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Caribbean countries fight for slavery compensation

UNITED FRONT: Caricom leaders meet earlier this year

LEADERS OF 14 Caribbean countries have joined efforts to launch a legal campaign against the UK as they seek reparation for its role in the Atlantic slave trade.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is preparing for a complex legal battle with the British government, as well as those of France and the Netherlands, for financial compensation over the legacy of slavery.

“We argue that the legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean has severely impaired our development options,” said Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.

“There is a moral and legal imperative for reparations,” he added. Led by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, CARICOM has taken on the advice of London law firm Leigh Day, which won compensation totaling £19.9m in June for the surviving Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 60s.

Martyn Day, a lawyer at the firm, said: “What is an important factor in this potential legal action is that CARICOM is interested in seeking a settlement for the impact of slavery on their communities today - not on the historic position of the individual slaves.

“The next step will be a meeting in September of the CARICOM countries when we will be looking to set out the claim and following that make contact with the three European Governments involved.” 

Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, has noted that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834, paid £20m to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of £200bn today.

The Committee will argue that slavery has caused irreparable damage to the socio-economic growth of the Caribbean. For example, in two of the region’s islands, Barbados and Jamaica, unemployment rates totalled 26 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. Moreover, Barbados has external debt of £1.45 billion and Jamaica owes more than £800m.

Any reparations received would not be handed to individuals, but instead invested into economic, social and cultural programmes.
 However, the Pan Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe has stated that a “top down approach” would not help citizens due to long-running history of dysfunctional politics on many Caribbean islands.

Cynics have argued that the campaign is an attempt to unite CARICOM nations, following local media reports which suggest Jamaica may be opting to leave the group over trade disputes.

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