Pay back time
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Committee, headed by Barbadian professor Sir Hilary Beckles, has stepped up its campaign to get Britain to pay what it says is “a long overdue contribution” to the region’s economic development.
During a recent visit to the United Kingdom, Sir Hilary, who is vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, presented a model for reparations at Oxford University.
He also met at the House of Commons with political leaders and civil society organizations to discuss CARICOM’s call for reparatory justice for African enslavement and native genocide.
The meeting was a follow-up to Sir Hilary’s visit to England in July 2014 where he addressed the British Parliament.
Sir Hilary stated that reparatory justice was not a backward call for handouts, as many believe.
“On the contrary, it is a renewed call for development cooperation between Britain and the Caribbean.
“It is about Britain making a long overdue contribution to the economic development of the Caribbean through investments in areas such as education, health care, agriculture reform, technology and science to transfer through the universities and colleges,” he said.
“It concerns debt abandonments since the governments of the Caribbean have used up their scarce resources desperately trying to clean up the colonial mess Britain left behind, such as rampant illiteracy, poor health care, horrible housing, and backward attitudes to development,” he added.
In a scathing attack on the UK, he accused Britain of abandoning its financial obligation to the Caribbean, whose citizens and governments had done very well with self-responsibility.
“But the time has come for Britain to honour its legal and moral obligation to the Caribbean,” the head of the regional reparations committee said.
“Every finance minister in the Caribbean should stand with the reparations movement and jointly call upon Britain to facilitate economic development and recovery since, as [British] Prime Minister [David] Cameron said, the Caribbean has been neglected for 30 years after 300 years of wealth extraction,” he added.
During the lecture, which was hosted by Professor Louise Richardson Oxford’s new vice chancellor Sir Hilary suggested that Britain should establish a facility like the Jewish Reparation Fund, which drives Israeli development works projects. He said a CARICOM Reparation Fund could receive reparations for development purposes and fund projects for the people of the Caribbean.
Sir Hilary’s 10-point action plan called for an apology, repatriation, an indigenous people’s programme, cultural institutions, programmes designed to improve public health, literacy and African knowledge; psychological rehabilitation and technology upgrading programmes and debt cancellation.
He said that Britain had a responsibility to the citizens of the Caribbean to right the wrongs of slavery by paying reparation.
“It is a vital step in the racial and political healing process”, he declared.
Noting that “Blacks are the only people who have received no reparations for crimes of slavery”, Sir Hilary said urgent action was required to repair damage facing the region such as the debt crisis, poor health and literacy ratios, institutional poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and more.
His stepped up campaign comes amid efforts by a group of scholar/activists in Britain to mobilize their peers to sign a statement calling on Cameron to launch a commission of inquiry into the Histories and Legacies of British Colonialism and the British Empire.