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  • A statue commemorating the struggle against slavery at Jamaica’s Emancipation Park in Kingston.

    A statue commemorating the struggle against slavery at Jamaica’s Emancipation Park in Kingston. | Photo: Earl Bousquet

Published 1 December 2017
All other CARICOM (and wider Caribbean) nations have similar cases of national heroes and freedom fighters who had been demonized by the colonial authorities.

The launch of the Center for Reparations Research in Jamaica in October included other matching local events, enough attention to which may have been dwarfed by the international acclamations that followed, but which ought not to escape regional and international attention — and acknowledgment.

Tri-Continental Nations Support Caribbean Quest for Reparations

A Marcus Garvey Musical was held at the popular Little Theater in Kingston; and the iconic Jamaican national hero’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, a U.S.-based medical doctor, also delivered a separate lecture at his alma mater, the University of the West Indies.

A feature address by Samia Nkrumah, daughter of the late Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, also drew much deserving attention that could also have drowned the applauds for historic local events happening at the same time.

Before the launch, a significant related political development took place in the Jamaica Parliament: presentation of a resolution to "pardon" Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey, national heroes accused and condemned by the slave masters and the colonialists of committing crimes in pursuit of freedom for enslaved and colonized people.

There had also been an official government decision to pay reparations to victims of a police raid in 1963 that took the lives of Rastafarian and other protesters.

"Pardoning" national heroes

The parliamentary pardons for Jamaica’s national heroes reflect Jamaica taking the first steps to do what its people have long been clamoring for: cleaning-up their national heroes’ records because they did nothing wrong – and in Garvey's case, not with just a "pardon" for crimes he did not commit, but also the full expunging of his concocted criminal record in the United States.

Both sides of the Jamaica parliament unanimously supported the motion – a courageous and outstanding act by a Caribbean government to revisit the past and right a costly historical wrong.

Like in Jamaica, all other CARICOM (and wider Caribbean) nations have similar cases of national heroes and freedom fighters who had been demonized by the colonial authorities for their actions against slavery and colonialism.

What About First People, Indo-Caribbeans and Afro-South Americans?

These untold heroes are blotted and kept out of their correct places in Caribbean history and replaced by the likes of Christopher Columbus, Horatio Nelson, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, etc.

Even mythical "Pirates of the Caribbean" are memorialized in fictional film, while the real heroes of the Caribbean remain edited out of the true history they helped create.

The model parliamentary legislation was therefore not just a first for Jamaica, but (hopefully and with declared intent) a precedent to be followed by other Caribbean states.

The Coral Gardens case

Another important precedent worth noting – and emulating – is the Jamaica government’s earlier decision to offer an apology and compensation to victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens Massacre, which occurred the year after the island became independent and fully self-governing.

Accounts of what happened have differed in the 54 years since, but the Holness administration has accepted the state’s historical blame for the "massacre" and agreed to offer reparations to the survivors and relatives of the victims of police brutality inflicted in the name of the state.

Persons associated with the activism for related compensation over the years do have differences with government over the amount of compensation and other matters.

But this is a case – and may very well be the first – of a CARICOM government accepting blame for the sins of the past and agreeing to apologize and pay reparations to compensate for and repair the damage done in the name of the state.

Similar claims for compensation and reconciliation also do exist on nearly every other CARICOM member-state, but have not been taken made, far less taken-up.

For example, the Rastafari movement was subjected to excessive state repression and methodical violence in the mid-to-late 1970s, when various Caribbean governments adopted and enforced "Dangerous Drugs" ordinances aimed against the growing use of marijuana and implemented mainly draconian legislation in relation to Rastafarians who insisted on using the natural herb for medical, spiritual and other non-commercial uses.

In some cases, Rastafarians – as well as non-Rastas – died from police bullets, or in acknowledged controversial circumstances that can merit revisiting for correction and compensation, healing and renewal.

As with the (current) cases of established churches worldwide having to acknowledge and atone for past (and present) sex crimes by religious figures, surviving victims and families of departed ones are also owed Reparatory Justice.

Similarly, several (if not all) First Peoples do have historic grievances related to everything from territorial claims to denial of original rights and stolen privileges, so the surviving relatives of great native heroes of old do qualify too for Reparatory Justice.

The Jamaica’s examples also show the Europeans that countries demanding reparations in the Caribbean are also prepared to (proverbially) "Put their money where their mouth is."

Reparations baton relay

Another significant event that may have been under-noticed was the launch of the Jamaica leg of the Regional Reparations Baton Relay ("Regional Youth Run for Reparations").

Initiated in 2016 to attract youth and general public attention to the reparations cause in each country represented by the CRC, it involves youth participation in relaying a symbolic wooden torch to spread the reparations word (like fire) across the region.

Torch relays have taken place in Guyana, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda and following the handover of the baton by an Antigua athlete during the CRR launch, the Jamaica leg will eventually see it taken around the island by successive relay teams of athletes and other specially-selected persons.

The Baton Relays are also usually arranged to coincide with annual Reparations Youth Rallies the CRC has been arranging across the region since last year, also with participation by CARICOM Youth Ambassadors in each country.

Top-ranking fillip

Altogether, the legislative "pardon" of national heroes, the apology and reparations for the Coral Gardens atrocity, the "Regional Youth Run for Reparations" – and the launch of the CRR gave a top-ranking fillip to the international reparations movement and reiterated the pioneering role of the Caribbean in its growing global outreach.

It is now for the CRC and the National Reparations Committees to engage locally to actualize the intended actions at home (across the Caribbean), in the Diaspora and the whole wide world.

Earl Bousquet is a Saint Lucia-based veteran Caribbean journalist.

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