Letters & Opinion

London Bridge Still Falling Down!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

As the English tend to say: ‘All’s well that ends well!’

But all didn’t exactly end well for the Royal Family’s second 2022 ‘Caribbean Charm Offensive’ by Prince Edward, (Earl of Wessex) and his wife Sophie (Countess of Wessex) that started and ended in Saint Lucia, which Britain and France fought 14 times over before the prized ‘Helen of the West’ was ceded to Britain by a Paris treaty, with overwhelming and everlasting French influence.

The British ruled for 165 years (1814 to 1979) after which Whitehall gave the island independence status, but with a constitution that kept it within the realm of the club of former British colonies The Commonwealth, of which Queen Elizabeth II is monarch and Head of State.

But never mind the military and political battles over the ‘Helen’, Slavery was never interrupted in Saint Lucia.

The royal visit to the island 43 years after independence was no different to that experienced by Edward’s nephew William (and his wife Kate Middleton) in March: welcomed with mixed reaction, including expressions of regret that no protests seemed to have been organised in Saint Lucia, concern about the cost of the visit to local taxpayers and interest in how the new government’s $1.8 billion 2022-23 Budget would help them through the price rises caused by the Ukraine War.

But despite no announcement of a formal programme, the Royal Visitors soon learned that Saint Lucians are no less supportive of their and CARICOM Governments’ calls for Reparations from Britain for Slavery and Native Genocide.

The Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) held a two-hours-long Live Press Conference on August 26, where founding-member Ras Wisely Tafari — also chair of the Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO) — noted that despite the United Nations (UN) having declared TransAtlantic Slavery ‘A Crime Against Humanity’ in 2001, Britain and other European nations that benefitted still refuse to offer “a Full and Formal Apology” for “Slavery and Native Genocide” as called-for by all 14 CARICOM Governments since 2013.

He also gave a detailed account of the role of the Royal Africa Company, which significantly helped further enrich the Royal Family through the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.

The Royal African Company was founded in 1672 and granted a monopoly in the slave trade (1680-1686), sponsoring 249 voyages to Africa between 1680 and 1688 and transporting an average of 5,000 enslaved Africans per year.

Nkrumah Lucien, another founding-member and a History lecturer at St. Mary’s College, offered several examples of Reparations having been paid before: to France by Haiti (up to 1957) for planters ‘losses’ during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804); to British plantation owners for loss of property (land and slaves) after ‘Abolition’ of slavery by the British parliament (1834); to Jews by Germany (from 1952) for the Nazi genocide; to Japanese-Americans (1988) for forced internment during World War II; to Namibia by Germany (2021) for the genocidal atrocities against the Nama and Herero tribes; and to Kenyans by Britain for the massacres of Mau-Mau independence fighters by British soldiers (2013).

CARICOM’s Representative on the United Nations Permanent Forum for People of African Descent Dr June Soomer (another NRC founding-member), addressed the conference virtually on issues ranging from CARICOM’s 10-point Plan for Reparatory Justice and why CARICOM wants no less than a full and formal apology, to why today’s Reparations struggle is just a continuity that started with the first slave’s resistance after capture and the role of France in Slavery in Saint Lucia and other Caribbean states.

Chair of the Grenada National Reparations Commission (GNRC) Senator Arley Gill also addressed the press conference on how Britain cancelled Grenada from the itinerary after the Bank of England admitted it owned nearly 500 slaves and two estates on the island; and the GNRC also requested an audience with the Royal Couple for “a serious discussion on Reparations” – to which it got no reply.

The NRC also announced its plans to launch a ‘100 Day Plan’ (between May 1 and September 7.Then came the Royals’ Saint Lucia two-day April 27 and 28 visit.

On Wednesday morning, they got a proverbial rude awakening for breakfast: a group of placard-bearing Rastafarians offering a frosty welcome as they headed to the Fond Doux Estate in Soufriere.

Later, they were welcomed by another protest at the entrance to Government House, this time organized by the Iyanola Council for Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR).

But the visit did not in any way change the fact that Saint Lucia is one of 14 former British West Indian colonies calling together for Reparations, not just from Britain but also from all other European nations that built empires from the profits of Slavery.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ernest Hilaire made that clear in his comments to the local press after welcoming the Royal Couple; and before they left Prime Minister Pierre publicly defended “the right of the Rastafarians to protest, because we live in a democracy.”

Between the local organisers and the British handlers, the itinerary was not advertised, so the visitors met students at the Camille Henry school in Castries and visited Pigeon Island – and were boated to Soufriere to learn how cocoa is made, before visiting the Sulphur Springs.

Some sections of the British press on tow with the royal entourage ensured UK citizens were kept abreast with more details and photos about the dresses Sophie wore than the fact that the Royal Couple was reminded that now more than decades ago (when The Mighty Sparrow sang his classic), London Bridge is falling down.

And from what they heard and saw in Saint Lucia and elsewhere, Edward and Sophie will surely tell Her Majesty that her former Loyal Subjects are no longer loyal, now also actually calling for Apologies and Reparations from The Royal Family too, for its own big role in commission of the greatest crime known to humanity, TransAtlantic Slavery and Native Genocide.

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