By Cathy Lashley
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states will continue to pursue the issue of reparations with former slave-owning nations until a resolution is achieved.
Prime Minister of Barbados and Chairman of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Reparations, Freundel Stuart
This was outlined by chairman of the prime ministerial sub-committee on reparations, prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, as he spoke with the media on several agenda items that were tabled at the just concluded 35th regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Antigua.
Stuart was elected to chair the sub-committee at last year’s CARICOM summit, in Trinidad and Tobago. The issue of reparations was tabled by prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, at the conference.
Admitting that the issue of reparations “was an old one” and “the history of slavery in this region was well known”, Stuart conceded that the damage done by slavery was pervasive in almost every facet of Caribbean life today.
He maintained that the current problems being experienced in Barbados and the region in relation to agriculture, health, family life and education could, in fact, be attributed to the legacy of the slave experience.
Disclosing that Barbados and other CARICOM member states were not pursuing an agenda that was indicative of “a diplomacy of anger and protest”, he explained: “What we’re saying is that upwards of 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade and just under 200 years after Emancipation of slaves themselves, we are still chronically underdeveloped. We’re still facing huge challenges and we’re now crushed by debt. We’re now overwhelmed by deficit. We’re facing educational challenges and in many respects, we’re facing challenges of normlessness.”
He stated that there were sections of Caribbean societies that were not making an effective contribution to the mainstream in the social order, and “all of these things can be traced to slavery”.
Pointing out that it was the right time for the issue to be settled, Stuart was of the view that “a lot of the misery, a lot of the deprivation, a lot of the marginalisation, being suffered by slave affected countries” could also be traced to slavery.
He recalled that in 2007, during the sermon at Westminster Abbey in England to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was adamant that slave-owning countries had to face the reality that a lot of the comfort, prosperity, and luxury that they now enjoy today could be traced to the fruits of slavery.
“The slave trade was abolished in 1807, by act of the British Parliament and slavery itself in 1833, again by an act of the British Parliament. For the next hundred years in the Caribbean, very little changed,” the prime minister noted.
“So, we still have a long way to go.... Now let’s be very frank about it. European, slave-owning nations have been doing their best according to their likes to contribute to our developmental efforts in the Caribbean. We’ve enjoyed preference on European markets, we’ve had our trading arrangements, for example, four Lomé conventions, and we’ve had a Cotonou agreement, and now we’re into an Economic Partnership Agreement and we get aid out of the European Development Fund, [and] we’ve got various forms of technical assistance,” he stated.
To date, national reparations committees have been established in eight member states, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.
The slave-owning states identified by CARICOM are the United Kingdom, France and Holland.