Sir Hilary Beckles, chairman of the Caribbean Community's Reparations Commission and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has given a scathing speech criticizing Britain's refusal to pay reparations to Caribbean islands that were formerly part of the British empire.
His remarks came on the heels of a tweet published by Her Majesty's Treasury, which revealed that British taxpayers were paying off slavery debt, the compensation afforded to former slaveowners, until 2015.
The tweet, posted on Feb. 9 and deleted in less than 48 hours, explained that the British government used 40 percent of its national budget, almost US$30 million dollars at the time, to compensate slave owners as part of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
A repayment plan had to be established after the funds were borrowed to reimburse those who enriched themselves, their families, businesses and estates from the slave trade. The loan was not completely paid off by taxpayers – "living British citizens," the tweet read – until 2015.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Center for Reparations Research, Beckles called the British government "immoral " for denying reparations to Caribbean communities and refusing to engage on the present-day legacies of chattel slavery in the western hemisphere.
"For me it is the greatest act of political immorality, to be told consistently and persistently to put this in the past and yet Her Majesty's Treasury has released the relevant information to suggest that it is just two years ago that this bond was being repaid," Beckles said.
In 2015, the Jamaican House of Parliament welcomed former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, during his speech, said people from the Caribbean should "move on" from slavery, effectively ending their quest for reparations, Loop Jamaica reports.
In response to Cameron's comments, Beckles said the former prime minister must have been fully aware that the loan used to compensate British slave owners was still being paid by living British citizens.
"This transfer of public money to the private holders of the slave bond makes it a present day activity," Beckles said. "It also implies that the 300,000 West Indian people who have been living in Britain, their taxes were being used to pay back the slavery loan, which suggests that you are speaking of a double payment."