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  • Can the Caribbean Afford to Erase Its History?

    | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 2 December 2017
Responding to demands for reparations, London reminded its former colonies they should not expect a penny from the British Treasury.

London has again flatly rejected a repeated call by 15 Caribbean governments for discussion on a mechanism for Reparations from Britain and the European Union, EU, for Slavery and Native Genocide, which they have termed “The worst Crime Against Humanity known to Humankind.”

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The Caribbean Community, or Caricom — representing over a dozen former British colonies — earlier this year reiterated its collective determination to continue to seek “Reparatory Justice” for decimation of the region’s native peoples by the European conquistadors, the centuries of slavery and direct colonial rule that followed — and the still-lingering after-effects.

In response, London dispatched its Cabinet minister with responsibility for the Caribbean to again remind its former colonies they should not expect either a penny, or a pound from the British Treasury.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State with responsibility for the Caribbean, the British Commonwealth and the United Nations, says London is only interested in “cooperation” and not in any talk about Reparations.

Speaking last weekend in Jamaica — a sovereign island nation since 1962 — the English peer said: “Failure to leverage the common heritage between Britain and Jamaica would be a mistake of massive proportions.”

He called on the island to instead “maximize its potential through robust trade, rather than to peer into history,” as the region’s call for Reparations “can only stifle opportunities for cooperation.”

His visit to the region, he asserted, was “not to look back at history” but “about looking forward!”

Lord Ahmad loudly echoed the position of successive Labor and Conservative governments in Whitehall: the British Empire built on the backs, blood, sweat and tears of African slaves and indentured Indian laborers is not interested in talking about its mortal sins of the past.

In 2013 – after Caricom governments appointed the Reparations Commission, CRC, adopted a 10-point “Program for Reparatory Justice” and mandated each member-state to establish national committees to pursue the Reparations quest. Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair offered that while slavery was abhorrent, it was more interested in combating “modern slavery” that was alive and well in Great Britain.

At the end of 2015, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica — where one of his ancestors owned over 500 slaves for which he was heavily compensated at Emancipation in amounts totaling millions of British pounds today — and unabashedly told the island’s government (and others in the Caribbean) they should simply “Forget the past and move on!”

Immediately after Cameron was “Brexited” from office in 2016, his replacement, current Prime Minister Theresa May, adopted a similar position.

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She brushed British history aside and demanded the descendants of African slaves and slaughtered indigenous peoples simply erase their history because, like her predecessor, she was only interest is only in fighting “Modern Slavery” in Britain.

Obviously, five decades after starting to declare its West Indian colonies politically independent —  without compensation or assistance to combat the poverty and decadence left by centuries of direct colonial rule by Great Britain — London continues to dictate from its perched loft to governments and people of its now sovereign ex-colonies as to what their priorities should be today.

But in so doing, Great Britain is willfully forgetting what made Britain “great.”

The indisputable historical fact is that the forced and unpaid labor of African slaves — brutally kidnapped, chained and extracted from the continent and exported halfway across the world to the West Indies — not only built the British Empire: Centuries later their descendants were also imported, en masse, (from Jamaica and other British West Indian colonies) to rebuild Britain after the German blitzkrieg of World War II.

The British minister referred to “800,000 British people of Jamaican heritage.” 

But there are also millions of other Caribbean nationals and descendants in the U.K. — and London has decided, without consulting them, that their generational heirs and successors of British and European slavery in the Caribbean do not deserve Reparations.

One of the main contributing factors to London’s expectation of automatic “loyalty” from “British subjects” abroad is embedded in the fact that all of Britain’s former colonies still belong to the British Commonwealth — a club of former English colonies across the world perennially headed by Queen Elizabeth II that also requires member-states, though independent, to continue to pay allegiance to the “Royal Crown.”

Indeed, one lingering archaic Caribbean anachronism in the age of independence is that parliaments in British Commonwealth member-states still bow to the dictates of “Her Majesty the Queen” and annually, at every opening session, each (parliament) pledges absolute “loyalty” to “the British Crown” and the reigning “Monarch” (Queen Elizabeth), whose face (and crown) still dominates their respective currencies (both notes and coins).

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This perennial attitude of expecting automatic “loyalty” from Britain’s “royal subjects” in its former colonies cries loudly for a loud collective Caribbean response.

London today conveniently engages in selective amnesia when it comes to its brutal colonial past. But perhaps the time has come for the Caribbean to revisit, if not review, the value of its continuing membership of that all-inclusive colonial club.

“Great Britain,” and indeed the entire United Kingdom, definitely needs to be also loudly reminded today that Caribbean people no longer sing the British national anthem “God Save the Queen,” which also says she was “born to reign over us.”

London’s insistence that the Caribbean should forget and erase its history is at odds with its own establishment, over time, of institutions to honor those who it considered contributed Britain’s own history, regardless of crime committed in so doing.

Obviously, those in the U.K. and the EU wanting to scrub Caribbean history to clean their own haven’t heard of the age-old Caribbean and African teaching that says: “A nation without its history is like a tree without its roots!”

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