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  • The Garifuna people, an Afro-Indigenous nation descendant of the Arawaks, gather to discuss the challenges facing their people across borders.

    The Garifuna people, an Afro-Indigenous nation descendant of the Arawaks, gather to discuss the challenges facing their people across borders. | Photo: BCIJR

Published 27 October 2015
Belizeans and other Caribbean nations voice their visions for reparations and their hopes to garner the governments’ support.

In 2013, Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) nations decided to champion the reparations cause and began a concerted effort to repair the historical wrongs done to African and indigenous peoples over the last 500 years. As such, the 15 CARICOM member states: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis as well as Trinidad and Tobago unanimously approved the creation of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC).

RELATED: Part 1 of this article, Belize: Africans, Asians and Indigenous Peoples Demand Reparations

The campaign for justice has renewed the movement for reparations, especially during the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. Reparations is a centuries' long struggle that has taken on different forms and has made a variety of demands regionally throughout the Americas as well as internationally.

It would be an unforgivable show of disrespect not to mention that Haiti’s reparations movement more than a decade ago has served as an important milestone framing CARICOM’s current efforts. CARICOM states and the Belize Commission: Initiative for Justice and Reparations (BCIJR) alike regularly reference how the Haitian people courageously demanded $US21 billion in reparations from France in 2004. When Haiti became the first Black republic in the Western hemisphere, after a successful maroon led revolution, the French empire threatened Haiti with invasion for defeating slavery and cutting off France's lifeline to undeserved wealth. France ultimately forced Haitians to pay restitution for the slave-owners' losses. Over a century's time, Haiti suffered major economic underdevelopment as they paid in bank loans, gold and lumber to the French.

At the time, then President Jean Bertrand Aristide made these demands internationally known and suffered a coup d’état orchestrated by France, the United States and Canada for daring to challenge empire.

For Caribbean nations, that history was never forgotten. The Haitian people started a reparations path that CARICOM countries have decided to follow challenging colonial empire and its contemporary pulse translating to more than financial restitution and debt relief.

Belizean’s Demands for Reparations

The six major areas identified by the CRC that are a direct result of European crimes that require reparatory action include: public health, education, cultural institutions, cultural deprivation, psychological trauma as well as scientific and technological “backwardness”.

As such, CARICOM's demand for reparations encompasses a ten point action plan based on Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves’ “Roadmap for Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery in the Caribbean.” The plan calls for: an indigenous peoples' development program; cultural centers; repatriation plans; public health, knowledge and literacy programs; debt cancelation for all Caribbean nations; access to new technologies and rehabilitation programs for centuries' of psychological, emotional and mental trauma. Belizean people’s visions fall in line with these guiding areas and principles for the region.

At the last annual gathering, Belizeans studied successful international reparations cases such as the Mau Mau in Kenya who suffered torture at the hands of the British and Japanese-US Americans who endured internment in the United States. In both of these cases, the oppressed received cash restitution along with a formal recognition and apology of the wrongs committed against their peoples.

At the Second Annual Popular Justice and Reparations Convention, Belizeans defined reparations in their own words and on their terms. British control and colonial residue have left deep wounds on Belizean society and its institutions. The representative of the African Kriol working group expressed, “We don't have much here in Belize that we can survive on. Reparations is not a ‘feel-good’ fund. It is the reconstruction of our society. We have been 34 years dependent not independent.” In addition, African Kriol peoples called for land reform and the decolonization of their minds through culturally and historically relevant research and cross-cultural linguistic preservation.

Likewise, the Garifuna people’s working group advocated for the meaningful control and defense of the country's natural resources. The Garifuna also specifically announced their hope for reparations for all Garifuna people for the genocide that occurred on Baliceaux. Baliceaux is a mountainous island the Garifuna people were banished to after refusing French and British efforts to enslave them in St. Vincent just before their great exodus to Central America. Countless ancestors died of disease and starvation on Baliceaux. Today, the Garifuna Diaspora is spread across Central America in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua as well as with a considerable population in the United States.

Young people also put forth critical proposals. Youth have significantly participated in the two conventions expressing innovative ideas to inform real structural change. In one case, young people said that they would like for everyone with 200 acres of land to have it taken away and redistributed, addressing centuries of land theft and privatization of resources.

Belizeans Demand Active Support from Government

BCIJR delegates also dedicated considerable discussion to addressing the Belizean government’s role in the drive for reparations. While the Belizean government has signed onto the CARICOM reparations initiative, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his administration have yet to take the necessary steps toward institutionally supporting a national reparations effort. Since the passing of the Belizean reparations national commissioner Aldabert Tucker nearly two years ago, Barrow has yet to re-appoint someone to the position.

BCIJR scrutinized Barrow for his recent statements seemingly in allegiance with British Prime Minister David Cameron's posturing on the issue. During Cameron's official visit to Jamaica this month, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller publicly tabled the issue of reparations. After much relentless public questioning, Cameron declared that reparations is an issue of the past and that Britain's current objectives are to look to the future focusing on trade agreements with the Caribbean.

Moreover, Cameron offered a £360 million dollar investment in the region with the caveat that £ 25 million be destined to build a prison that would presumably house Jamaicans and British-Jamaicans deported from the United Kingdom.

Barrow responded to the case saying, “I certainly do not take the view that while the issue is exercising and pre-occupying us that we should, in any way flaunt at the sort of effort that Prime Minister Cameron is now making. That can't excuse the sins of history but you will forgive me if I am more anchored in the present and focused on what we can do to advance our local development agenda...”

At the BCJIR convention, space for political leadership was invited to respond to this issue directly. The BCIJR invited Barrow in their efforts to engage the state with grassroots concerns about the state's apparent lack of support. However, no official from the government participated in the event. In the BCIJR 2015 resolution statement delegates expressed, “We ask that our government not put our short term interests ahead of our nation's and our children's long term development.”

As such, the BCIJR is pushing the government to join other Caribbean leaders such as the former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson “in informing the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom that his disrespectful attempt to brush away the psychological, cultural and economic trauma that Caribbean people have suffered because of the crimes of slavery and native genocide will not be ignored much less accepted by the people of the Caribbean including Belize.”

While Belizeans continue to make demands on their government to actively support the reparations cause, for the people one thing is certain: reparations are a demand and a right, not a suggestion or request. Whether the government moves on this issue or not, the people have committed to transforming society and forging an organized path toward reparations. Two global reparations summits are set for 2016 and 2017 in the Caribbean and Europe respectively.

Pambana Bassett is an organizer from Harare, Zimbabwe and New York City. She is a member of the Chiapas Support Committee based in Los Angeles, California, and she is currently organizing around food sovereignty, reparations, African and Indigenous popular education, and land rights with grassroots organizations in Belize.

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