By Anatol Scott
On August 5, 2014, I-Witness News presented an opinion piece entitled Ten-Point Reparations Plan Seriously Flawed
, by Michael Dingwall.
I found his thoughts very interesting but also not very positive or educative. I was concerned that his thinking might be representative of the many and that something should be done, at least, to broaden the discussion. I took a few days to ponder the matter and I began to realize that, although I had voiced my objections to how the reparations issue was proceeding in St Vincent and the Grenadines, I had not separately studied or formed an opinion on the Ten Point Plan.
Anatol Leopold Scott is a graduate of the St Vincent Boys’ Grammar School. In 1969, he was appointed executive secretary of the St Vincent Tourist Board under James Mitchell, the then minister of agriculture, tourism, and trade. He emigrated to Canada where he worked at different jobs in government and private enterprises. He pursued higher education at the University Of Alberta, graduating BA (1993) with distinction, and MA (1994) in History.
That sent me back to the notes I have been making, over the years, on subjects that interest me pertaining to St Vincent and the Grenadines and to the Ten Point Plan in particular. The following is my take on the subject and my response to Mr Dingwall’s critique.
To: Mr Michael Dingwall
If one were to approach the subject of the Ten Point Reparations Plan from the perspective of popular or somewhat colonialist thinking over the past 50 years, or thereabout, as you have done, I would tend to agree with your basic premise that the plan is flawed and should be abandoned. However, if one should approach the subject from the plan’s Caribbean historical point of view, a less dismissive perspective emerges.
Before proceeding, we should agree to call a spade a spade! The term ‘Europeans’, as used by you, is problematic. The Europe of today consists of a large number of states and diverse peoples. Most of these states had either nothing or very little to do with slavery in the Caribbean; it is, therefore, not quite apropos to use the term ‘Europeans’ as loosely as you have done.
The Ten Point Reparations Plan is supposedly intended to deal with reparations from Britain, France, and Holland, which were the major European countries involved in slavery among the Caribbean islands. With regard to France and Holland, the CARICOM plan attempts to include Haiti and Suriname but all of the other French and Dutch former colonies, whose existentialism after slavery was radically different from the former British colonies, are not included. Those other former colonies are not members of CARICOM but they are members of our Caribbean civilization and, one would think, they would join, at least, in expressing Caribbean solidarity.
Instead, they have distanced themselves from the reparations issue. As far as I am concerned, bringing Haiti and Suriname into the reparations claim is tantamount to taking useless excess baggage onto an airplane; CARICOM would fare better by not working too boisterously with those two countries if they were to present completely separate reparations cases to France and Holland.
In this regard, it would also be a bit of an eye opener if you and other individuals from the British Caribbean would look into the histories, at least, of some of those French and Dutch former colonies, in order to understand why they have no interest in joining the reparations cause. The bulk of the colonies that are trying to present this case for reparations are British. Hence, they should be described properly, as British, and not as European colonies. Here, I address this issue as applicable to the British case only.
I agree with you, based on the three reasons you have given, that ‘Great’ Britain can, and probably will, attempt to ‘refute’ this demand. But, if it does not apologize, it will lose some more of the glitter that made it ‘great’ and it would open itself to a lot of negative international vitriol which, given its long-lost imperial status, will reflect badly on the British people. Britain was not only at the scene of the crimes; it was the most active participant in, and the greatest beneficiary of the crimes committed during the years of Caribbean slavery. At least, it should now bow its recalcitrant head in abject apology!
The best historical example of an experience with African repatriation is Liberia. When I look at the history of that country, especially of recent times, the only thing that I can say is that I would not want to be there. In my travels, I have met, gotten to know, spoken with, discussed with, partied with Africans from all over that continent. For the most part, although most of us would not admit it publicly, I and most people from the Caribbean that I have known over the years find it very difficult to fully relate to most African peoples in the same way that we relate to other Caribbean peoples, even those who speak a different language.
Whether we admit it or not, in most respects, culturally we are very different peoples. This Back to Africa idea, I think, is a sick seed that was planted in the minds of so-called ‘African-Americans’ in their very late quest for self-discovery -- ‘Roots’, as they call it. This idea was picked up, mostly by the Rastafarians and a few Caribbean academics, but it has no real base for acceptance in the minds of the vast majority of Caribbean peoples.
From my individual perspective, as a Caribbean man, I tend to think of this as a useless demand, designed to incorporate the Rastafarians, a few African-American academics and activists, and a few African apologists into the reparations fold! Thumbs down on this one!
3. Indigenous Peoples Development Program!
Based on familiarity with the Canadian experience of financing the education of native peoples, I would tend to agree with your statement on the scholarship programme for indigenous peoples in that it has and is serving the cultural needs of a very large number of Canadian native peoples well. But, I fail to see the short or long term benefit to the very few remaining indigenous Caribbean peoples, especially since their culture, like that of the former French and Dutch colonies, has become so indistinguishable from that of the majority of Caribbean peoples. (I am not aware that the scholarship programme is being financed by the British, nor am I familiar with the water programme which is being financed by ‘Europeans’ in Dominica so I have no comment on that score). I tend to favour the type of educational programme suggested by Dr Adrian Fraser with regard to St Vincent and the Grenadines but I am much more enthusiastic about his idea of turning Baliceaux into an historic site.
I, however, would turn the entire island into much more than that by making it into a tourist park, catering to one day tourists. I would move the petroglyphs, which are being removed from the site of the Argyle Airport, to a central location on Baliceaux. Raised on high, I would turn them into our kind of Statue of Liberty, surrounded by beautifully landscaped, flowering gardens and walking paths (no automobiles allowed), with a variety of culturally specific restaurants serving local delicacies, with subdued, entertainment, with (Bequia built?) schooners like those of yesteryear to transport the people to and from the island -- a little Mackinac Island -- where we would recreate an imagined historical scene (utilizing local art, artistry, sculptures, plaques, all by local artists), with representations of what the Garifuna might have lived through (or did not live through) before they were deported from their native land.
I may be a dreamer but, that is the type of development, if constructed and marketed effectively, which would bring North American, European, and other Caribbean island tourists flocking to St Vincent and the Grenadines because it exists nowhere else in our waters. That is the type of cultural display that would affirm the scattered, slumbering Garunagu homeland desire and re-embed the Garifuna experience into Vincentian culture while providing respectable employment for educated and uneducated Vincentians and a unique type of tourism for visitors to the Caribbean from around the world.
That is the type of project that the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, along with private investors (large and small), and the Garifuna should be joining together to create. It is a specific idea, based on reparation for a specific historical wrong, part of a specific reparation proposal on behalf of the Garifuna, and a unique developmental expression by the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is the type of suggestion that the St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Committee should be presenting to Vincentians and to Britain, not simply a half-baked, totally negative complaint, harping of Garifuna genocide. For me, if handled properly this would be a huge Thumbs Up!
4. Cultural Institutions!
You claim that “if we cannot come up with the intellectual means to create our own cultural institutions, then no amount of reparations can help us.” On the surface, and if less informed, I would tend to agree with this derogatory comment. But, in 3 above, I have just outlined a way in which we can create an outdoor cultural institution (it is important to realize that we are an outdoor people) that would be self-sufficient and would provide enormous economic and cultural benefits to St Vincent and the Grenadines at minimal costs over a short period of time.
Of course, we would have to deal with the present family dispute surrounding the island and the $30 million ‘for sale’ price they have been asking for some time but a precedent for the solution to that problem already exists in the way the Mitchell government dealt with a similar issue at Orange Hill Estate. This suggestion hints at the real problem, which is that it is not our inability to come up with the intellectual means but rather, lately, the inability to think and act strategically, for the most part, by our leadership. The intellectual ability is there but it is stifled by a cauterizing political divide in the society. That has to be neutered somehow and the struggle for reparations can help in this regard.
You seem to think that cultural institutions are only such things as museums and art galleries. Perhaps that is a Eurocentric viewpoint, necessitated and accepted by those who were living or have lived most of their lives in a cold climate. Its unquestioning acceptance by you has conditioned you to heap praise on the Institute of Jamaica, which was started in 1879 by the then governor. That institution may have done much for Jamaica but, I do not think it has done anything for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and all the other islands that do not have such an institution. Instead, I tend to ask, given the British belief in such institutions, why did the British governments, from 1834 to the dawn of Independence, not strategically establish such institutions in some of the other islands?
So, what more do we want from the ‘British’? Recognition that they owe us far more, in the area of cultural development, than an apology? What more do we want from our governments? Recognition that we require less political and more economically strategic leadership and thinking in this important area of our people’s development! Thumbs Up! I say!
5. Public Health!
You claim that “this can be successfully challenged from many angles... first, no one 200 years ago would have been able to foresee the effect of the slave diet today, if there is any.” Agreed to the first portions of the sentence but I abhor the sarcastic ‘if there is any’ comment! Instead, I recognize that the diet for most British people of that time was not much better than ours during the days of slavery and we must acknowledge that, whereas the common British diet has undergone massive change since then, that poisonous diet still exists today among the poor and unemployed in Vincentian society.
This is borne out by your comment: “Second, we today still continue to feed ourselves with this ‘poison’ diet.” Agreed! But, we must also recognize the fact that, if one approaches the subject from the perspective of the past 250 years or thereabouts, our poison diet still consists of an excess of three possibly deleterious ingredients when used to excess: sugar, salt, and starch, along with a most powerful, primarily male, aperitif called rum, as opposed to gin and, later, rum in Britain at the time.
In my trips to St Vincent during the last few years, I am constantly astonished at the amount of sweets (sugar) being consumed, especially by young children; the soft drinks are so sweet, they taste like poison to me and I refuse to buy any of it. Salt fish, that basic staple of the slave diet, is now way too expensive, but our need for salt still abounds and the amount of raw salt being poured onto the food being eaten in households is shocking.
In addition, the amount of starches being consumed in most meals is extraordinary. People consume two to three times the healthy quantity of rice and peas but they insist on having an equal helping of their ‘provisions’ on their already overladen plate. In my mind, this amounts to a form of gluttony that is practiced mostly by the poor and uneducated and I cannot understand why they look down on my trim, healthy body and insist on telling me that I need some more fat. Truthfully, it almost seems as if one has to have a big, projecting belly in order to be considered healthy in St Vincent.
“Third, the evidence for this claim (the poison diet) is very unsound.” I disagree totally. Over the past 40 years, the scientific evidence to refute your words is more than abundant. Excessive consumption of sugar, salt, and starch, enhanced by the fermentation process of ‘strong rum’, leads directly to early Type II diabetes and high blood pressure in later life, which is a runaway health problem in St Vincent.
I must admit that I tend to love my strong rum when I’m visiting home but, being fully aware of its detrimental qualities, I impose strict limits on myself The solution to the problem is simple -- reduce the intake of these products. If it is not done willingly by the people, double or triple the price of the actual products (mainly sugar, salt and rum) so that they become less affordable. In time, the taste buds will adjust.
“Fourth, our ‘modern’ diet of fast food has done much to contribute to the health problems we have today.” Agreed! Provided that we recognize that fast food consists not only of the Kentucky Fried Chickens or Subways of the expatriate world but also of locally abundant varieties of fast foods, and that the foreign fast foods have done much more to deal with excess sugar, salt, and starch than the local varieties.
While I am on the subject, I think that something has to be done about the number of rum shops that exist in every village throughout St Vincent. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of these establishments are totally unprofitable, this cultural icon seems to be the most highly desirable type of business establishment in every community. But, for the most part, they serve mostly to spread the slothfulness and animalistic distempers that breed the violence, the cutlass dismemberments, the gun-toting murderers, and anti-social behaviours that are all too pervasive in the society. I digress!
Diet is not the only problem contributing to the woeful public health crisis. The biggest problem is scarcity of basic materials, equipment, and maintenance throughout the health system. Were it not for the contributions of the Diaspora and foreign governments in recent years, the public health situation in St Vincent and the Grenadines would be in total shambles.
In this regard, we can blame the British for not having provided better health care facilities during the period 1834 to the 1950s. But, we should also remember that it was primarily the World Health Organization, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, which ended the scourge of ‘yars’, ‘tobo’, hookworm and other tropical diseases that were so prevalent in St Vincent during my first visit as a young child between 1949 and 1951.
From the 1960s to today, apart from recent improvements in the scarcity of medically trained individuals, the problem with the public health care system has been one of scarcity of facilities, basic clinical materials and necessary modern equipment. If CARICOM members are not already doing it, they should be pooling their purchasing power in order to get a bigger bang for their scarce resources, the same thing that is being done by governmental districts in all developed countries.
A reparations payout may result in a onetime improvement in health facilities but the responsibility to ensure a well functioning health system is and will always be an ongoing responsibility of the government. But, when all is said and done, we should never forget that, from 1834 through to the 1950s, the government that should have started and built that health care system was the British government and they did a woeful job of that. Thumbs Up to a Reparation! I say.
You mention the British gift of the University of the West Indies in 1948 and the formation of the Ministry of Education in 1953. My question to you would be -- what did the British do from 1834 to 1953 to ensure basic literacy for all members of the then population? As far as I am concerned, and with regard to the university and the ministry, your answer to that question would suggest a clear case of too little too late and, if Jamaica at independence was faced with an illiteracy rate of 80%, the rate in St Vincent and the Grenadines must have been in the 90s, percentage-wise.
At least Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados were favoured with university campuses, but the other British Caribbean countries, like St Vincent and the Grenadines, have had a gargantuan struggle to, first, increase the literacy rate since the 1960s and, lately, the levels of higher education. Hats off to the hyperbolic Ralph Gonsalves government with its innovative ‘education (d)evolution’, but, from my perspective, every government (bar none) since the 1960s has played a major role in advancing literacy and education in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Again, the big gap that stands out historically is that for the formative period, 1834 through to the 1950s. I say Thumbs Up for Education in a claim for reparations and I call on the committee to present the historical evidentiary information and the projects to buttress that claim.
7. African Knowledge Programme!
I have explained my position on African issues in 2 above. According to your sarcastic comment that “we want the Europeans to help us Africans in the West to know our history in Africa. In fact, it is largely because of the Europeans why we know what we do about Africa’s past.” I strongly object to being referred to as an ‘African in the West’. Skin colour aside, I am completely and totally a Caribbean man. But, because of Africa’s connection to Caribbean slavery, I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying the historical, sociological, anthropological, and ethnological literature pertaining to Africa and I have come to my own understanding of that massively diverse, confusing, and yet to be empowered continent.
The only other comment that I would like to make on the issue is that, in the last 30 years, the bulk of the new knowledge on Africa has actually come out of the work undertaken by American, not European scholars. From my perspective, since Africa’s huge participatory role in Caribbean slavery is not acknowledged by the CARICOM countries in their reparations demand, and since ongoing information on Africa and African issues will continue to be readily available to us, I see no reason for including an African Knowledge Programme in the Ten Point Reparations Plan. Thumbs down on this one!
8. Psychological Rehabilitation!
Whatever our background, in a sense, all people on Planet Earth need some sort of psychological rehabilitation. Where does it start and where does it end? To this, I say Palms firmly Down!
9. Technology Transfers!
You say: “I am still not sure how much more technology transfers we can get. From modern communication systems, to the Internet, to modern transportation systems and the like, all of these have been transferred to us.” Once again, on the surface, your statement makes sense to those who do not think analytically. In this regard, I doubt very much that the British ‘transferred’ any of these systems to us. The use of the word transfer suggests that the British gave us these technologies at no cost to us. I suggest, instead, that we (individuals, businesses, and governments) have paid for the bulk of these technologies out of our own pockets and we source the technologies from wherever we can.
The problem for us is that these technologies come at extremely high purchasing and maintenance costs and most of them are outdated or used, not new. In return, we are paid next to nothing for our mostly agricultural products and every time we find a product that pays a decent price, they (the sources of the technology) find ways to deflate the price of our products, to reduce the demand, or to find man-made substitutes.
We are in a vicious loop that is growing wider on a constant basis; for the most part, we know what we need but we cannot afford what we need. In terms of modern technologies this is less a reparations issue than more of a free trade market issue but, it should be recognized as a firm request for some help, just to get a little caught up in the world of technology.
In a sense, it could also be stated that our demand amounts to a kind of payback for the way that Britain held back from us the technologies that fired the industrial might of Britain and retarded our possible mini-industries during and after the days of slavery.
You say: “technology transfers also involve know-how, through education. As mentioned before, we have the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, both started by the British.” Agreed! But we have used these and other available sources to develop the technicians that keep the used systems running and we are beginning to see the first signs of technological innovation by local technologists in St Vincent and throughout the Caribbean.
Granted, we have not, as yet, created “a culture of science and technology” but, we are no longer creeping. Gingerly, we are beginning to walk and, if we continue to inspire the young children through such programmes as the one laptop per child (first proposed by the NDP and made reality by the ULP), I predict that, within ten years, St Vincent and the Grenadines will no longer be walking confidently and upright! Technologically, we will be almost running! I say, Thumbs Up!
10. Debt Cancellation!
The responsibility for creating and servicing debt was accepted by those Caribbean colonies who claimed independence beginning in the 1960s. In 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines assumed responsibility for its debts. The management of that debt is strictly in the hands of the government of the day. Despite the enormous tasks facing governments, from 1979 through to 2001, St Vincent and the Grenadines maintained a respectable fiscal performance.
During the period from 2005 to 2014, the nation has seen a derogatory slide toward a fiscally dangerous precipice. The government has ascribed this negative situation to such occurrences as the 2008 international meltdown and to unfortunate natural occurrences and totally rejects consideration of its possible misguided contributions to fiscal mismanagement.
Whatever the reason, the government still is responsible for the proper fiscal management of the country’s resources. Although St Vincent and the Grenadines has not yet arrived at the jumping off point over the fiscal cliff, as has Grenada, it is clear that the debt situation in which the country finds itself is not desirable or comfortable. Should the country fall into the painfully squeezing hands of the IMF or the World Bank, the responsibility for that occurrence would be none other than the Government which mismanaged the economy.
Given these considerations, I do not believe that debt cancellation should be part of a claim for reparations. As you, Mr Dingwall, have said: “It is utter nonsense if we think that all of our debts will be forgotten!” I say! In the last few years, we have allowed our government to make our bed! Should disaster befall us, we have no choice but to lie in it or make a new bed! Thumbs Down to this idea!
In closing, I would like to confirm that, like my stance on the approach being taken by the Ralph Gonsalves government and the poor performance of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Committee, I am obviously not a full supporter of the Ten Point Reparations Plan since I am hereby not endorsing the entire plan. In my view, however, 6 out of 10 ain’t that bad!
Overall, though, I have sought, once again, to hammer home my three basic points:
1. Slavery and the racialist presentation of it should not be the main issue being discussed in the demand for reparations; but it is the beginning point from which all other issues flow;
2. The real damage to the Caribbean, the cause of the hole we are in, primarily lies with the type of government that Britain maintained in these colonies from 1834 through to the dawning of the age of independence in the Caribbean;
3. The monetary aspect of reparations need not be presented as a demand for mulct; it should be based on the historical evidence from each CARICOM nation and presented on the basis of funding for necessary and sustainable projects, not as an expected handout to individuals or governments in the Caribbean.
One contributor to my presentations has hinted that he does not know which side I am on in reparations and in the corrupt (on both sides) party politics of St Vincent and the Grenadines. My answer to him is: I am not interested in taking any side; I am interested in analyzing, decoding, and making sense of every issue facing St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In the end, when the Ralph Gonsalves government condescends to accord me my legal right, to issue my passport, I will have the right to vote. When an election is called, that is the moment when I will choose which of two basically uninspiring sides I am on. That decision is mine to make. It will be a private decision, a secret decision, and one which, unlike the widespread, mob voting, custom of most voters in St Vincent and the Grenadines, I need not disclose to anyone!