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Young people in the Caribbean urged to take up reparations struggle
Published on April 18, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

Chairman of the CARICOM Reparation Commission, Professor Hilary Beckles (centre), along with Principal, Kingston College, Dave Myrie (left) and Kingston College Head Boy, Chevon Lewis, peruse a copy of his book, ‘Britain’s Black Debt’, following a lecture on reparation justice at the school on April 15. Photo: Mark Bell

By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission, Professor Hilary Beckles, has charged young people across the Caribbean to take up the reparations struggle and carry on the conversation until the region has received justice.

“This subject is going to go forward and we are going to have justice only when young people step up and play their role,” Beckles said.

He was addressing students, on Tuesday at the first in a series of lectures to commemorate Founder’s Week at Kingston College (KC). The lecture was entitled ‘Reparation Justice for the enslavement of black people and the genocide of natives of the Caribbean’.

Reparations discussions have intensified in the Caribbean over the years, leading to the formation of a coalition of Caribbean countries. Under the movement, the group is seeking compensation from Britain and other European nations for the enduring legacy of the slave trade.

Beckles, who is also pro vice chancellor and principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, argued that international law provides that chattel slavery, as practiced by Britain, was a crime against humanity.

He said that no other race on this planet has endured the kind of slavery that was imposed on the African people, and informed that slavery was invested in by the royal family, the government, the established church, most elite families, and large public institutions in the private and public sectors.

Beckles, therefore, argued that based on the legal principles of unjust and criminal enrichment, Britain must pay up on the debt owed to subsequent generations of Caribbean people.

He also told the students that they had a significant part to play in the reparations movement, urging them not to allow the conversation to end before they have received justice for the crimes committed against their ancestors.

“There are many people in the world who believe that all they have to do is sit quiet and allow the older leaders of this campaign to pass away,” he said.

“You are the descendants of those who have survived and that gives you, the younger generation, a special responsibility to honour this history,” the professor emphasized.

Beckles further argued that for the reparations movement in the Caribbean to be successful, those involved must be organised and that they must have pride and dignity in self.

“No matter how long it takes, we are not giving up. Weak people and weak nations do not get reparations. All the cases of reparations in the last 100 years have been won by people and governments who are determined, organised, committed, and by people who have pride and self-esteem,” he said.

Meanwhile, Beckles said that the reparations movement in the Caribbean made significant strides last month, with the adoption of a 10-point reparation plan by heads of government of CARICOM, at their inter-sessional conference in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The wide-ranging plan has been formally dubbed a “Reparatory Justice Framework”. Among the demands is a formal apology from former colonial powers, debt cancellation, greater development aid as well as unspecified financial damages for the persisting “psychological trauma” from the days of plantation slavery.

The Atlantic slave trade took place from the 16th through to the 19th centuries.
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Loubeth Nyack:

At the end of the 14th century Europeans started to take people from Africa against their will. Initially they were mainly used as servants for the rich. The Europeans justified the taking of slaves by arguing that they were providing an opportunity for Africans to become Christians. By the 17th century the removal of slaves from Africa became a holy cause that had the full support of the Christian Church.

When Spanish and Portuguese sea-captains began to explore the Americas they took their African servants with them. Some of these Africans proved to be excellent explorers. The most important of these was Estevanico, who led the first European expedition to New Mexico and Arizona.

The people living in the Americas resisted the attempt by the Europeans to take over their land. One of he most important struggles took place in Cuba in 1512. The Cubans, led by Chief Hatuey, were eventually defeated by the superior weapons of the Spanish.

An Extract from: The Slave Trade 'African Slave System' Author: James Walvin Available from Amazon Books

It is estimated that over a million people lived in Cuba before the arrival of the Europeans. Twenty-five years later there were only 2,000 left. Large numbers had been killed, while others died of starvation, disease, committed suicide or had died from the consequences of being forced to work long hours in the gold mines.

After the arrival of the Europeans there was a sharp decline in the local population of most of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. This created a problem for the Europeans as they needed labour to exploit the natural resources of these islands. Eventually the Europeans came up with a solution: the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1540, an estimated 10,000 slaves a year were being brought from Africa to replace the diminishing local populations.

British merchants became involved in the trade and eventually dominated the market. They built coastal forts in Africa where they kept the captured Africans until the arrival of the slave-ships. The merchants obtained the slaves from African chiefs by giving them goods from Europe. At first, these slaves were often the captured soldiers from tribal wars. However, the demand for slaves become so great that raiding parties were organised to obtain young Africans.

I am an avid supporter of Reparation. We need to keep the issue in the forefront of business. The Jews Holocaust was recognized and compensated. 300 years have passed and we are still to be acknowledged, recognized and compensated. Europe and America was built on our backs. Caribbean young people need to carry the baton until justice is done.

Ode to the owed

Dance African Caribbean Woman -
you know the history of your dance!

Out of Africa
your captive spirit
kept hostage in hell’s voyage

You did not enjoy the boisterous blue white deep
and bottomless waters
nor the indigo above -
for these reminded you of raiders,
rape and ripped body parts.

They did not say
Madam, please step on board
Here, take my hand
Instead curses, rolled out their tongues.
They did not care for your plaintive song,
preferring hot-red, steel-tongs

Dance African Caribbean woman
turbulent your oceanic trail -
but your soul-strum song crescendos above the storm
and you came out strong


The gothic horror of white greed
rampage your seed.
Their lust for brown gold
drove some in sane

Sing my Caribbean woman
jagged was your road
and none but you
knew the true weight of your load -
sugarcane wood was your crystal chandelier

The spirit of your dance
they could not lance
Ignorance trigged a holocaust
on the day you hummed freedom

Bless you,
the stars sang your song
lit your dark corners,
the heavens cried
washing away your pain
yet still, they could not understand
not even when freedom unchained your mind


Dance Caribbean Woman
300 years of white reign
ripped up your terrain
300 years your back strained
beneath the burden of the slavers whim
and while you and yours sheltered in shacks
he and his grew fat on greed

Dance Caribbean-spirit
celebrate life -
300 years racial-hate could not obliterate
for through it all you keep on birthing

Dance Caribbean Woman
Dance your dance authentic
Dance your dance enigmatic
Spirit dance in Western cathedrals
carved with your bleeding veins
Spirit dance on Western main
for 300 years you have received no gain

Dance winged-spirit
Dance Caribbean Woman
dance on spirit wings
till you receive
300 years earnings owed to you

(C) Louise Nyack Francois


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