By José Francisco Ávila
I participated in the first regional reparations conference, held in St Vincent and the Grenadines, from September 15th - 17th and I had the opportunity to address the gathering as the only representative of the descendants of our ancestors whose lands were “stolen” by the British, committed genocide and forcibly exiled them from St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1797. I was delighted to listen to the presentation by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparation Committee, which was based on the genocide and exile of our ancestors.
José Francisco Ávila is the chairman of the board and co-founder of the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc., which advocates for the improvement of the social, economic, political and cultural conditions of New York's Garifuna community. He can be contacted here.
In his opening ceremony address, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the descendants of the Callinago, the Garifuna, the Amerindians, and the Africans have an especial obligation to fight for reparatory justice. “After all, their forbears were directly affected and, most importantly, together, they constitute the majority population across our Caribbean.”
In 2011, the Garifuna Coalition published a press release supporting Prime Minister Gonsalves’ call for reparation for the genocide against the our ancestors by the British. My participation in the regional reparations conference brought me full circle in my long career advocating for the well being of the Garifuna people.
Twenty-one years ago, in my opening speech at the second Garifuna summit meeting in Los Angeles, California, in July 1992, I said, “One hundred and ninety-five years ago, the Garifuna people were torn from our native land of Yurumein and scattered across the seas. Today the Garifuna people are still divided and some of us have long neglected our historical and cultural links with Yurumein and other Garinagu. But there's probably no better time than now for us to assume the inherently international role that this scattering across the earth has given us. It is now our collective responsibility to put the pieces of ourselves back together. We must help resurrect the Garifuna culture in the image of its past glory by reclaiming our history for the sake of our future. It is our responsibility to work to reassemble Chatoyer's people.”
The participants at the 1992 summit concluded that the issues and challenges confronting the Garifuna People in all countries were the same that wee need to have the capacity to confront these issues together and to defend the interests of the Garifuna People when we see them threatened anywhere. The consensus was that the establishment of a Garifuna organization in each country of the Diaspora was a prerequisite for the establishment of a global Garifuna organization that would look after the interests of the Garifuna people everywhere. While national organizations were established in each country, there’s still no global organization that looks after the interests of the Garifuna nation!
Over the past months, I’ve held conversations with my good friend Ruben Reyes, who was one of the attendees at the 1992 Garifuna summit, about the need for a Garifuna nation organization conformed by representatives from Belize, Guatemala Honduras, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States. There’s no better time than now to finally establish such organization, as Reparations has been classified as the issue of the twenty first century!
In his book “Britain’s Black Debt, Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide,” Dr Hilary McD. Beckles, in the second chapter titled, “Exterminate the Savage: Genocide in the Windwards” states “This history speaks to the origins and legacy of the British official policy of genocide in the Caribbean. The native community experienced the full impact of this policy. Survivors today struggle to sustain what is left of their 'Nation'. Defeated in battle, scattered and politically marginalized, victims continue their rebuilding efforts. They have a legal right to reparations claims. No legal claim is clearer. Only political will and community organization are required to present the case.”
Furthermore, in his preliminary notes on the quantification of reparation from the British for lands stolen, for genocide and forcible deportation of the Garifuna people and for enslavement of Africans in St Vincent and the Grenadine, Prime Minister Gonsalves states, “This is an incredible, historic crime of genocide for which the British must pay appropriate recompense to the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, including the descendants of the Garifuna. Appropriate recompense is required, too, for those communities of Garifuna in Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala who remain disadvantaged up to today.”
There's probably no better time than now for us to organize the Garifuna Diaspora in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States into the Garifuna nation that will look after the interests of the Garifuna nation and will join forces with the St Vincent and the Grenadines reparations committee and the Caribbean Community‘s Reparations Commission in seeking justice for the crime of genocide committed against our ancestors by the British.
While we have put the pieces of ourselves back together and resurrected the Garifuna culture in the image of its past glory, as demonstrated by UNESCO’s proclamation of the the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity; as the descendants of our ancestors whose lands were “stolen” by the British, committed genocide and forcibly exiled them from St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1797, it is now our collective obligation to rebuild the Garifuna nation, by developing the political will and organize ourselves to make sure that the British right the wrongs of the past and fight for reparatory justice.