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Jamaica is Moving On! Will that be the message from the Region?

Jamaica is Moving On! Will that be the message from the Region?

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The visit to the region by Prince William and Kate Middleton, described in some circles as a ‘Charm Offensive’, part of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, turned out to be far from that. Of course, Caribbean people will always show respect and greet the royal visitors, but much has changed and is changing, and it is with that the young couple had to deal. Prime Minister Holness’ remark that Jamaica was moving on might well be the message from the region. Calls for a formal apology over the horrors of slavery followed the royals. Prince William merely echoed what others have said, referring to the “appalling atrocity of slavery.”  But the image of the couple touring areas in an open top Land Rover spoke more to the past than the present.

     Things are different. The Windrush Scandal is very much on the minds of a number of West Indians. Barbados’ declaration of Republican status in November 2021 appears to be stirring a new movement. Jamaica which had under Portia Simpson declared its intention to become a Republic is now indicating that it is likely to follow. Other countries have been echoing similar sentiments. I am not sure why the Barbados’ move has had such a positive response in the region. It might be that if “Little England” can do it, why shouldn’t we? It might have been the relative ease with which Barbados did it, without it appears from the outside, the opposition that some might have anticipated.

    But perhaps the biggest indication that things are changing is the growing call for reparations from Britain. Reparations are not only against the brutalities of slavery, but in the case of SVG, genocide against the native peoples; thousands of our early peoples being sent into exile in Central America and in the process as many dying from conditions on the island of Balliceaux where they were held for months before being shipped away in 1797. Then we must add to that the issue of Indian indentureship where hundreds were brought here on contracts which were never fully honoured.

     Recently Sir Hilary Beckles who has been the driving force behind the call for reparations, published his newest book, “HOW BRITAIN UNDERDEVELOPED THE CARIBBEAN – A Reparation Response to Europe’s Legacy of Plunder and Poverty”, influenced no doubt by Walter Rodney’s HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA. In fact, Beckles said he had been encouraged to undertake the work by Rodney himself. Beckles has focused on the issue of reparations and Britain’s legacy of Plunder and Poverty. The case against Britain is solidly made. It was not simply the legacy of slavery, but that slavery and colonialism were Britain’s deliberate attempt at “wealth extraction”. To add to Beckles’ case, even in St. Vincent the Legislative Council that was fighting against Emancipation reminded the British government about its revenue contribution to the economy of Britain, their addition to the tons of shipping employed and to the thousands of seamen involved that provided a nursery for that area of British service.

     Then you add the racial element. Beckles methodically shows that the same attitude exhibited during the period of slavery continued right up to Independence; “There was a clear imperial perspective that the role of the black community was to provide labour, not entrepreneurship.” The importation of workers from India, he argues, was “to constitute a revised labour regime that would help to sustain the plunder of the West Indies”

     Despite the plunder of the colonies and the contribution made to British industry and economy, the British refused to provide a development package that would assist the colonies as they moved toward Federation and then Independence. The author argues that an effort was made   “. . . financially to subvert the federation by starving it of capital and fiscal development support.”  Britain as it exited from Europe hoped to put more of its eggs in the basket of the Commonwealth. The continuing call for reparations which they are resisting will impact on the Commonwealth and Britain’s role in it.

     Those who continue to say that we subverted any move to a Republic when we voted against the Referendum must look again at what we were asked to vote for. Had it been a single issue the result might have been different. Will we have anything to say to Prince Edward and Sophie when they arrive later this month, or will we simply glory in welcoming the youngest child of the Queen? 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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