Hollande inaugurates world's largest slavery memorial in French West Indies

France's President François Hollande inaugurated the largest slavery memorial in the world on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on Sunday. US black rights activist Angela Davis was to be awarded the freedom of the former slave port of Nantes during France's day to commemorate the slave trade and its abolition.

The opening of the ACTe memorial on the site of a former sugar refinery that processed the products of slave plantations "will allow Guadeloupe and the whole of the Caribbean, with a deep bond with Africa, to tell the world that the combat for human dignity is not over", Hollande said on Saturday ahead of the inauguration.

He cited the people smugglers in the Mediterranean and the recruiters of child soldiers as some of the "new slave-traders".

The memorial, a newly built building overlooking the bay of Guadeloupe's main town, Pointe-à-Pitre, looks at the history of slavery from antiquity to the modern day and pays homage to slave revolts and runaways who established free communities in the New World.

Its cost - 83 million euros - has aroused criticism on an island with serious economic problems, although local officials hope it will help attract tourists to the island.

"Today Guadeloupe means 60 per cent of under-25-year-olds unemployed, practically 30-33 per cent of the working age population unemployed, an illiteracy rate of more than 25 per cent of the population," trade unionist Elie Domota, who led a general strike against the rising cost of living in 2009, told France Inter radio.

He called for abrogation of laws passed in 1848 and 1849, which compensated slave-owners for the abolition of slavery.

The ceremony - attended by Senegal's President Macky Sall, Mali's Ibrahim Bouboucar Keïta and Benin's Thomas Boni Yayi - was to be broadcast live at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, where Prime Minister Manuel Valls attended the government's official event to mark the day.

American Communist Party activist and veteran black rights activist Angela Davis was to receive the freedom of Nantes, France's main slave port before abolition, on Sunday, while another former slave port, Brest, inaugurated a 10-metre-high sculpture, entitled Mémoires, with two faces, one looking out to the Atlantic, the other towards Europe.

Several activists' groups in the French West Indies and in France have launched legal cases for compensation for the trade.

One of them, the Cran, announced on Saturday that it has filed a case for profiting from crimes against humanity against the former head of employers' union Medef, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, who was also boss of the Wendel group, an investment fund founded by his ancestors that had interests in plantations and slave ships.

"The descendants of slave traders are not guilty but they have profited from it and their fortune comes from ill-gotten gains," commented Cran president Louis-Georges Tin. "In refusing compensation, they make themselves liable for the crime that they are vainly trying to dissociate them from."


France’s Francois Hollande Visits Haiti

France President Francois Hollande made an official visit Haiti on Tuesday, part of a wider tour that included stops in St Barth, St Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cuba.

Hollande became only the second sitting French President to visit the country’s onetime colony, following a visit by former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande’s visit included talks with Haiti President Michel Martelly and the signing of a joint declaration on cooperation in areas including education, vocational training and research.

Several other agreements were also signed in the context of the visit, including one between Electricite de France and L’Électricité d’Haïti, the country’s energy utilities, and between France’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Haiti’s National Office of Civil Aviation, among others.

Hollande pointed to the often tense history between the two countries; after Haiti’s revolution, France forced the young country in 1825 to pay 150 million gold francs in a debt of independence; while it was later reduced, it was a sum that was not paid in full until nearly 125 years later.

“Of course, there is history,” Hollande said, met by a group of protestors demanding restitution for the debt. “We cannot change history, but we can change the future. That’s what I came to tell you.”


French President François Hollande Inaugurated a Museum

Hollande, who is on a tour of the Antillean islands that includes a scheduled trip to Cuba, paid homage to slaves and their sacrifices at the memorial, which is the first of its kind by France to remember those who suffered during the slave trade.


"The way I see it, this monument will allow Guadeloupe, but also the entire Caribbean with a deep link to Africa as many African leaders will be here, to tell the whole world that the fight for human dignity is not over,” Hollande said on a trip to the French Caribbean island of Martinique on Saturday.

“We have to remember what happened, remember history of course, but also we must find hope, and we must fight on," he said, to explain the significance of Sunday’s inauguration.

Called the Memorial ACTe, the site is described as “a Caribbean centre on the expression and memory of slavery and the slave trade” and is housed in a former sugar factory in the Guadeloupian city of Pointe-à-Pitre.

The museum holds hundreds of objects dating back several centuries that bear witness to France’s turbulent history -- that included slavery from the 17th to 19th centuries -- when black people were sold to work on the islands’ sprawling sugar plantations.

Thierry Létang, an anthropologist, showed whips and shackles in the museum to a film crew. “This type of lock is very French. They were worn around the feet,” he said, holding the heavy rusted shackles against his feet.

The museum explains the history of slavery and the slave trade using archived documents, images, artefacts, everyday objects plus visual and audio testimonials, the museum’s website noted.

“We don't have museums or memorial sites that allow us to understand this part of French history and especially places that allow people to gather without courting controversy. But this memorial site allows us to do so,” said Patrick Lozès, president and founder member of the Council Representing the Associations of the Black People of France.

France abolished slavery in 1848 but only recognised slavery as a crime against humanity since 2001.

The cost of the Memorial ACTe project, however, has come under scrutiny. The 85 million euros spent on the memorial could have been better used elsewhere, critics say, in a region where 60 percent of young people are unemployed.

Hollande’s visit to the site has also put the spotlight on reparation claims made by descendants of slaves in Guadeloupe.

In 2013, Hollande acknowledged the country's "debt" to Africa because of slave trade and the "baneful role played by France." But he also said that this history "cannot be the subject of a transaction", AP reported.

The memorial, which hopes to welcome 300,000 people annually, is scheduled to open to the public in July.


Chalkdust - Grandfather's Back Pay (1985)

Chalkdust's "Grandfather's Back Pay"  - a call for reparation for the enslavement of blacks in the Caribbean.

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Sir Hilary Beckles address to House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain

Voice recording of an address delivered by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commision, House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain on Thursday july 16th 2014.