Reparations, Restitution


Scene of the Battle of Vertières during the Haitian Revolution, 1845

From The Nation:

Many now buy the argument that the current conditions of underdevelopment in the Caribbean are a direct and lasting legacy of the slave trade and descendants of enslaved Africans should be compensated for contemporary injustices rather than historical suffering.

Today, the white descendants of European colonizers, who represent a small minority of Caribbean citizens, own most of the English-speaking islands’ wealth. The majority of the largest businesses in the region are owned by families who amassed huge fortunes from plantation slavery and later, after slavery was abolished, from the compensation paid to them by the British government for the loss of their human property.

While Caribbean nations struggle to make Europe recognize their claim for reparations, similar compensation had been paid out in the middle of the nineteenth century to British slave owners forced to relinquish their “private property” upon the abolition of slavery in 1833, payments to the tune of 20 million pounds, which would be valued at 27.5 billion US dollars today, and totaling 40 percent of the British government’s spending in 1834. Slave owners who received compensation included the ancestors of Britain’s current Prime Minister David Cameron, authors George Orwell and Graham Greene, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and former minister Douglas Hogg. The freed slaves, of course, received nothing.

The demand for reparations has a long history in the Caribbean, but never before have sovereign states in the region spoken out unanimously in their claims for restitution for past crimes against humanity that marked the periods of plantation slavery and European colonization. The Caribbean leaders supporting reparations have described the movement as the “last stage of de-colonization and the next stage of development.”

In 2003, a year before he was ousted, Haiti’s then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide requested that France pay Haiti over $21 billion in reparations. He said that figure was the equivalent of the 90 million gold francs his country was forced to pay Paris as a sort of punishment for winning its freedom from France in the first successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere in 1804, which established the first independent black nation in the so-called “New World.” France flatly refused to comply with Aristide’s reparations demand, and some commentators have argued that Aristide’s bold demand was partly responsible for his overthrow. Now, ten years later, Haiti’s current President Michel Martelly has joined forces with his fellow CARICOM leaders in establishing the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

The sheer audacity of their ten-point program for “reparatory justice” in the Caribbean deserves the solidarity and moral support of social justice lovers in the United States and around the world.

“Will the Caribbean Reparations Initiative Inspire a Revitalization of the US Movement?”, Don Rojas, The Nation