Thu | May 25, 2017

Reparations are due

Published:Friday | March 6, 2015 | 3:00 AM

In his column on Wednesday, Lord Anthony Gifford advised us of the following, inter alia:

"On January 27, the House of Representatives passed a motion proposed by Mike Henry, which contained three resolutions. First, that the House 'make the political decision that the Government of Jamaica is entitled, on behalf of the former slaves and via the basic tenets of labour law and human rights, to receive payment from Great Britain, equivalent to the sum paid to the British slave owners as compensation for their loss of slave labour". Second, "that the payment be used to clear off all the debt of Jamaica and to the education, infrastructural development, and health sectors, and a portion be set aside for the repatriation of African Jamaicans to Africa".

Lord Gifford tells us that support for the three resolutions "was bipartisan and unanimous". I have learnt from long experience that when the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party agree on anything, we Jamaicans are about to be shafted!

Slavery was transnational terrorism perpetrated by the nations of Europe against the people of Africa, which allowed Europe to enrich themselves from the national resources (including agricultural land) of the Americas.

When a combination of factors, including public moral, religious and political pressure in the United Kingdom, as well as the economic contradictions of slavery itself, led Britain to abolish slavery, for taking away their human property, the British government compensated slaveowners in all their colonies to the tune of £20 million. Of this amount, the owners - many resident in the United Kingdom - of the 309,331 enslaved Jamaicans received £6,161,927.5.10, or rather more than £19 per head; in compensation for the loss of their property; the former slaves received no compensation for the loss of their freedom, their homeland and their heritage.

 

No rights for slaves

 

This decision recognised the previous right of slaveowners to own slaves, which is why loss of their property by government action had to result in monetary compensation to the perpetrators of slavery. Emancipation did not recognise the previous right of enslaved Africans to their freedom, which had been brutally taken away; which is why no offer of compensation has ever been made or paid to the victims of slavery, or their descendants.

The point must be made that several slaveowners had died by the time the compensation money was paid (several had died even before Emancipation); and the blood money was paid to their heirs. Just because every person actually enslaved is long dead does not mean that their descendants are not due compensation money.

There are several objectionable elements in the resolutions passed unanimously by the Jamaican Parliament on January 27, and I will mention three in no particular order of priority.

First, why is the amount claimed "equivalent to the sum paid to the British slave owners as compensation for their loss of slave labour"? Does this mean that Jamaican parliamentarians agree that the slaves in 1834 were worth only £19 per head? That may have been the value to a purchaser of human flesh in the slave markets of the day, but £19 is not proper compensation for damages due to slavery; and then on top of that, punitive damages must be assessed.

Frankly, I am not surprised that the Jamaican Parliament - mentally linked to the plantocracy of old - are using the same standards as their slavemaster forebears to assess the value of modern Jamaican citizens.

 

We need more

 

But then this leads me to the second point I wish to raise: Today, there are now more than 2.7 million of us damaged by the lingering effects of slavery. why are we prepared to settle for the same quantum of damages as when there were only 0.3 million of us?

The amount claimed in the January 27 resolution is much too low.

Will someone please explain to me why "the Government of Jamaica is entitled, on behalf of the former slaves and via the basic tenets of labour law and human rights to receive payment from Great Britain" as reparations for slavery?

Every Jamaican with black blood running through his or her arteries and veins should strongly object to this attempt to hijack our reparations money. I am doing exactly that now!

And what are the politicians going to do with our money? Resolution 2 says they are going to use it to "clear off all the debt of Jamaica", which has nothing to do with slavery. They - the politicians - incurred that debt over the last 50-plus years through mismanagement of the economy! They - the politicians - are responsible for that debt; and if it is cancelled, in 50 years' time, they will have racked up an even larger national debt!

That is another and quite different reparations issue. We, modern Jamaicans, are due billions in reparations from the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party for their damage to Jamaica, her people, and the natural environment since Independence!

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist.

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