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Time to move on... Cameron urges region to get past slavery

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain addressing a joint sitting of the Jamaican Houses of Parliament at Gordon House in Kingston, yesterday.
PM Cameron saying goodbye to Jamaica.
British Prime Minister David Cameron (right), Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness as they departed Gordon House.

WITHOUT DIRECTLY addressing loud calls from several quarters, locally and within the Caribbean, for reparation from Britain, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, yesterday urged the region to move past the legacy of slavery, which he described as "abhorrent" in all forms.

In an address to a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament, Cameron declared that slavery has no place in any civilised society, adding that Britain was proud to have eventually led the way in its abolition.

"That the Caribbean has emerged from the long, dark shadow it cast is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed. But I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future," Cameron said.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who welcomed the UK leader before he made his presentation to lawmakers, said she discussed the "difficult issue of reparation" with Cameron, which is being considered by the Caribbean Community.

She said Jamaica was committed to a spirit of mutual respect, openness and understanding as it engaged the UK on the question of reparation.

UK serious about bonds

Armed with a plethora of grants, Cameron sought to convince Jamaica and, by extension, the region that the UK was serious about strengthening bonds between his country and the Caribbean.

In an address yesterday to a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament, Cameron said: "I've come here today (yesterday) not just with words of friendship but with a real down-payment on Britain's commitment to you."

He reiterated that the UK was providing £360 million in new financial commitments, including a £300 million infrastructure fund across the Caribbean.

"Let me be clear. This £300m is not soft loans; not tied aid. It is cash grants."

The UK prime minister also announced a £30-million grant for new programmes to help attract investment and improve governance and £30 million to make hospitals more resilient to natural disasters. "We need to make sure that if a hurricane strikes, crucial health centres can remain operational to treat the wounded," he said.

welcomed interest

In his comments, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said he welcomed the genuine interest of the UK prime minister in advancing the relationship between Jamaica House and 10 Downing Street on trade, investment and security.

"We appreciate the view expressed that our relationship should be forward looking, nevertheless, we also believe that there must be genuine commitment to finding ways to repair what is universally believed to be the wrongs of the past," Holness said, in an apparent hint at the debate on reparation.

The opposition leader lauded Cameron for improvements in the education sector in Britain, particularly in skills and apprenticeship.

"The key lesson here is that educating our people, particularly in skills is the best way to spur human development, to support a growth agenda and to keep the poor and dispossessed out of prison. As it turns out building schools contribute much more to the growth agenda that building prisons," Holness reasoned.

His comments come in the wake of Cameron 's announcement that the UK will spend £25 million to build a prison in Jamaica.

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The new prison will house hundreds of Jamaicans serving time in Britain.