Reparations debate needs to be settled

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

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SIR Hilary Beckles' recently published book, Britain's Black Debt, has returned to the spotlight the burning issue of reparations.

Launched last Thursday at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, the book definitively establishes that there is a case to be answered by providing detailed historical evidence of slavery.

The issue has been one that has, over many years, generated positions that are poles apart. Proponents argue that the enslavement of African people for 400 years was the greatest crime against humanity for which there should be compensation from the countries that were the beneficiaries.

However, while the governments of countries that benefited from slavery admit that it was a terrible atrocity, and that it is regrettable, they argue that it was in the past and all concerned should move on. They resist any claim for reparations, characterising the claimants as mendicants and point out that any payment would amount to billions in monetary terms.

The attitude of denial has led some people to the conclusion that racism is pandemic among the descendants of the former slave owners.

Sir Hilary's book provides the type of evidence and analysis that allows advocates to take the discussion beyond the immorality of the atrocity of slavery and genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Caribbean by Europeans.

Indeed, Sir Hiliary's work revives memories of late Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Eric Williams's Capitalism and Slavery in which he argued that the industrial revolution, which made England the world's dominant economy, was financed by the profits from the slave trade and slavery in the Caribbean.

Sir Hilary makes the link between the slave owners who were compensated when slavery was abolished and the active involvement of the British Crown, the Government, and the Church, a nefarious nexus that will no doubt strengthen the voices of those who insist that the British Government should pay reparations.

No amount of reparations, we hold, can compensate for slavery. However, there are some people who argue that adequate reparations, if invested wisely, could transform the Caribbean from middle-income developing countries into developed nations.

Their view is that the Caribbean would be much more developed had the region not been robbed of the profits of its economies over the last 400 years.

It's a most controversial subject and one that makes many people uncomfortable. However, it needs to be fully debated and settled, failing which it will continue to inflame passions each time it is raised.




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