By Ken Richards
BASSTERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- The quest for reparations should be tied into a more holistic life for Caribbean people, according to Dominican activist Athie Martin.
Dominican activist Athie Martin
He has been commenting on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) initiative to get European nations which profited from the transatlantic slave trade, to pay reparations to Caribbean states.
"Because I do believe that while it's important to call for reparations, we must be careful not to call for it in a way that will deepen the dependency and the enslavements of the mind of our people, where we would think that somebody owes us this, so in some peculiar way we would find ourselves being excused from the task of completing the liberation struggle begun many, many centuries ago," Martin said.
One of the key proponents of reparations is vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies Professor Hilary Beckles, in his capacity as chairman of the Caribbean Reparations Commission.
Beckles argues that the region has to repair the damage caused by the colonial powers during slavery, especially in the areas of education and health.
"Caribbean governments today are spending up to 70 or 80 percent of their expenditure on education and health. Why? Because after 300 years, the British have left Caribbean peoples illiterate and unhealthy. After 300 years of taking their labour, exploiting their labour and enriching themselves to build themselves into the most powerful nation on earth, they have left the Caribbean peoples illiterate and unhealthy, which means that the governments today now have to clean up illiteracy and clean up the ill health, do not have the resources to do it," he says, turning to Jamaica as an example.
"After 300 years, the British left Jamaica with 80 percent of its people illiterate. When Jamaica went into independence... in 1962, 80 percent of the people were functionally illiterate, and then you say to Jamaica with their two million people, 'Go and develop." There is no nation on this planet, using any method of economic development that could transform a society with 80 percent illiteracy into a developed nation in 50 years. It is impossible," Beckles insists.
An equally key argument, the leading academic contends, is the health situation which he also blames on the Europeans. He says the history of the explosion of chronic diseases in today’s Caribbean can be traced back to slavery.
According to Beckles, available statistics show that 60 percent of the black people in the Caribbean over the age of 60 have hypertension or diabetes or both.
"There is an explosion of ill health in the Caribbean, and this is a legacy of slavery and colonization...You take a people, put them on an island for 300 years, give them salt fish and salt pork every day, overwork them, undermine them, sell their children, rape their wives, make them work 20 hours a day, overwork, malnourish, and take them through that stress...profile of physical and mental terror, and what you get? Hypertension and diabetes," Beckles asserts.
"It was the same then as it is now. When your doctor [tells] you to learn to learn to relax, take out the salt, well you can take out the salt, but your fore parents couldn't take it, 'cause that's all they had, salt; and now the result is that black people in the Caribbean cannot metabolize salt and sugar, because for 300 years that is what we were fed on plantations, plus the stress. So we cannot metabolize salt and sugar and now we all have a salt and sugar problem: hypertension, diabetes."
Beckles says the problem is compounded because the drugs being used to tackle these health problems don’t work on an African black people in the Caribbean as well as they do on Caucasians and Africans in Africa.
"When a white person takes that drug, the cells have a 90 percent response. When an African black person in the Caribbean takes that drug we have a 70 percent response. So we are still dying at a faster rate. When you see people in their 60s and 70s having strokes and heart attacks it is because the drugs are not working, they're not working as well as they should," he says.
"Now, the important thing about this, is that the drugs work on the Africans, as well as they work on the Caucasians , but they don't work on us, because something happened to us. So when an African in Nigeria and Ghana and so on takes the drugs he has/she has a good response. When a European takes it they have a good response, but in the Caribbean and in the New World the Africans over here don't have that response because something happened to us, because we have been genetically modified during that slavery period."
Beckles says it is costing the Caribbean millions and millions of dollars to deal with its health and education problems, and that reparations are necessary to help deal with this.
Martin, an agronomist by profession, says he respects the arguments being put forward by the Caribbean Reparations Commission chairman; however, he insists that any thrust towards reparations should also embrace moves to free the Caribbean mind from mental slavery.
"I ask myself what do we do, when... that reparation formula gets agreed to? Have we... adjusted our mindset sufficiently to understand that it's not a pill that we must buy from the pharmacy to fix our diabetes, but that it's our diet, our lifestyle, our consumption habits, our production systems... have we made those connections to what would be the only sustainable and permanent and long-lasting... responses and answers to the legacy of slavery?” Martin asked.
"Because ultimately reparations must be about helping us deal not just with the symptoms of slavery, but the deep-seated, underpinning roots of a legacy of slavery, and it seems to me that the only way to deal with that is the way that people like Hilary Beckles, people like Carl Stone, people like George Bedford, people like the late Norman Girvan, all of these guys were in their own way, were pointing us to that long lasting, permanent, sustainable strategy for dealing with our legacy as former slaves, and that was to restructure, to reorder our minds."
Beckles is meanwhile urging young people across the Caribbean to take up the reparations struggle and carry on the conversation until the region has received justice.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network