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On Reparations

The case of reparations has been argued back and forth since the abolition of slavery in the New World. The idea is not as far-fetched as some may make it seem. 

Immediately after slavery was abolished in the colonies, slave owners were given compensation by their respective governments for ‘loss of property’. In Britain a total of GBP 20 million was given to former slave owners, an enormous 40% of the government treasury at the time.

In the Caribbean, economies still struggle. After slavery, slave owners either kept their wealth and stayed in the Caribbean or went back to Spain, France or Britain. Ie, the wealth that was gained during the 300-odd years of slavery was kept by people who owned slaves, not the people who actually performed the labour.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations, he notes not just the 250 years of slavery in the United States, but past and existing laws and attitudes that have disenfranchised Black people. 

There have been other cases in which reparations have been given to damaged parties including:

  • World Wars I and II: Germany to Poland, Greece, Israel, The Netherlands, the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union 
  • South Africa to victims of apartheid

In contrast, not only were freed slaves and their descendants not given remunerative payments or land after slavery, but attitudes and laws kept them on the margins for hundreds of years.

The CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Reparations Commission has a 10-point plan for demanding reparations for the descendants of African slaves and the indigenous communities who cared for the lands before colonial occupation.

They call on former colonial governments to do the following for the Caribbean:

  1. Issue a full formal apology including acknowledgement of and responsibility taken for crimes committed 
  2. repatriation program for all African slave descendants who wish to resettle and reintegrate
  3. An indigenous peoples development program 
  4. Investing in Caribbean cultural institutions including museums and research centres 
  5. Mitigating the public health crisis directly caused by slavery 
  6. Illiteracy eradication
  7. An African knowledge program to mitigate cultural and social alienation from African cultures
  8. Psychological rehabilitation
  9. Technology transfer to begin to undo generations of innovation and industrialisation in the Caribbean
  10. Debt cancellation as national debt in the Caribbean is largely used for development and infrastructure

“People say that slaves were taken from Africa. This is not true: People were taken from Africa, among them healers and priests, and were made into slaves.” – Abdullah Ibrahim

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