CARICOM’s 50th Anniversary coincides with a decade of development of decisions that have led to its most-important international diplomatic and political achievement to date: Its decision to pursue Reparations from the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) for Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide.
That historic decision led to agreements for: Establishment of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC); adoption of a CARICOM 10-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice; appointment of a CARICOM Prime Ministerial Subcommittee (PMSC) on Reparations and creation of National Reparations Committees (NRCs) in all 14 member-states.
The adoption of the Reparations agenda by the July 2013 CARICOM Summit in Trinidad & Tobago was, in great part, due to the leadership of Prime Minister of Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
The only leader from back then still standing, Dr Gonsalves has always remained a primary champion of the CARICOM’s Reparations cause, preliminary discussions on which he also hosted in Saint Vincent & The Grenadines.
Roots to Fruits
A decade later, CARICOM leaders are returning to the roots of the birth of its historic decision, after also having agreed, in August 2020 to adopt Sir Arthur Lewis’ template as a blueprint for regional developmental use of economic reparations.
As the leaders gather again in Port of Spain today, they will naturally reflect on the fruitful achievements of the first decade of the regional Reparations quest, a primary one of which is the extent to which it’s gone beyond the boundaries of traditional diplomacy – and beyond regional borders, even horizons.
For example, the national Reparations Movement in the USA has been largely inspired and greatly assisted by the CRC and its Founding Chair, UWI Vice- Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles.
CARICOM’s 10-point Reparations Plan has been largely adopted by the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), while the CARICOM approach to reparations from Europe was considered by US states such as California, in arriving at their own, in relation to Afro-Americans and Americans of African descent.
The CARICOM reparations drive has, in the past decade, also given new life to the HR-40 Bill in the US Congress, assisted by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that followed George Floyd’s killing in 2020.
As a consequence, Reparations is also likely to be as important an issue in the 2024 US presidential elections as in 2020, when all Democratic Party contenders had to address the issue publicly.
Reparations has also made its way into the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace in London, while Kings and Prime Ministers in Europe are offering apologetic statements for their families’ roles and heirs of slave-owning families are committing to apologize and atone.
The late Queen and current King of The Commonwealth — as well as the future king — have all publicly offered royal expressions of regret for slavery, the first time by any monarch or successor.
The Prime Minister of The Netherlands in December 2022 apologized for his country’s lasting role in slavery; and last week the Dutch King publicly apologized for his family’s involvement — and (like his UK counterpart) also indicated support for researching his family’s direct involvement in and huge benefits from Trans-Atlantic Slavery.
The CARICOM summit is taking place in the 75th Year of the arrival in England of the ‘Empire Windrush’ and with a growth of advocacy for Reparations in the UK, where elections are also due next year, a decade ahead of the Bicentenary of Abolition (2034).
The T&T Summit is also taking place one year before the end of the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent (2015 to 2024), with stronger CARICOM representation and growing calls for Caribbean leaders to support calls for a Second Decade.
The Trinidad parley is also taking place a year since then-Prince Charles delivered his mother’s expressions of royal sorrow and regret over slavery at the Commonwealth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
And Commonwealth Secretary General Dame Patricia Scotland, who’s also attending the CARICOM summit, has publicly called for engagement with King Charles on how he plans to engage with Commonwealth leaders on issues such as Reparations that affect most (if not all) member-states.
Also on the list are the findings of the most recent international study on how much reparations Europe and the USA owe the Caribbean and The Americas.
In the past year, the CRC has engaged in an outreach to traditional Kings and Queens of Africa and some members have been awarded honorary royal titles.
NRCs have engaged with advocate national groupings in Australia, where the Aboriginal First People now only comprise 3% of the population and are still not officially recognized as existing.
Inspired by ex-BBC presenter Laura Trevelyan’s US $100,000 fund for reparations for Grenadian students, representatives of families that benefitted from slavery in the UK launched the Heirs of Slavery to build new cross-Atlantic bridges for atonement, repair and reparations.
In the past year too, the State of the Black World Conference in Maryland also drew large Caribbean and African participation around reparations, with many recommendations of import to the Caribbean and other regions and nations of people of African descent.
The scrambling by royal families – in the past year — to sound and appear just by acknowledging their roles in the worst Crime Against Humanity known to Humankind has been loud, but CARICOM’s response has been loudly silent.
CARICOM’s reparations quest has also influenced actions in recent times as far apart as the UK and Australia, Canada and New Zealand and influenced growth of reparations consciousness and action in Latin American states, from Argentina to Venezuela, today including Colombia’s Vice-President and Brazil’s President.
After 75 years, the sons and daughters of the Windrush Generation are ‘Black British,’ but are feeling neither British, nor Caribbean.
And there’s an artificial disconnect between African Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American, Afro-British and individual nationalities in The African Diaspora.
Swimming Against the Tide
But never mind having caused the ripple that grew into the global Reparations tidal wave, CARICOM is marking CRC’s 10th Anniversary swimming against the tsunami it created.
And nothing is more telling than the fact that the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Reparations (PMSCR), established a decade ago under the chairmanship of Barbados, has only met twice: once under previous chairman, ex-Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and once under current chairlady, PM Mia Mottley.
The PMSCR comprises Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Haiti and Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, and efforts to hold a third meeting in the past year have all reportedly failed, naturally hindering ultimate Heads decisions on key issues critical to advancing the pace of regional action and response, in many directions.
Heads definitely need to upgrade CARICOM’s response to and role in the expanding global growth of the Reparations cause and movement, which now straddles all continents and has drawn more support from First People everywhere, with growing support for inclusion of heirs of Indentureship and more victims of native Genocide in the region’s demands for Reparations from Europe.
The CRC’s workload has far-outgrown the dedicated administrative structure at the CARICOM Secretariat, where Reparations continue to be a division in a large and growing multi-discipline department, serving increasingly active and more-demanding and less-funded National Reparations Committees (NRCs) in 12 member-states, in cooperation with the University of the West Indies (The UWI) and the Centre for Reparations Research (CRR).
The issues that set the US on fire in 2020 and setting France ablaze three years later have their common roots in similar grounds: Police racism that affects Caribbean minorities in the US as much as African descendants in Europe.
And just like the protests have crossed France’s borders into Luxemburg and Belgium, so have they affected French Caribbean colonies in Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.
Caribbean citizens are facing the same racial backlashes on both sides of the Atlantic, to where they originally migrated in search of Milk and Honey in lands of lily-white fields of opportunity and have ended up living under the immigration department radars to keep sending cash home.
And post-Windrush ‘Black Britons’ seeking solace in the Caribbean lands of their parents’ birth are disillusioned by unwelcome greetings ‘Esuch asnglish Boy.’
Connecting the Dots
These ‘Ts’ need to be crossed and dots connected, starting with the Caribbean region that widens into The Americas through the Caribbean Sea and represented in the larger multilingual, multi-bloc Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), each with many same members.
PM Gonsalves, by historical coincidence also being current CELAC President, provides a ready basis for discussion, at the current summit, of another important Reparations alliance, this time between CARICOM, CELAC and ACS, to all of which members of the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) also belong.
The next year and decade will be even more important for the continuity of CARICOM’s Reparations quest, which has also gained more support in the UK and European Parliaments, as well as those of the African Union (AU) and India, while US Vice-President Kamala Harris and President Biden continue to embrace and hug the Caribbean leaders ever so much closer, ahead of November 2024.
There’s also a dire need for CARICOM to engage more regional bodies in the exercise of making its legal and financial cases for economic and social reparations.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) should be invited to establish a mechanism to assist every member-state to make a legal case for reparations, including CARICOM member-states such as Saint Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago that were colonized during slavery by other than Britain, including France, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain – that have been thus far sheltered from the growing reparations claims by former Caribbean colonies that contributed to the building of European Empires.
Likewise, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) also needs to be brought in on the matter of application of Founding President Sir Arthur Lewis’ prescription for assuring reparations benefit all Caribbean people and not only some.
Same with the need for CARICOM to respond to the implications for Suriname of the Netherlands apologies and the wider regional implications of British expressions of royal sorrow, against the background of similar statements by the Belgian king regarding The Congo and Germany’s unilateral decision to pay reparations crumbs to Namibia.
CARICOM needs to give Reparations the added importance it needs at UN fora, where member-states should work the numbers and mechanisms to ensure Reparations is a permanent agenda item on the annual UN General Assembly’s agenda.
With Guyana also on the UN Security Council, it can also show Permanent members the permanence of insecurity wherever minority rights are continuously violated.
Against that background, CARICOM’s PMSC on Reparations cannot continue to seem to remain in perpetual too-busy mode for any longer.
It’s therefore important for the leaders to decide today, or this year, what the new challenges, opportunities and priorities are, including whether, after no responses from the EU to their requests for discussions on Reparations, the region’s leaders shouldn’t take the issue to the next logical levels: European and International Criminal Courts.
The situation is such as to require as much as a special CARICOM Summit on Reparations, before the next summit, to allow for a serious, full and fruitful discussion between the leaders and the PMSC, with the CRC and the NRCs, The UWI and CRR – and the large and growing number of regional and national advocacy and Civil Society groups now with Associate Membership of the CRC.
Indeed, the new associate members bring to CARICOM’s table, through the CRC, the voices and causes of remaining largely dependent European and American Antilles, Overseas Territories, dependencies and other categories of scattered island and mainland-based colonies across the wider Caribbean region.
Africa and India support a Global Reparations Summit, which has been proposed in Europe and India, Africa and the Americas, but leaders naturally feel it is CARICOM’s role to continue its leadership role by summoning one.
However, such a proposal would have to be brought to CARICOM heads at any summit by the PMSC on Reparations, which simply isn’t meeting.
It, therefore, all starts with this 50th Anniversary Summit, that’s akin to a do-or-die moment for CARICOM’s Reparations quest, depending on what’s said and done and what prescriptions are recommended for taking its original historical quest for Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide to the next logical global level, a full decade later.