Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Reparations claims gaining global traction

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Dr Verene Shepherd: This movement is growing, and the Caribbean has inspired the United States to reactivate its reparation movement...
Donna McFarlane, Director/Curator Liberty Hall.
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The National Commission on Reparations has been steadfast against arguments opposing reparations and is, in fact, stepping up its fight.

During a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, the message from the chairman of The National Commission for Reparations, Professor Verene Shepherd, was that reparation is a debt for injustice, and a legitimate claim, a right if you will, and like all debts, it just cannot disappear.

Shepherd was supported by commission members Lord Anthony Gifford, Mike Henry, Donna McFarlane, and Dr Jermaine McCalpin.

The commission members are also heartened by the fact that there are other reparation claims the world over. The case of Haiti was mentioned. Many Haitians want France to return the money it got from Haiti in 1825 for Haiti's independence and for slavery reparations. In a recent visit to Haiti, French President FranÁois Hollande spoke only of a moral debt and not financial compensation.

'Redistribute land'

Also, in 2013, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira called for the French government to consider ways to redistribute land in its Caribbean overseas territories to benefit the descendants of slaves, two days after President Francois Hollande ruled out reparations for France's role in the West Indian slave trade.

"In the overseas territories there was a land grab, the general result was that the descendants of slaves were left without access to land. Therefore we should think about - without sparking a civil war - regrouping properties that were divided and about land reform," Taubira was quoted as saying, by Joseph Bamat, in the Journal de Dimanche weekly.

And just in April, Greece's deputy finance minister said Germany owes Greece nearly €279 billion (US$305.17 billion) in reparations for the Nazi occupation of the country. Greek governments and private citizens have pushed for war damages from Germany for decades, though the Greek government has never officially quantified its reparation claims.

"This movement is growing, and the Caribbean has inspired, the United States to reactivate its reparation movement," Shepherd said. "They have just formed their own reparations commission, and they had a huge conference in New York [April 9-12], a rally at which Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, and Danny Glover, who is a reparation advocate, spoke, so it's growing. Brazil is coming on board, Europe has now formed a reparation commission. So, this is becoming global. Africa is coming on board as well."

Process advanced

In addressing the protracted nature of the process, Lord Gifford admitted it was not going to happen immediately, but the process was advanced.

And though Jamaica might have been the beneficiary of aid from Britain, "that is not enough reason for not getting up, (and) standing up for your rights", he said.

McFarlane, curator/director of Liberty Hall, is not giving up the fight either.

"Even if we get nothing, the fact is that we tried. And I think it is important for generations to come to know that at least we stood up for reparation for what our ancestors suffered," McFarlane asserted.