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Mike Henry wants colleagues to shun Cameron if he doesn't talk reparation

Published:Thursday | September 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Mike Henry
David Cameron
Dr Jermaine McCalpin
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JAMAICA'S Members of parliament (MPs) are being urged by one of their own to turn their backs on British Prime Minister David Cameron unless the issue of reparation for the ills of slavery is placed on the agenda for his visit to the island next week.

Mike Henry, MP for Central Clarendon, yesterday noted that the Jamaican Parliament has approved a motion for the country to seek reparation from Great Britain.

"If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in Parliament," Henry told The Gleaner.

While there has been no official word about Cameron's visit, government sources confirmed that the British prime minister, as well as Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, will make official visits to the island next week.

Cameron's ancestors were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments that would be worth millions of pounds today.

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate some 3,000 families who owned slaves for the loss of their property when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. A total of £10 million went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain.

The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Cameron's cousin and he was the son of one of Cameron's great-grand-uncles, the second Earl of Fife.

He was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3 million today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.

 

ISSUE SHOULD BE RAISED

 

Dr Jermaine McCalpin, associate director of the Centre for Caribbean Thought and lecturer of Transitional Justice in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, said he believes the issue of reparation should be raised with Cameron, but is not hopeful it will have any real results.

"I think our parliamentarians and those who happen to have audience with the British prime minister, out of necessity, need to raise the issue," McCalpin said.

He added: "I am not confident or even hopeful that it will be given any justifiable treatment by the British prime minister. When one calculates politically, it is a firestorm that he would open that he would have to go back to his constituents, including his immediate party, to work his way out of."

The National Reparation Commission has said the Caribbean is due approximately J$416.3 trillion in reparation money.

Using the calculations of economic historian David Richardson, it is estimated that the total reparation money owed by Britain to its former colonies is £7.5 trillion.

"Jamaica, being the largest and most profitable of its colonies, accounted for 30.64 per cent, or an estimated £2.2 trillion," the report said.

The commission said the Government of Jamaica should consider seeking a debt write-off from countries which benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In July, Caribbean leaders attending the 36th Regular Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Barbados were told to pursue debt forgiveness as a means to economic freedom.

Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the UWI, who has been carrying the fight for the region in the quest to get reparation from Britain for the ills of slavery to the African people in the Caribbean, believes the case for debt relief is strong.

He pointed, for example, to the case of Jamaica, which was a British colony from 1655 to 1962, saying it was one of the most dynamic economies in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"When the British walked away from Jamaica in 1962, they left the Jamaican people with 80 per cent illiteracy, and they said, 'Go and develop'. How on earth can any country develop a sustainable economy with 80 per cent illiteracy? The Jamaican people have done very, very well," Beckles reasoned.

Yesterday, Henry, who has been carrying the nation's fight for reparation, said the subject, "as a matter of principle, must be raised with Mr Cameron".

Henry noted that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has been in favour of reparation and said she supported a motion that went to the United Nations to build a monument to the memory of slavery.

"In the case of Prime Minister Cameron, in particular, it is even more sensitive as history has revealed that his ancestors actually owned slaves in the Caribbean centuries ago. It must be on the agenda, it must be raised," Henry said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com