Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Pundits call for coherent reparations policy from Caribbean leaders

Published:Tuesday | August 29, 2023 | 12:09 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter

CONCERNS ARE lurking inside CARICOM that the Caribbean may not be able to capitalise on recent major developments in the push for reparations for slavery because of the absence of a “common negotiating strategy”.

“The recent successes in the reparations agenda have demonstrated that the region lacks a common negotiating strategy and a team of negotiators to facilitate the actual payment of reparations and agree on other forms of compensation for the community,” said officials at the CARICOM Secretariat. The admission is contained in a paper prepared for July’s meeting of regional leaders in Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the confidential assessment, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) has not been mandated to address key weaknesses identified.

The CRC was established 10 years ago to lead the bloc’s demands for compensation for transatlantic slave trade from European powers, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and France.

Some of the recent developments include the publication of a report which said the total sum of reparations to be paid by all former slave-holding states is US$131 trillion. The UK, in particular, should pay US$24 trillion to 14 countries.

There have also been apologies from the Netherlands, the Church of England and the Trevelyan Family for their role in perpetuating slavery for 250 years in the Caribbean and the establishment of funds for repair programmes.

There have also been “increased cooperation” with Africa in several areas, including reparations, through the first Africa-CARICOM summit of heads of government held in September 2021 and the launch of the UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent in August 2021.

The experts at the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat say with those developments, the “onus is now on CARICOM member states to respond swiftly and decisively to the opportunities presented”.

One of the major challenges the paper identified is addressing the responses that have come so far on a country-basis rather than towards the regional approach that is preferred. It said the dynamic between national and regional approaches has to be clarified in the negotiations with European nations, private corporations, and families.

What the paper describes as a “resource gap” also needs to be dealt with.

It said resources are needed to fund the continued work of reparations committees in each member state as well as to establish a permanent secretariat for the CRC and to facilitate the negotiations with European governments and other entities.

“Reparations is gaining attention and support in the academy, among governments and private corporations, youth and the general public in Europe, providing a unique and unprecedented opportunity for CARICOM to advance its claim against the relevant European nations,” the secretariat said.

It added that while effort has been made by CARICOM governments and the CRC to engage at high levels with UK/EU parliamentarians and governments, it has not been sustained.

“A coordinated strategy is needed,” the experts said.


The assessment’s views have come public just days after The Sunday Gleaner reported that reparations for slavery is not an agenda item for the Commonwealth, whose ceremonial head is the British monarch and whose members, including Jamaica, are mostly former colonies.

Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland told this newspaper last week that member states have not made any “specific call for the Commonwealth to be the platform” and that “nobody can force them to put things on the agenda if they don’t wish it”.

But she acknowledged that the group “could be a suitable platform for that debate”, pointing to the positions on issues such as climate change and even the advocacy against apartheid in South Africa.

Professors Verene Shepherd and Rupert Lewis, two major voices in the reparations movement, say that situation should change, especially with just over a year to go before the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting due in October in Samoa.

“If it is true that reparation is not on the agenda of the Commonwealth meetings, then that is shocking to me,” said Shepherd, who chairs the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“The Commonwealth secretary general is correct that the Commonwealth could – I would say should – be a platform for advocacy for reparation. The culprit nation is the head of the Commonwealth, so why not lobby the head directly?” the historian said.

Lewis, a retired professor at The University of the West Indies, said CARICOM states and the Commonwealth secretary general can draw inspiration from the strong stance against apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s led by then Secretary General Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal, who held the position from 1975 to 1990.

“The head of the Commonwealth in the Ramphal-African-liberation-anti-apartheid days took an independent position. That is to say, it was not the position of either The Queen nor Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher … . Those, I think, are moral and political choices that the head of the Commonwealth has to make,” said Lewis, a leading political scientist who has published extensively on Marcus Garvey and Walter Rodney.