April 19, 2013

Reparations demand is a just one

Fri Apr 19, 2013

It is most unfortunate that the critical issue of reparations for those who have suffered the horrors of genocide and slavery; those who have been robbed of land, identity and culture; who have had to endure centuries of colonial rule and plunder; should be taken completely out of context and turned into a partisan political issue. That, however, is the sad reality in our country.{{more}}

The call for reparations for such crimes is not a new one, nor is it confined to people of African descent, nor descendants of the Callinago and Garifuna people. The best-known case is the well-publicised one of the Jews, compensated for the horrors of Hitler’s holocaust. But there are many other examples worldwide. After World War I for instance, the defeated Germans were forced under the Treaty of Versailles to pay a sum of US$33 billion to the victorious Allied powers. Arising out of the Second World War, the Japanese were similarly forced to make reparation payments and in more recent times, Japanese leaders have accepted responsibility for their crimes in Asia, as part of the reparation process. In turn, Japanese-Americans, unfairly interned in the USA during the war, have received compensation from the US government.

Of even more relevance to Caribbean people are other processes of reparation for victims of colonial plunder and genocide worldwide. Examples are Canada and the USA, for the crimes against the native peoples in North America, and Australia and New Zealand, for similar crimes against the aboriginal populations by the white colonial settlers.

Thus the call for reparations by Caribbean Governments, organisations and citizens, is no ridiculous, money-grabbing scheme. Nor, by any stretch of the imagination, can the call be considered a distraction from the normal business of providing for the well-being of Vincentians, as was said earlier this week by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.

Such statements display a misunderstanding of what the growing clamour for reparation is all about. They also do a grave disservice to our people by trying to counterpose the legitimate claim for reparation with their daily problems.

Reparation is not just the payment of monetary compensation; it also involves the perpetrator accepting responsibility for the crimes committed, apologizing and showing genuine contrition. Also, the validity of the reparation claim does not depend on whether it is likely or unlikely in one’s lifetime.

Professor Hilary Beckles, the Caribbean Rastafari Movement, Prime Minister Gonsalves and the broad swathe of Caribbean people of native or African descent who demand reparations, would be unreasonable to suggest that the call be given priority over the day-to-day needs of our people.

If the Jews, the Maoris, the Aborigines in Australia, the native peoples of North America can be justly recognized as victims of cruel oppression and be deemed worthy of reparations, why not us in the Caribbean? Our case is even stronger, because the British government, as part of the Act of Emancipation, paid out handsome compensation to the slave owners, who were not the victims of genocide, slavery and exile.

The reparation demand is a just one. Calling for reparations does not absolve any government from its responsibility towards its people, nor does it mean that the day-to-day work of any government comes to a standstill. How then can the call for reparations be a political smoke-screen? Our governments should be supported in their efforts in this regard.