The reparations movement in the Caribbean is not quite ready to hit the world stage with its demands, but interest in it is growing and once we can consolidate it, we can make a serious effort to go after the multinational corporations and governments from whom we seek redress for the damage caused by 400 years of slavery.
This was the conclusion of Pan-Africanist, David Commissiong, as he contributed to a discussion on the topic Considering the Logic of Reparations for Former Slave Societies in the Anglophone Caribbean, which was part of the ongoing Association of Caribbean Historians’ (ACH) 50th annual conference at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination at the UWI Cave Hill Campus.
Commissiong stated, “Realistically, in our present position, we cannot go after the big countries. It’s not just a question of law but politics and power, and how can we put these people in the World Court when they control it? We need to build an infrastructure that can do this effectively, which is why we are now working on a campaign to get everyone on board and tell our stories to the world.”
He suggested that, “First, we should target an institution, for example Barclays and Lloyd’s Bank in England and Wells Fargo in the US, banks that would have profited from slavery, not just through litigation, but boycotts and other measures, and make them feel some pain. This will energize the movement and get western institutions to talk to the governments.”
Another speaker, Keturah Babb who is a member of the Barbados Task Force on Reparations, spoke to the experiences of the Rastafari movement in its battle for reparations. She said since its foundation in the 1930s, “Rastafari has been committed to reparations at all levels, but its members have suffered extreme discrimination and violence at the hands of Caribbean governments.” She also noted that the “Rastafari were the first to promote the idea of a ganja (marijuana) based economy, and now big business is catching onto that with talk of medical marijuana, but they still do not want to hear from us even though we were the first to talk about it.” Babb said the Rasta community had called for reparations from Caribbean governments for the brutality they had faced over the years, and so far Jamaica and Antigua had responded favourably.
With respect to building momentum for the reparations movement worldwide, Commissiong mentioned that “There is an active movement in the French-speaking countries which have petitioned CARICOM to join its Reparations Commission, and we have support from the US National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations. The (now defunct) Organization for African Unity had set up an Eminent Persons Group in the 1990s to examine reparations as well, but the new organization formed since its demise has not addressed the issue as yet. We also have support from the Venezuelan Government, which is seeking redress for its people of African descent.”
In conclusion, he voiced the importance of a united front in the battle. “When I attended the World Conference on Racism in 2001, I discovered that once you have a righteous cause and pursue it with a passion you can enlist allies from everywhere to support it. When we raised the issue of reparations at that conference the Americans did not want us to talk about it, but we got support from allies across Asia, Africa, Central and South America and got it onto the agenda.”