On December 10, 2013, CARICOM released a statement regarding the pursuit of reparations from former colonial powers. In the statement
, it stated that CARICOM member nations would each “set up national committees on reparations, to establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations…to the nations and people of the Caribbean Community, for native genocide…”
The legal firm from whom they sought advice, the Leigh Day law firm from England, had won for the first time ever, a ruling for the case to go forward, in court, for Kenyans, against the government of Great Britain, for the atrocities they suffered during the colonial period, for torturing the Kenyans.
The key here seems to be they won a ruling to go forward in court for what occurred during the colonial period at the hands of the British. Armed with this reality it seems the Caribbean Community took that as ammunition for the fight for reparations for atrocities committed during slavery and to the native people of CARICOM countries, during colonial times.
The first reaction from Garinagu noted on social media website Facebook came fast and swift from a Garifuna organization called GAHFU, Garifuna Heritage Foundation. The reaction was not in support of the reparations announcement of CARICOM. Some days later the United Garifuna Association Inc. sent a public letter
to the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Rt. Hon Ralph Gonsalves in support of the seeking of reparations by CARICOM with some concerns.
The concern noted by UGA Inc. was the fact that Garifuna who are exiled from St Vincent and the Grenadines and now living in Central America, namely Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua and the United States, during the colonial period, were not consulted nor were they included in the reparations claim now underway. Last count they were numbering about 300,000 conservatively estimated.
Garinagu are the hybrid indigenous group who were expelled by the British after a second war from Yurumein, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), in the year 1797. Never enslaved, the European arrival to Yurumein/SVG met these free blacks there. They resisted colonial occupation until around 1635 when the French made a treaty with some of the Caribs (Garifuna) some historical accounts will tell. After being defeated, they were taken to the island of Roatan in present day Honduras by the British after their last leader and paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer was killed.
Though some decided to remain in Yurumein/SVG, it was under the caveat that they abandon their language, culture their religion and their land. Basically slavery without being enslaved, though it is reported some were indeed enslaved. The Garinagu who were exiled maintained their language their culture and their religion but at the cost of their land being taken away, their economy broken, their way of life interrupted and at the cost of now living among societies that harbour resentment to them and living among governments such as in Honduras that are openly hostile to Garinagu today.
Garinagu kept their identity in exile but the foreboding dust of the exile of their ancestors is still settling upon them. They continue to suffer the results of exile by the British in 1797. They suffer from poor health, economic depression, and lack of educational opportunities and plenty of discrimination.
In the case of Belize, where they had once been the teachers of the nation, their test scores are among the lowest in that nation today according to recent national test score data. In Honduras, they barely have access to primary education and basic public services. In Guatemala, the government refuses to recognize them as citizens of Guatemala. In Nicaragua, they have some of the same issues. In the United States, many are undocumented and live outside of the financial system of that country in poverty conditions.
Yet the prize of the war with the British in Yurumein/SVG they maintain, although there is much pressure from the outside, their culture!
On the Leigh Day website is posted a ten point action plan proposed by CARICOM Reparations Commission and approved by CARICOM nations. Number three of that plan, seen here (http://www.leighday.co.uk/News/2014/March-2014/CARICOM-nations-unanimously-approve-10-point-plan-), clearly states that only about 30,000 of those against whom genocide was committed, the native Caribbeans, survive today from a one time high of 3,000,000. That number is erroneous unless, as stated earlier, CARICOM Reparations Commission did not take into account the 30,000 Garifuna in Belize alone and the other hundreds of thousands living in Central America and the United States.
In other words the Garifuna Diaspora, all of whom have their origins in Yururmein/SVG, was not considered. They number at least 300,000. There are other pressing issues not being acknowledged by any of the governments of CARICOM. For example, indigenous people have the right to self determination per United Nations Rights of Indigenous Peoples Declaration. They may or may not accept the idea if the CARICOM nation in which they reside will pursue the reparations issue on their behalf. They may very well form organizations of their own to pursue reparations against former colonial powers if they so choose.
With regard to descendants of the exiles to Central America, except for Belize, none of the other Central American countries in which Garinagu live is a part of CARICOM so by logic they can be eliminated as far as CARICOM’s reparations claim is concerned. This includes Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the United States.
In the case of Belize itself, yes, the Garinagu who live there are from Yurumein/SVG by way of Honduras; however, none of the atrocities that occurred against them occurred in Belize, so what will Belize the state claim on their behalf? In Belize, Garinagu settled in the south around 1801, which is only four years after the traumatic events that took place in Yurumein. One can easily conclude logically the state of Belize has no claim to make on behalf of the Garinagu living there but for the descendants of those who were enslaved? Yes! This leaves one option for Garinagu.
As established in the Mau Mau case, through a decisive ruling, former colonial powers can be ordered to respond to and answer for the atrocities committed during colonial times in a court of law. Looking at some of the options for Garifuna who are descendants of those exiled by the British from Yurumein/St Vincent with regard to reparations for colonial period atrocities, they stand a better chance bringing their own case against former colonial powers as their case is distinct from that of the CARICOM claims over slavery.
An example, there existed treaties between Garinagu and the British to respect the sovereignty of Garifuna people. Those treaties were violated by the British. There is the loss of land and territory and loss of sovereignty the Garinagu continue to suffer. The indignities they continue to endure as a direct result of the actions by the British at Yurumei/SVG is still taking its toll upon the Garinagu. If these can be successfully argued in a reparations case, it needs to be a task taken up by Garinagu as a nation.
This alone is ample reason for Garinagu, in all the nations where they exist, to assert their collective rights as indigenous people and work politically, socially and economically together, across borders, for their collective good. No CARICOM nation can represent those descendants of the exiles. No one Garifuna organization will be able to take on this task. They will have to work together under the umbrella of one central Garifuna organization working toward a common goal of winning such a case against the powerful British government.
With the ruling in the Mau Mau case the chances of the case proceeding in court is definitely improved. Armed with that ruling, the treaties that were violated by the British should be dug up and utilized. The ability to show loss of territory (Yurumien/SVG) and the atrocities suffered by their ancestors and the continuing effects on their culture and society, economy and spirituality that led directly back to the exile can be demonstrated, possibly to legal standard.
Garifuna should initiate a case for reparations separate from but working in tangent with CARICOM.