KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — Caribbean delegates yesterday began the first full day of deliberations as the first Regional Reparation Conference opened here on Sunday with speeches about the slave trade and a sterling performance from Jamaican reggae legend, Bunny Wailer.
Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders at their meeting in Trinidad in July agreed to the formation of a region-wide Reparations Commission to seek compensation from Europe for native genocide and enslavement of Africans during colonisation.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told the start of the three-day conference that there was need to build solidarity ties with like-minded persons and groups overseas, including in Europe. He said Caricom must strive to build support across national and ethnic lines.
"We have to build consensus. We don't have to fight with one another. We may have different perspective but this is a huge movement, historic in this 21st Century.
"We must be up to the task and leave the trivia out and when any of us does wrong in this movement, we must say, 'Brother, sister, comrade, that is not the way to proceed.' Let us proceed in unity and let us build alliances with our European friends, because we require our European friends, people from all across the world, the brothers in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia, we need the support everywhere."
Gonsalves described the reparation issue as a "global project of immense significance in order to make ourselves more free, more human.
"I say that as a consequence, we must act accordingly. For starters, next week, at the General Assembly of the United Nations, ...for each head of state, each head of government, each foreign minister, to insert in their statement to the world at the General Assembly a strong and positive message on reparations. You can rely on the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines to have such a statement in his presentation to the United Nations," Gonsalves said.
Delivering the feature address, Professor Verene Shepard of the University of the West Indies (UWI), said that the reparations movement would take its place alongside the defining moment of the post colonial Caribbean.
"For here we are, gathered in 'Freedom Park (Victoria Park) in this year to honour those who have gone before, so that other can follow and to chart a way forward to seek redress for those who suffered brutality at the hands Europeans during the period of conquest, during the reign of terror on indigenous people, during colonisation, the transatlantic trade in captured Africans, African enslavement and post slavery indentureship and other regimes which were used to recreate the slave relations of production," she said.
Chair of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Committee, Jomo Thomas, said "on this day in this place, in this country, the movement for reparations for genocide against the indigenous peoples of our region and for the fight to seek reparations for the enslavement of our people really took off".
But, Thomas, an attorney — who praised the regional leaders for their support, and has worked in reparations in the United States — told the launch that the struggle for reparations would not be easy.
He said that the strategy going forward would be to seek reparations from the English the Dutch and the French.
"As the movement gains momentum, there will be a larger fight to include all of the colonial powers," he said.
Barbados' Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth Stephen Lashley, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart who heads the Caricom Reparations Commission, commended Vincentian prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves for mobilising the conference in such a short period of time.
"As you contemplate the composition of your respective committees, I commend to you the part which we have followed in Barbados by insisting on balanced representation from government, civil society, faith groups, ethnic groups, academics, activist, and gender.
"This avoids the pitfalls of an unbalanced, top-down, government approach even while further consensus is sought through community dialogue.
"This issue of reparations, complex and volatile as it is, has certainly raised grave misgivings within certain sectors of the Caribbean society, forcing its relegation over the years from mainstream policy consideration. I'm pleased to know that recent national and recent governmental, regional initiatives have signalled that this is about to change," Lashley said.