Jamaica calls for Britain to pay billions of pounds in reparations for slavery
David Cameron is facing calls for Britain to pay billions of pounds in reparations for slavery ahead of his first official visit to Jamaica on Tuesday.
Downing Street said the prime minister does not believe reparations or apologies for slavery are the right approach, but the issue is set to overshadow his trade trip to the island, where he will address the Jamaican parliament.
Ahead of his trip, Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission, has led calls for Cameron to start talks on making amends for slavery and referenced the prime minister’s ancestral links to the trade in the 1700s through his cousin six times removed, General Sir James Duff.
In an open letter in the Jamaica Observer, the academic wrote: “You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors ... You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather.
“We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal. The continuing suffering of our people, Sir, is as much your nation’s duty to alleviate as it is ours to resolve in steadfast acts of self-responsibility.”
How do we know David Cameron has slave owners in family background?
Professor Verene Shepherd, chair of the National Commission on Reparation, told the Jamaica Gleaner that nothing short of an unambiguous apology from Cameron would do, while a Jamaican MP, Mike Henry, called on fellow parliamentarians to turn their back on Cameron if reparations are not on the agenda, noting that the Jamaican parliament has approved a motion for the country to seek reparation from Britain.
“If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in parliament,” he told the newspaper.
Jamaica’s prime minister Portia Simpson Miller called for non-confrontational discussions at the UN in 2013, but Britain has never accepted the case for any compensation payments.
A Number 10 official said: “This is a longstanding concern of theirs and there is a longstanding UK position, true of successive governments in the UK, that we don’t think reparations are the right approach.
“The PM’s point will be he wants to focus on the future. We are talking about issues that are centuries old and taken under a different government when he was not even born. He wants to look at the future and how can the UK play a part now in stronger growing economies in the Caribbean.”
The official said Cameron’s purpose in visiting Jamaica and Grenada was to reinvigorate their relationship with the UK.
“He looks at that kind of relationship and who the Caribbean see as their major partners and sees them looking to China and Venezuela and thinks Britain should be in there. Britain has long historical ties with these countries,” she said.
David Cameron faces demands for slavery reparation on Jamaica visit
Prime Minister David Cameron is facing calls to apologise and pay financial reparation for Britain's role in the historic slave trade in the Caribbean.
The demands from campaigners have threatened to overshadow the PM's visit to the island, where he was announcing £25m in British aid for a new Jamaican prison.
The country's PM Portia Simpson-Miller said she had raised the issue in talks.
Mr Cameron ruled out paying reparation, saying it was "not the right approach".
He said his visit - the first by a British prime minister in 14 years - was to "reinvigorate" ties between the countries, and he wanted to concentrate on future relations not centuries-old issues.
Ms Simpson-Miller said while she was "aware of the obvious sensitivities", Jamaica was "involved in a process under the auspices of the Caribbean Community to engage the UK on the matter".
For more than 200 years Britain was at the heart of a lucrative transatlantic trade in millions of enslaved Africans.
According to ship records it is estimated about 12.5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean - to work in often brutal conditions on plantations - from the 16th century until the trade was banned in 1807.
In 1833, Britain emancipated its enslaved people and raised the equivalent of £17bn in compensation money to be paid to 46,000 of Britain's slave-owners for "loss of human property". University College London has compiled a database of those compensated.
Among those listed is General Sir James Duff, who it is claimed is a first cousin six times removed of David Cameron. He was awarded compensation worth around £3 million in today's terms.
Others who received compensation include the ancestors of novelists George Orwell and Graham Greene, and distant relatives of Arts Council chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, and celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott.
The issue of slave-owning nations compensating former colonies is a contentious one in the Caribbean, where national commissions have calculated the sums could run into trillions of dollars.
One suggestion has been that the money could be provided in the form of debt relief.
Mrs Simpson Miller told the United Nations in 2013 there should be "an international discussion in a non-confrontational manner" and its parliament had passed a motion backing reparations.
One Jamaican MP, Mike Henry, threatened to boycott Mr Cameron's speech at the country's parliament later if he does not engage on the issue.
"If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in parliament," he told The Gleaner newspaper.
Campaigners also called on Mr Cameron to make a personal apology, saying one of his own ancestors was paid compensation for the loss of his slaves in 1834.
Records suggest General Sir James Duff was a first cousin six times removed of the PM, and was awarded compensation worth around £3 million in today's terms.
Bert Samuels, a member of Jamaica's National Commission on Reparations, told Television Jamaica "he needs to atone, to apologise personally and on behalf of his country".
Sir Hilary Beckles, who chairs Caricom's Reparations Commission - which represents Caribbean nations - wrote in an open letter in the Jamaica Observerthat the UK must "play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire".
He said Mr Cameron was "a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears' sins of the enslavement of our ancestors".
Mr Cameron made no mention of the issue after Wednesday's talks - but Number 10 said he had made clear to his opposite number that he "understood it was an issue for some people".
He reiterated the "long-standing position of the United Kingdom that we do not believe reparations is the right approach".
Speaking to reporters on the flight to the Caribbean, Mr Cameron made clear he did not want to focus on the issue.
"This is about the future relationship and about what we should be doing together economically in terms of trade and investment and this significant infrastructure fund I am announcing," he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who lived in Jamaica for two years in his youth, said that, as prime minister, he would be ready to apologise for the slave trade.
Speaking at Labour's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Corbyn said it was "the most brutal part of our history and the history of Jamaica".
On his two-day visit, Mr Cameron announced a £300 million development package for the Caribbean, to provide grants for infrastructure projects including roads and bridges.
He also revealed that the UK will spend £25m on building a prison in Jamaica so that foreign criminals in the UK can be sent home to serve sentences in the Caribbean.
More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica's poor prison conditions.
Officials say the foreign aid-funded deal could save taxpayers £10m a year when transfers begin in 2020.
The Howard League for Penal Reform criticised the plan, saying it was "the wrong use of foreign aid", and would fail to address the real issue of overcrowding in British prisons.
The scars of slavery still with us
The scars of slavery still with us
I would like to respond to Sahadeo Ragoonanan’s letter in Monday’s Express, headlined “Please stop blaming slavery”.
There are some people who try to trivialise the impact of slavery on the descendants of the African diaspora in the New World. Some do so, I suspect, in order to play devil’s advocate whether they know the truth or not; while others, I suspect, have no pertinent knowledge and jump on an unsteady bandwagon in their quest to further their own ignorance and selfish agenda.
Proponents of reparations, psychologists and historians have documented the tragedy created by the slave trade and slavery itself on the plantations in the diaspora. There are no such tragedies documented on the Africans of the continent. As a matter of fact, those societies closely resemble farming communities in India. There, village life is wholesome, family-oriented and rich in cultural traditions.
In case Mr Ragoonanan is lost, I must explain the conflict we see on the news arises as a result of arbitrary boundaries set by the colonial powers which subsequently left unconnected tribes in the same new geographical locations. This is also a source of conflict in places such as Bosnia, etc.
In Africa itself, Zimbabwe and South Africa have a high incidence of diaspora-like pathology because their people experienced apartheid—a form of slavery. There is a word for the process—trauma. In contemporary society, post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition which causes people exposed to trauma to behave and think in a particular manner which ruins their lives if left untreated.
Three to four hundred years of slavery trauma impacts upon a people and yes, Mr Ragoonanan, it is hereditary. Your own views on the subject prove it. Your perception of these people continues because of their overt behaviour, which really is associated to their ethnic background as a result of their trauma across generations.
Ainsworth and Bowlby, fathers of the Attachment Theory, have found there is a generational component to trauma and I add the quotation of one of the theorists for the benefit of Mr Ragoonanan: “We are now beginning to empirically explore the psychological, internal or representational aspects of attachment, including the intergenerational transmission of attachment patterns that had been at the centre of Bowlby’s interests since his beginnings in psychiatry but that are most clearly elaborated in Volumes 2 and 3 of the attachment trilogy.” (See Bretherton, 1987, 1990, 1991).
The social situation we are seeing in the diaspora is as a direct result of this trauma and reparations is not cash. It has to be certain opportunities for these people to have interventions of education, health, wealth and well-being to pursue their best potential.
The western world is now reaping the rewards of the monster it grew hundreds of years ago. It is no wonder the state of Israel has the philosophy it has now, and no one dares to tell it about it and, as a matter of fact, it is a crime in some places to deny the holocaust. Yes, Mr Ragoonanan, it does seem that slavery is hereditary.
Focus on Reparations as Sando Kicks off Emancipation Events
The San Fernando City Corporation (SFCC) hosted a public lecture recently on the topic of reparations at its City Hall Auditorium, Harris Promenade. The lecture, which featured David Muhammad, is part of a month-long series of events planned for the city's Emancipation Day celebrations.Useful Links
Beckles’ Message of CARICOM Reparations Commission at ‘Seminal Moment’ for Trinidad and Tobago
The University of the West Indies, Vice-Chancellery. Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - “We now need to say to the British Government development is a shared responsibility…you have a role to play in this process, come back to the table and repair the damage you have done”. Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), was speaking in his role as chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, at the launch of the Trinidad and Tobago National Commission on Reparations (TTNCR) on June 13, 2015.
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