Broadening the Dialogue on Reparations in the Global Context

A Presentation to OECS Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

By Earl Bousquet
Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) and Member of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC)

Introduction

I feel honored to have been invited to address this 1st Special Meeting of the OECS Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs via video conference ahead of Council’s discussions on the Agenda Item “Broadening the Dialogue on Reparations in the Global Context”.

This issue is being discussed by the OECS Council of Ministers in advance of the Thirteenth Special Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) and today’s discussion is intended to brief OECS Foreign Ministers thoroughly, thereby facilitating their active participation at the COFCOR meeting where the matter will be addressed.

I am halfway through a six-months recovery and rehabilitation process after a speeding vehicle swept me off my feet and into major surgery and a wheelchair, which I am still in and which is why I am delivering this address from the physiotherapy department of the OKEU Hospital, where I had an understandable unavoidable appointment at 10am today.

I could not have turned down this opportunity and though I had been largely inaccessible by phone, I was eventually contacted yesterday and I put this presentation together overnight.

Here’s hoping I deliver as expected…

Ten Points to Ponder

1. Establishment of CARICOM Reparations Commission: The CRC was established in 2013, based on proposal by St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves at the CARICOM Summit in July in Trinidad & Tobago, followed a meeting in September in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that formally established the CRC with Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (The UWI) as Chair. CARICOM also appointed a Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee (PMSC) on Reparations with Barbados as Chair. The CRC comprises Chairpersons of NRCs, plus representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat, The UWI) and the Center for Reparations Research (CRR). That was quickly followed by establishment of NRCs in 11 territories: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago. Regime Change in Trinidad and Tobago (four or five years ago) resulted in the NRC appointed by a previous administration neither changed nor replenished and left in limbo – a situation that hasn’t changed since the most recent Regime Change. It’s worth noting that the initiative for establishment of the CRC to pursue Reparations and five of the first ten NRCs to be established came from OECS leaders and member-states. Belize, Grenada and Haiti did not establish NRCs in 2013, but Haiti has been paying its annual membership dues to CRC since then. Grenada recently appointed a national preparatory committee to establish a NRC. But Belize is still without one. With Grenada now under way, all independent OECS member-states will very soon have NRCs.

2. CARICOM’S Ten-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice: It outlines CARICOM’s preferred points of emphasis in determination of what is being sought and for whom, from which a Six-point program of priority proposals has also been developed.

3. UK and EU Responses (or lack thereof…): An initial formal request from the PMSC elicited different individual responses from some EU member-states, but none positive enough to be encouraging, resulting in a second request, with possible warning of pursuit of international litigation, while the CRC continues to encourage CARICOM member-states to develop legal cases per country, to be included in one regional case.

4. Taking Reparations Beyond the Caribbean: By 2017, CRC Chair and UWI VC Sir Hilary Beckles, CRC Director Professor Verene Shepherd have addressed international academic fora, parliamentary assemblies and United Nations bodies ranging from the British House of Lords to representatives of the US congressional Black Caucus and establishment of the CRR led to a call for a tricontinental approach to reparations that would include participation by governments and activists from The Caribbean and its Diaspora (including in Europe), the United States and Canada (North America) and Africa. By 2018, the Reparations Movements in the USA was acknowledging the positive influence of the CARICOM approach in their choice and settlement for an approach that will touch all instead of some. By 2019, all Democratic Presidential Candidate hopefuls were forced to make public statement on reparations ahead of the final choice; and by 2020 when the Black Live Matter movement and protests virtually legitimized the popular demands for reparations, states and cities committed to reparations, in the majority, had settled for the CARICOM approach of not just seeking ‘grandfather’s backpay’ but outstanding debts to the entire affected minority communities that are still awaiting the ’40 Acres and a Mule’ promised to Afro American slaves who fought for US Independence and their heirs and successors. CARICOM’s successful resurrection of the reparations issue also resulted in organizations representing African descendants across South America, representatives of those Africans on ships from Mali that came long before Columbus, contacting the CRC to support and help them make their also long-overdue cases for Reparations.

5. Globalization of Reparations in the 21st Century: The SALIS 2020, hosted in Saint Lucia in June on the 28th anniversary of the death of Sir Arthur, set online attendance and participation records for UWItv Global and the regional and international response has led to the CRC proposing international engagements aimed at globalizing the Caribbean’s Reparations cause, but also those of other nations and people likewise seeking reparations elsewhere, including but not limited to Africa, which are also individually pursuing reparations causes against European nations for slavery and genocide, including Namibia. The proposals include a global reparations summit and a virtual 24/7 global town hall meeting across all time zones, as well as several other proposals relevant to the strengthening of the reparations cause globally.

6. Diplomatic Engagement: The issue of reparations is a global political one and CARICOM’s approach had elevated it to the diplomatic platform as indicated in the earlier move for regional leaders to raise the issue annually at the United Nations General Assembly. There’s a growing feeling that the region has dropped that ball at the UN, alongside the mistaken view that the US Presidential Elections campaign and the Black Lives Matter has stolen the Caribbean’s reparations thunder or removed the wind from our sails. But Reparations is not exclusive to CARICOM and it’s good that an increasing number of CARICOM and OECS member-states are appointing Ambassadors to CARICOM as members of NRCs, including Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and Barbados. This augurs quite well for the future and the OECS Commission may wish to look a little closer at the harnessing of the professional assets of the region’s diplomatic community, which ae important in the globalization process.

7. The Lewis Reparations Plan (for Caribbean Development): The Chair of the PMSC, Barbados PM Mia Mottley, just ahead of August 1st Emancipation observances this year, announced that CARICOM will be tailoring its proposals for Europe around the Blueprint for Reparations contained in Sir Arthur Lewis’ seminal fist major work, ‘Labour in the West Indies (1939) which arose from his personal year-long observation of the 1938 that he described as ‘Revolutions’, but which the Stoby Commission described as ‘riots’. In that bookn the prime narrative on reparations for the British West indies between 1939 and the end of the Second World War in 1945, contained the intellectual author’s specific arguments why Britain owed Reparations and included direct proposals for measurement of Britain’s debt ‘for 200 years of slavery’ and centuries of ‘unpaid labour’. Eighty years after his prescription for reparations, Caribbean governments are ready to present it for more than just one-shot pharmaceutical attention. Accordingly, the CRC and NRCs have undertaken to pursue and propose region-wide discussion on The Lewis Plan and the Saint Lucia NRC has arranged a parallel series of online presentations and discussions on Reparations for national and regional school audiences, as well as a series of year-long activities leading to the XXX Anni8versary of Sir Arthur’s death on June 16, 2021 with plans for observance of the 30th Anniversary year from July 15, 2021, hopefully with assistance from the likes of the OECS Commission and especially Saint Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda that claim ancestral rights to Sir Arthur and his father, respectively. It is also our hope that institutions touched by Sir Arthur and/or his ideas like the OECS, The UWI and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the University of Guyana, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, as well as Princeton university where he laid his foundation in stone, will assist in making the 30th anniversary of his death a year that will allow OECS and CARICOM citizens to never forget the contributions of this Saint Lucia-born world citizen who’s left his fingerprints and footprints in the sands of time in Britain and Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, the USA and China.

8. From Black Power to Black Lives Matter: The Caribbean has been a historical part of the Black Lives Matter movement in America long before it was seen in those terms – from Marcus Garvey to Stokely Carmichael, from Malcolm X to Louis Farrakhan. Today, Botham Jean, an OECS national, is among those people of African descent in the USA being mourned forever after killed by American police bullets. Again, the OECS led the regional response when SVG PM Dr Ralph Gonsalves issued an early statement after the George Floyd incident. The OECS Commission also issued a statement, as did the CRC Chairman Sir Hilary Beckles. But most governments were loudly silent on the issue.

9. Not Forgetting Native Genocide: CARICOM’s reparations demands are for Slavery ‘and Native Genocide’ as the region’s First people were decimated after 1492 make way for Slavery. Dominica’s First People and St. Vincent’s Garifunas, with their Belizean connection, offer as much to learn as from Guyana’s Amerindians, Trinidad’s Santa Rosa community and others. The Saint Lucia NRC’s online regional youth reparations lecture on June 12 featured presentations from the indigenous chiefs in Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago, the first time that thousands had seen and heard from indigenous chiefs. Their ancestors were wiped out over a short period, populations reduced from millions to mere thousands, yet today still feeling like Last Citizens instead of First People.

10. What Do People Want? Everyone wants Reparations, but for different reasons and in different ways. Older CARICOM citizens want to know whether Reparations will be paid in their lifetime, while youth and students are more interested in why they haven’t been taught related aspects of their history. Those in a hurry hastily compose approaches that would only benefit descendants of African slaves, while those who appreciate how long this battle has been waged are prepared to settle for more inclusive and yet more broadly effective approach of common community benefit. But generally, Caribbean people are insufficiently informed about reparations to take meaningful positions based on facts instead of gut feelings

How Best for OECS Commission to Broaden the Reparations Dialogue in the Regional and Global Context

(a) Host a special online conference with the CRC to jointly review how best to implement the 10-Point CARICOM Reparations Plan and The Lewis Caribbean Plan across member-states and propose joint approaches to implementation of related programs and projects

(b) Identify how best to initiate and encourage ongoing dialogue on reparations across member-states, linking common histories and recommending common approaches to popularization through a combination of traditional, mainstream and social media

(c) Propose a united approach to establishment of the Legal Case for each independent member-state, including researching the possibility of similar cases also being laid against France in the Case of Saint Lucia, Dominica and Grenada

(d) Join CRC, CARICOM Secretariat and Reparations Research Center (RRC) in acknowledgment, promotion, knowledge and appreciation of the roles of Sir Arthur Lewis as the intellectual author of the only Blueprint for Caribbean Reparations, but also his contributions to social and economic development in the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the USA and China, his role in the development of The UWI and the University of Guyana, his contribution to the foundation of the CDB, his legendary professorship at Princeton and his award of Saint Lucia’s first Nobel Prize in 1979, opening the way for a second by Derek Walcott in 1992, making Saint Lucia and the OECS the island and region with the respective highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita in the Caribbean and the world

(e) Propose national joint parliamentary sessions for discussion of national and regional expectations and responsibilities related to the Reparations quest (including national specificities, the need for continuity beyond regime change and annual budgets for all NRCs)

(f) Propose linguistic adaptability of the Reparations message in the Kweyol language spoken in Dominica and Saint Lucia and parts of Grenada and Trini8dad & Tobago and some of the associated OECS member-states, which is the majority language in CARICOM (thanks to Haiti) and is spoken, celebrated in more than two dozen countries worldwide and observed by UNESCO with an International Creole Day on the last Sunday of October very year – and in Saint Lucia where celebrations started on a National Creole Day to now observance of a Kweyol Heritage Month throughout October. (And next month Governor General Emeritus Dame Pearlette Louisy will deliver the first annual Kweyol Reparations Lecture in her inimitable style developed from presenting the Annual Throne Speech in Kweyol 20 times during her two decades representing what a Rasta friend said was ‘her Queen on our throne…’)

(g) Acknowledging and highlighting the historical roles of personalities with OECS roots and their contributions to the struggles for change in Europe, Africa and the USA against institutional racism, including the likes of John E. Quinlan, a surveyor representing Saint Lucians and Vincentians in post-slave property litigation matters, who also represented the then equivalent of the Pan African Congress at the Royal Commission on Reparations established by Queen Victoria in 1897, when French was the language of international diplomacy and Marcus Garvey was only ten years old; as well as the many known but hardly documented contributions by earlier OECS nationals during the colonial age; also high on that list would be the likes of Grenada’s T.A. Marryshow and The Mighty Sparrow; and the likes of those who contributed to the early independent African states such as Professor Sir Telford Georges of Dominica who was the first Chief Justice of Tanzania and Saint Lucia’s Sir Darnley Alexander, who was the first Chief Justice of the state of Niger in Nigeria – and here again we talk of Sir Arthur Lewis, who was the chief Economic Advisor to the first President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah and who designed Ghana’s first three-year National Economic Plan and provided similar advice to other African states becoming independent, later to also advise Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago on post-independent economic development

(h) Supporting the CRC’s quest to Globalize the Reparations Movement through a global summit and a series of proposed international online interactions that would place the Reparations issue on the table at the international fora where, in the post-COVID era, the world is again witnessing, and discussing, the disadvantages of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their qualification for special consideration, including debt cancellation and/or forgiveness. This approach would also include access to and popularization in the Caribbean of the history of Reparations demands and experiences in other parts of the world, from the Aborigines and Maoris in Australia and New Zealand to the Mau-Mau in Kenya and the Amerindian tribes of The Americas who continue to battle in blood for protection and preservation of their lands and natural resources. This will enable Caribbean citizens to better understand that we are not the only ones seeking Reparations and what the experiences of others have been.

(i) Encouraging a return to the earlier policy of CARICOM member-states addressing the Reparations issue at annual meetings of the UN General Assembly, as well as at British Commonwealth and Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), SIDS and AOSIS meetings, as well as meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the ALBA group, all attended by leaders and representatives of member-states that also suffered from the TransAtlantic Slave Trade; and

(j) Taking advantage of the opportunities created by the COVID-19 challenges in 2020 and beyond, to not only learn new lessons that stared us in the face forever (like hosting summits and ministerial meetings online, working, teaching and learning from home, doing more with less, appreciating friendship more – and families getting closer), but also to create and innovate, find new solutions to old problems and adapt to and adopt new changes that have become new norms under COVID. In this sense, South-South Cooperation can also take on new meaning with developing countries in the Caribbean and Africa, for example, cooperating in sharing experiences in counting and cutting costs for COVID care. For example, while we may have to pay over US$100 for a COVID test in some member-states, Senegal is mass producing COVID testing kits to share with the rest of Africa costing one US dollar. At the same time, Ghana, which recently entered into transatlantic cooperation arrangements with some CARICOM states, is also mass-producing PPE’s through a system of mobilizing garment and textile factories closed down by the pandemic to help in the fight against its continuing spread. Cuba is also way ahead of the pack in development of a COVID-19 vaccine named after a famous Dr Finlay, whose name probably rings a bell in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where Cuba’s world-famous boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson has his roots. Just as Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade was and is present in all OECS member-states and associated territories, so have many Caribbean states individually signaled their interest, like countries across the world, in access to supplies when the Cuban vaccine, which is also being developed in China, becomes available. Here too, South-South Cooperation can see the OECS leading a move to encourage all CARICOM member-states to join in a mutually-beneficial multinational approach by the region to the issue of negotiating the Cuban vaccine for Caribbean citizens, especially as the cures being developed in the USA and Europe will most likely not be affordable to those most needing them and would certainly all be used first ‘at home first’, as has been seen with earlier experiences when the first COVID waves started flowing across the cities and states of the North. Interestingly, musicians of the Caribbean and the world have long seized the time on COVID by engaging in high-quality cross-country musical video productions reminding us of the Caribbean’s historical propensity to be resilient in the face of all adversity, from tropical storms and hurricanes to Climate Change and now COVID.

Conclusion

I have offered Ten points to Ponder and Ten Sets of Ways to pursue broadening of the OECS Dialogue on Reparations, and while they add-up to 20 sets of points in 2020, they were not necessarily shaped by 20-20 Vision, but by the realities of the Reparations Matter in 2020, in an age when Reparations is on the US Presidential election agenda, Reparations Demands are louder than ever across America, when institutions in Europe burdened by historical guilt for benefits from Slavery are reluctantly acknowledging their roles in the ‘Greatest Crime Against Humanity’ and where the world is reminded everywhere that Black Lives Matter.

CARICOM, which includes the OECS, is the only group of nations in the world ever to jointly make a case for reparations and the certainty of our case continues to be rebuffed with old propaganda in new forms and legal arguments about time lapses and Statutes of Limitation that still try to conceal that Britain only in 2015 finished paying the reparations it paid to slave owners by way of compensation for their losses of property, including slaves.

Reparations is Britain’s Black Debt to the Caribbean for centuries of native genocide, slavery and incessant colonial underdevelopment of the British West Indies, with debts equally owed by all European nations that participated in Slavery and Native Genocide in our part of the world through the barbaric system of Chattel Slavery that converted human beings into property for sale. African descendants survived Slavery at the cost flesh and blood, seat and tears and today are responsible for carving new nations out of the old relics abandoned and bequeathed to us at independence without even a decent golden handshake. We are still all young developing states by global historical standards, but our size and age are not limitations, but in most cases advantageous when it comes to the cost or cures and human and natural resource availability. COVID-19 had opened new spaces and new grounds for turning challenges into opportunities and globalization of the reparations movement and broadening of the national and regional dialogue through new avenues created in the last nine months to combat the pandemic and ensure regional survival.

My last word: I again thank the Director General and OECS Commission for this honour to represent the Saint Lucia NRC and the CRC. The NRC stands willing to cooperate at all levels with the OECS Commission to achieve mutual gains in broadening of the reparations dialogue and we also invite the Commission to partner with us over the next year, during which we will be implementing not one but two Reparations-related lecture series, one for general audiences and the other for schools across the OEC S and CARICOM. The NRC will also be willing to work with the Commission on joint proposals to more appropriately honor Sir Arthur Lewis as who Sir Hilary Beckles describes as ‘The Father and the Caribbean reparations Movement’ and I refer to as the Intellectual Author of the Blueprint for Caribbean Reparations, during our year-long activities to observe the 30th Anniversary of his death as of June 15, 2021. The Saint Lucia NRC is already working with the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the Nobel Laureates Festival Committee, the UWI Open Campus (Saint Lucia) and Monsignor Patrick Anthony to include lectures on the works of Sir Arthur in the two lecture series in the period leading to the 30th anniversary, which will certainly yield endless materials through 24 lectures in 12 months important for broadening the OECS dialogue on Reparations. The CRC, the CRR and the CARICOM Secretariat, and the NRCs in OECS member-states, will also be willing to cooperate with the OECS Commission in pursuit of the stated objective(s); and I also pledge my continuing humble support for your efforts and availability to assist in contributing to the actualization of the proposals offered.

I thank you.

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