The Caribbean Reparations movement did not lose a moment this week by jumping on the back of visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron demanding that one of the largest Trans Atlantic slave trading nations prepares itself to pay millions in compensation to the region.
Cameron was on a two-day visit to Jamaica this week and the umbrella Reparations Commission headed by University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles wasted no time in letting him know there is a plan by regional governments to take Britain and other European nations to court to win reparations.
Beckles penned a formal letter to Cameron and his delegation on behalf of Caribbean trade bloc governments which two years ago had established a region-wide body to research the slave trade and to hire a respected law firm to fight the case in European courts as the people who had owned slaves were the ones compensated for losing them at abolition in the 1830s rather than those who were brutalized on sugar and other plantations.
“It is not an issue that can be further ignored, remain under the rug, or placed on back burners,” Beckles said in a tough missive to Cameron.
He pointed a finger directly to Cameron, reminding him that some of his relatives had actually owned slaves in the region and had been paid millions by today’s measure when the trade was officially ended in the region more than 200 years ago. Well publicized research also shows that his wife’s relatives were also part of the slave trade.
“You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors. You Sir, are a Briton, not a Greek, and we have no reason therefore to fear what you bear. But we do ask that you recall that the Caribbean region was once your nation’s unified field for taxation, theatre for warfare, and space for the implementation of trade law and policy. Seeing the region as one is therefore in your diplomatic DNA and this we urge that you remember,” the letter said.
Upon arrival in Kingston on Tuesday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, obviously feeling the pressure of the rising tide of support for reparations, raised the issue with the prime minister as he landed.
“I brought to the prime minister’s attention, the issues of reparations, indicating that Jamaica is involved in a process under the auspices of the Caribbean Community to engage the UK on the matter while we are aware of the obvious sensitivities involved,” she said.
Beckles had also hinted that Cameron, like his predecessor heads of government, will seek to ignore the reparations issue and try to divide and rule the region by announcing a package for Jamaica and the Caribbean and from all appearances he is on course to do just that.
Cameron said Britain will help Jamaica build a new prison edifice with a Sterling 25M grant to house hundreds of Jamaican locked up in the UK for various offenses. They will serve time at home, especially those who have 18 months more left on sentences.
And just as Beckles had predicted, he unveiled a Sterling 300M fund to provide grants to the region for infrastructural projects and transportation
“I believe this money can help to unleash trade across the region with your roads and bridges, and port infrastructure to help speed up freight movements. It will benefit British businesses who have the knowledge and expertise to deliver infrastructure improvements,” the prime minister said.
Some Jamaican legislators had called for a boycott of Cameron’s visit and of his address to a joint sitting of parliament to press the case for reparations.