Our Readers' Opinions
November 1, 2013

Professor Verene Shepherd was a disappointment

Fri Nov 01, 2013

Editor: Professor Verene Shepherd delivered the UWI Open Campus Independence Anniversary Lecture last Tuesday night. She gave a fair account of herself during the prepared presentation, but her responses to a few pertinent questions in the open forum left a lot to be desired. Professor Shepherd said that she was speaking as the Chair of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. The topic was “CARICOM and the Decade for People of African Descent: A Post Colonial Imperative.”{{more}}

I don’t know what is so imperative about a UN declaration of a decade for people of African descent. We should always be addressing the issues which affect African descendants with or without such a proclamation. Proclamation or not, a decade, or however many years, spent fighting for reparations is time devoted to our black brothers. There is also the danger that an international agenda for the proposed decade would be too broad and too drawn out for anything meaningful to be achieved.

The visiting lecturer, nonetheless found it “ironic” that Caribbean leaders spoke about reparations in their recent UN General Assembly speeches, but made no reference to her push for notional 10-year recognition. But did the esteemed academic even bring the matter, in a forceful and persuasive way, to the attention of the public and our leaders in the first place? What is really ironic is the fact that Verene Shepherd had the gall to criticize CARICOM for what she described as a slow response to the recent constitutional ruling in the Dominican Republic, which would result in Haitian descandents becoming stateless in the land of their birth, when her Working Group has done absolutely nothing about the matter. The Group’s most recent press release on any subject was issued on September third!

At least CARICOM has responded; and the response was actually relatively timely, if not sufficiently strong. On the other hand, Professor Shepherd’s Working Group of Experts has been silent on the issue and has apparently been unable to do anything yet, because the five members of the Group have not met since the Santo Domingo developments. It must be extremely difficult for a handful of experts to coordinate a response to a matter that strikes at the heart of their work outside the context of a meeting. Professor Shepherd, for some strange reason, refused to identify the other members of her Working Group. I wonder if she actually knows them. She was also silent on the possible legal liability of the UN for the introduction of a deadly strain of cholera to Haiti.

The most disappointing thing was perhaps Professor Shepherd’s flippant response when she was asked for her opinion on the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. She glibly said that she didn’t smoke and was therefore not too concerned. The answer had no realistic connection to the question posed. How could this lady, who is so interested in black people’s welfare, and who lamented the fact that a disproportionately high number of black people are incarcerated, and who must know that marijuana possession and use are responsible for so many black people becoming categorized as criminals, seem so selfish? As the Chair of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent does she only plan to address her personal concerns? Is this why she was so disgusted by the fact that regional Prime Ministers dared to talk about reparations without mentioning her pet project?

Verene Shepherd appears to be afraid or unwilling to tackle the tough issues that seriously affect the future of Afro-Caribbean nationals. Is her heart really in the struggle?

R. T. Luke V. Browne