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  • The launch of the Centre for Reparations Research (CRR) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica on Oct. 10 was a highly celebrated event, with the unveiling of the plaque attended onstage.

    The launch of the Centre for Reparations Research (CRR) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica on Oct. 10 was a highly celebrated event, with the unveiling of the plaque attended onstage. | Photo: Courtesy of CRR

Published 3 November 2017
Earl Bousquet focuses on successes and challenges facing Caribbean governments and the growing national reparations movement in the United States.

The global movement for Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide from Europe and North America gathered in Jamaica between Oct. 10 and 12 for a series of activities that have given much traction to the tri-continental movement.

In this special series, Caribbean journalist Earl Bousquet focuses on the successes scored, as well as the challenges facing the 15 Caribbean governments and the growing national reparations movement in the United States, with support from Africa and Europe.

The Caribbean's ongoing quest for Reparations from Europe for Native Genocide and Slavery got several boosts in Jamaica in October, when three major related activities coincided with the launching of the brand new Center for Reparations Research (CRR) at the region's top university.

Located at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), the CRR was launched on October 10 by CARICOM, under the aegis of the UWI and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission (CRC), with regional and international support for the high-powered research necessary to fuel the forward propulsion of the reparations movement into its next stage.

Esteemed Leadership

The CRR is headed by Professor Verene A. Shepherd, an acclaimed social historian specializing in African and African American History, Gender and Migration Studies, who also co-chairs the Jamaica National Commission on Reparations (JNCR), is also a member of the United Nations (UN) Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and also co-chairs the CRC.

An author, co-author, editor and compiler of several books, Professor Shepherd also served six years as a member of the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and hosts a popular weekly radio program entitled ‘Talking History’.

Earlier this year, the illustrious Jamaican academic was also among those who graced the Black Achievement Wall of Honor at the UN in New York, alongside President Barack Obama, Derek Walcott, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Rosa Parks.

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CRR’s Focus

Agreed to by the CARICOM leaders back in 2013 (when they also agreed to establish the CRC and national reparations bodies) the CRR Director says it will focus on promoting “research, education and advocacy” around the reparations issue.

In addition to supporting the pursuit and implementation of CARICOM’s Reparatory Justice Program, it will also seek to heighten regional consciousness about “the lasting and adverse consequences of colonialism in the Caribbean and offer practical solutions to halting and reversing them, in collaboration with advocates from grassroots to governments.”

The CRR Director says it will pursue these objectives “out of an understanding that many of the injustices and adverse effects of colonialism in the Caribbean did not end with formal independence and still need to be addressed and repaired.”

Blessed and Mystic

The CRR launch was blessed by dedicated and ongoing 'Drum and Chant' sessions by the age-old Jamaican drumming group, Mystic Revelations of Rastafari, as well as an excerpt by Jamaica’s National dance Theatre Company entitled ‘The Crossing’ choreographed by the legendary dancer Rex Nettleford, with music by Quincy Jones. 

It was also attended by former Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson, current Jamaican Culture Minister Olivia 'Babsie' Grange, as well as Bunny Wailer, the iconic Jamaican singer and last surviving member of the legendary band Bob Marley and the Wailers.

The launch also featured addresses by: US-based Dr Marcus Garvey (of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine) and Ghana’s Sania Nkrumah, CRC Chairman and UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, Dr Hilary Brown (CARICOM Program Manager for Culture and Community Development), Caribbean and Pan African writer Horace Campbell (Professor in African American Studies at Syracuse University, who also sits in the Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies), Dr Ron Daniels of the USA’s Institute of the Black World (IBW) and the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), Esther Stanford Xoesi of the Pan African reparations Coalition in Europe -- and many others.

Healthy State

The discussions revealed the healthy state of the Reparations movement in the Caribbean, Europe and North America, especially the binding bonds developed between the CARICOM and US movements, as well as the growing acceptance by CARICOM governments and people of the importance of pursuing the reparations quest.

Thanks to interaction with and sharing of early Caribbean experiences in pursuing reparations -- the first and only such case in the world pushed and backed by governments -- the US Congressional Black Caucus and a host of other organizations have been able to re-present the ‘HR-40’ Bill to the US Congress.

The US bill, which earlier called for putting reparations on the congressional agenda, is now calling for a discussion on how to implement provisions for reparations for US slavery, especially as the freed African American slaves never each received the '40 acres and a mule' promised.

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Intrinsic Links

The intrinsic historical and continuing links between the Caribbean and Africa on issues of Slavery, Reparations and Repatriation also came to the fore during the CRR launch and the accompanying international symposium.

Delivering the feature address, Ms Nkrumah -- the first woman to head the Convention People’s Party founded by her father -- recalled the Caribbean connections to the founding of the first independent state in Africa, including the role of Garvey's teachings, the involvement of Trinidad & Tobago's George Padmore and Black American writer W.E.B. Dubois, as well as the contributions Saint Lucia’s of Sir Arthur Lewis to Nkrumah's economic thought.

Campbell called on the Reparations Movements in the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe to get more acquainted with African achievements in Science and Technology to better their visions of Africa and for the Caribbean, today and tomorrow, in the global reparations movement.

Reparations Gone Global

The reparations movement has gone global.

Sparked by the likes of Marcus Garvey in the very early 20th century and kept alive by the Rastafarian Movement in his native Jamaica, it features both Repatriation and Reparations and involves all the region's now independent former European colonies.

Chapters and currents exist in the UK and other parts of Europe and have now extended to the USA and Canada, South America and Africa. The Jamaica sessions therefore allowed participants to take a worldly view of the state of the movement.

International Symposium

The European, African, North and South American, Caribbean and other delegations also participated in an international symposium on October 11 entitled: “Post-Independence Crossroads: Economic Growth, Sustainable Societies and Reparatory Justice.” 

The parley went a long way to reveal the long history of efforts and varying but separate trends promoting reparations across and between the continents.

It also offered a ready platform for exchange and debate among and between delegations from three continents and several regions, as well a regional and international organizations and entities, along with grassroots and governmental entities at national levels.

‘Holocaust and Repatriation Day’

The Jamaica event concluded with a Press Conference on October 12, hosted by Professors Beckles and Shepherd and attended by Minister Grange and Ms Nkrumah, as well as members of the CRC.

The day was traditionally celebrated as ‘Columbus Day’ and is celebrated as a National Day in Spain. But during the press conference a declaration of solidarity was made in support of the Caribbean’s indigenous people who, beginning on October 12, 1492 (when Columbus claimed to have ‘discovered’ these already inhabited islands) were subjected to a protracted campaign of genocide initiated by Spain.

In reality, however, for the native peoples of the Caribbean, October 12 is more of a ‘Holocaust and Reparation Day’.

The CRC also reiterated its commitment to pursue the reparations quest with even more vigor following the CRR launch and the fruitful international symposium.

Long Memories and High Hopes

Delegates left Jamaica filled with long memories and high hopes that the now-global reparations movement will start to engineer the continental, regional and national contacts, across seas and skies, between borders and transcending the boundaries that have so far limited their scope, vision and related actions.

But as Professors Beckles and Shepherd (jointly and separately) warned throughout the several speaking sessions, while the events hosted at the UWI’s Mona Visitors Lodge and Conference Centre were successful, more real successes will depend on the extent to which delegates, on returning home and to their respective organizational entities, will build the links required to form the global chain necessary for the quest for reparations to become fruitful.

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