 6th NRC National Reparations Lecture last week on ‘History, Language Policy and Costs in Saint Lucia’ fittingly ended the event with a poem entitled ‘Enspiwsyon’ (‘Inspiration’) that started in English and ended in Kweyol to help set the tone for the continuing observance of the island’s 42nd Independence Anniversary and the successful common participation in the inaugural event that all participants felt was a good initiative to bring saint Lucians abroad as much tuned to reparations as those at home.

The event was live-streamed globally by UWI Open Campus’ Marketing Department’s Technical Team, which has also produced all ten previous lectures in the parallel series of National and Regional Schools series that started in August and September, 2020, respectively.

All previous lectures are situated on the UWI Open Campus website – and the 6th Virtual Schools’ Lecture on February 25 from 10am to Midday (Eastern Caribbean Time), during school hours to facilitate participation by students preparing for regional History exams, will also be live-streamed by UWI Open Campus Facebook and YouTube channels.

Earl Bousquet
Chair
Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC)

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