St Lucia PM makes the case for slave trade reparations
The ground-breaking study on the abolition and emancipation of British West Indian slavery, Capitalism and Slavery, by Dr Eric Williams was recently the framework for an address on CARICOM’s political stance on slave trade reparations. UWI graduate, Dr Kenny Anthony, prime minister of Saint Lucia, spoke on “Reparations and 21st Century Development: The Silence Is Broken and We Speak to the World” at the 16th Annual Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture at Florida International University (FIU).
Although published in 1944, Williams’ book Capitalism and Slavery is a study on the abolition and emancipation of British West Indian slavery. Popularly referred to as The Williams Thesis, the book established the contribution of Caribbean slavery to the development of both Britain and America, continues to inform today’s ongoing debate and is referenced in arguments on the slave trade reparations. It has been translated into eight languages including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, and this year, Korean. According to the New York Times, the book was “years ahead of its time… this profound critique is still the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development.”
In a determined and measured fashion, consistent with his legal background, Anthony addressed CARICOM’s perspective. He discussed recent precedents of reparatory justice made by Great Britain to the Mau Mau freedom fighters of Kenya — to the tune of 20 million pounds sterling; and the payment of some $455 million to an indigenous community in the United States. The most well-known case of compensation for historical wrongs, of course, remains that of the Jewish Holocaust for which, as late as 2013, Germany had agreed to pay survivors almost 800 million euros.
“These awards suggest,” stated the prime minister, “that the world has begun to understand and accept the idea of compensation… [for the] ‘value extraction’ … wealth, labour, liberty, dignity, and everything else [wrested by] one section of the community, the free section …from the enslaved community.”
The most egregious example of reverse reparatory justice can be found in Haiti, which won a war of national liberation and was declared a free nation in 1804. In its independence constitution of 1805, the world’s first black republic promptly abolished slavery and slave trading and declared them crimes. In 1825, after 21 years of nationhood, Haiti was forced by the French-led pro-slavery international community to agree to pay reparations of 150 million gold francs (later reduced to 90 million) to former slavers in France for the loss of their ‘property.’ Haiti’s ‘debt’ was not satisfied until 1947, almost a century and a half later, leaving the small island nation seemingly intractably impoverished and the national psyche irreparably wounded.