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We haven't emerged from slavery, Mr Cameron

Published:Friday | October 2, 2015 | 12:00 AMBert Samuels, Contributor

The demands against the British government by the Jamaican people have achieved one great result: its visiting prime minister was forced to respond - albeit unsatisfactorily - to the claim for restorative justice.

Cameron's position of "wha' gone bad a morning can't come good a evening" is to be struck down as an irresponsible response to a legitimate claim. He cannot say we have "emerged" when the gross domestic product per person was merely US$5,290 in 2013 (Britain's GDP per person was US$41,790), and when, for every dollar of taxes we pay, well in excess of 40 cents go to repaying our country's debts.

He cannot argue that our IMF-assisted economy - with its bitter medicine - is unconnected to the state of the economy when we reaped the fruits of Britain leading "the way in its (slavery's) abolition" in 1838.

This point was made to our Parliament by the British prime minister beating his chest as if, after 300 years, when sugar became unprofitable, and after compensating its planters, including his own family, the Jamaican people should pay homage (sic) to Britain for its awakening to civilisation, leading to its pioneering work in abolishing slavery.

I wish I were able to counsel any of my clients, who may have caused deep wounds to innocent people, to tell those people to "move on". I would not for fear of enraging the judge and risk a harsher punishment for my client.

Also, for us to "move past the legacy of slavery" is to ask of us the impossible. Not only do deep wounds leave behind ugly scars, but they often touch vital organs of the body.

It was the British who taught us lessons in schools all over the Commonwealth about their scorn of the institution of slavery. An 82-year-old woman emailed me recently in support of my call for reparation, and reminded me of a song she was made to sing in primary school during the time we were a colony of Britain, which unilaterally determined our curriculum. This is what was on the lips of every schoolchild back then: "Britannia (the warship) rules the waves, Britons (Englishmen) never, never, never shall be slaves ...." Jamaicans who fought on those ships were taken in World War II to fight, sacrificing their lives to ensure that Britons, including Cameron's parents, would not be slaves!

Mr Cameron, we know how revolting the institution of slavery is, having fought your war to make sure you have no history of ever experiencing our holocaust, so come to the table to deal with your enslavement of the grandparents of those soldiers who guaranteed your liberty and freedom. You speak of us "emerging"? There are some of us lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, who jumped to our deaths or were thrown overboard by slave ship captains, who will never be able to emerge.


Crime against humanity

I wish you were conscious of the fact that when you emerged from your aircraft at the Norman Manley International Airport, you were setting foot on a crime scene called Jamaica.

We have discovered one huge, dark secret kept from us for almost 180 years. Your Parliament agreed to add four more years to our 1834 freedom year, when planters - dissatisfied with the £20-million settlement - lobbied for an additional £27 million.

We were tricked into calling the additional four-year sentence "our apprenticeship period". We, the slaves, were made to pay for the added £27 million, calculated as equivalent to four more years of free labour, designed to "usher us into (the) freedom" you now say you kindly invented for us.

Are you aware that your "gift" of a new prison, apart from its obvious self-serving motive, has ironically stirred up the fact that the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, better known as General Penitentiary, the excuse for a prison you left us with in 1962, sits at the port at which we arrived and were sold, to work on your great-grandfather's plantation?

- Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to and