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Caribbean academic presents compelling case why Britain should pay reparations. Do you agree with him?


Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Pro Vice  Chancellor and Principal

of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West  Indies (UWI).

Kenton Chance

A leading  Caribbean intellectual has presented a compelling argument of why Britain should  pay to former colonies in the region reparations for slavery and native  genocide.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders at their summit in Trinidad and Tobago  in July agreed to the formation of the Commission that will be chaired by  Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and include St Vincent and the  Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

The regional countries have also engaged the services of a prominent British  human rights law firm to assist in the matter.

“We are focusing on Britain because Britain was the largest owners of slaves  at Emancipation in the 1830s. The British made the most money out of slavery and  the slave trade -- they got the lion share. And, importantly, they knew how to  convert slave profits into industrial profits,” said Professor Sir Hilary  Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the  University of the West Indies (UWI).

Speaking at a lecture Tuesday night on the title of his latest book,  “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide”,  the academic detailed how the British government and British citizens used  slavery to enrich themselves.

He further noted that while at Emancipation, reparations were paid to former  slave owners, the slaves got nothing.

Professor Beckles argued that the reparation monies stimulated the British  economy for half a century after Emancipation, but “here in the Caribbean, the  islands were descended into poverty after Emancipation.

“And in Britain, 50 years of growth because the compensation money was  reinvested in the British economy and stimulated the economic development of the  company,” he said, adding “the British government built this system (slavery),  they created fiscal policies to manage it, they created financial systems, they  legislated slavery, they administrated slavery, the government owned the slaves,  and, importantly, the British government is the custodian of the wealth of the  nation.

“We believe that we now have to repair the damage and this is the final  point. This is why now repartitions is important,” Professor Beckles said,  noting that Caribbean governments were now spending up to 80 per cent of their  expenditure on education and health.

“After 300 hundred years of taking their labour, exploiting their labour and  enriching themselves to build themselves into the most powerful nation on earth,  they have left Caribbean peoples illiterate and unhealthy, which means that the  governments today have to clean up illiteracy and clean up the ill-health do not  have the resources to do it.”

Professor Beckles said that the British were good at keeping records and  hence the wealth derived from slavery is traceable. He rebutted some of the  arguments likely to be advanced by Britain as it resists paying reparations to  the region.

He said that the British have launched a campaign to discredit the  reparations movement, but stated that British citizens are increasingly seeing  the need for -- and are calling on their government to make -- amends.

Professor Beckles spoke of a case in which a slave trader, faced with  decreasing ration aboard a slave ship and no tail winds, decided to throw his  slave “cargo” overboard and return to Britain to claim insurance.

The British judiciary ruled that it was a simple case of property insurance  rather than murder --since slaves were not considered human beings.

“Therein lies the British court … the judiciary of great Britain, ruling in  its own legal structure that black people are not human beings.

“Therein lies the charge of reparations, because to deny a people their human  identity is a crime against humanity and that is the case that the British  judiciary, on behalf of the British state, established the principle that once  and for all, that African peoples are not human.”

Professor Beckles spoke of how the exploitation of the region under slavery  resulted in the underdevelopment of the region’s human resource, infrastructure,  and economy.

He noted that after 300 years of colonisation, when in 1962 the British left  Jamaica at Independence, 80 per cent of the Caribbean nation’s people were  functionally illiterate

Professor Beckles also spoke of the impact on the family, and mentioned the  high rates of diabetes and hypertension in the region and the ways in which  black people in the Caribbean and Africa respond to medicine for these  conditions.

“These are the kinds of things we speak about when we speak about  reparations,” Professor Beckles said in reference to the vestiges of slavery and  colonisation.

“The British government has to come to the Caribbean and sit with us and help  us deal with all of these. We have a legal and moral right,” Professor Beckles  said, lauding the efforts of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who has  convinced his CARICOM colleagues to support the reparations movement.

“We need to take them forward. All of us need to take them forward,”  Professor Beckles said of the issues relating to reparations.

“And if we do not, this region is going to regress and regress very rapidly.  And it is not about confrontation, it is not about conflict, it is about a 21st  century state of sophisticated diplomacy. 21st century diplomacy is required, a  21st century international relations is required. The time has come now in this  second phase of nation building for us to go forward. I feel this is where we  are at,” he said.

He noted, however, that reparation is not about handing over money to either  individuals or governments.

“Under international law, reparations are paid into a fund, which is  administered under international law. … In every society, a reparations  committee is established, a fund is established, and under law, those funds are  placed under trustees and trustees are held responsible for the use of those  funds for community development,” Professor Beckles said

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Comment by rebelflower on August 22, 2013 at 3:50am
This easy call a biology professor to the stand to explain and break dwn of the DNA of an African
Comment by loinsworth sankarsingh on August 22, 2013 at 12:52am
sounds like another over-educated idiot to me. his arguments are feeble and lack substance. for which he obviusly compensates with dubious oratory and a receptive audience.
Comment by Incognito on August 22, 2013 at 12:32am

Professor Beckles book would be an amazing read.  I've known Hilary for over 30yrs, since he returned from the UK as one of the top scholars in the Caribbean.  This guy is brilliant, and we (here in the U.S.), can learn a lot from what he has to say...

Comment by Vinny Pat on August 21, 2013 at 10:56pm
passing on to friends and family
Comment by Vinny Pat on August 21, 2013 at 10:55pm
Comment by J-ROCK on August 21, 2013 at 9:57pm
@Lenny u took the words right out my mouth....
An old calypso comes to mind "ah want me grandfather back pay" cant recall the
Comment by Lenny Sportshake on August 21, 2013 at 8:23pm
Without even reading, yes i agree, they owe us. Pay up b****!

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