Editorial

Is the Centre for Reparations Research a grand waste of time?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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September 10, 2017 marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of a US$13.8-billion reparation agreement by then West Germany to provide compensation and reimbursement to the Jewish people — mostly victims of the Holocaust — for their losses and suffering caused by the Nazis.

The date is clearly not lost on members of the Caribbean reparation lobby, who are assembling at The University of the West Indies (UWI) this evening to launch the Centre for Reparations Research (CRR), as mandated by the Caricom Heads of Government Summit in 2013.

The thinking of the Caricom heads was that there is need to support a Caricom/Global Reparatory Justice Movement to “build awareness, engage advocacy, and conduct research which will advance the claim to Europeans for various forms of reparation for native genocide, African enslavement, deceptive indentureship, colonialism, and its legacies”.

The big question is whether all this is not just a grand waste of time and money that can scarcely be afforded by cash-strapped Caribbean countries.

The purpose of the centre, we are told, is to do the research necessary to lay the basis for the justification of reparation claims. We can't help but wonder how much more research needs yet to be done to justify the perfectly legitimate concept of reparation and who are liable to pay it.

No one is denying that the Europeans brought Africans against their will to these Caribbean islands to work without pay on the sugar plantations from which they built an economy that is the foundation of the living standards that Europe enjoys today.

The real issue is getting those European countries that were involved in the slave trade and the subsequent trauma meted out to the slaves to agree to make reparations so many centuries later and in an economic context in which each country is putting its own interest first.

It could be argued that arrangements, such as the original Lomé Convention and its Export Stabilisation Fund (STABEX), the Doha Accord and other aid programmes under whatever names or acronyms are being used today, were forms of reparation.

However, they have been so whittled down over the years, especially under new World Trade Organization rules, that they could not be regarded as adequate compensation.

We suggest that the thrust for reparation should better come through strengthening of such aid mechanisms, which the slave-owning countries are already accustomed to using to funnel assistance, but with the emphasis on grants and debt forgiveness.

Moreover, as the Caribbean islands are so tourism-dependent, those countries might be more easily persuaded to deepen disaster prevention and mitigation assistance to their present and former colonies as a way of reparation to Caribbean people living in these hurricane-ravaged territories to which we were brought by them.

In short, we are saying let's be more practical about claims for reparation, as deserved as they are. Unfortunately, we are not Jews and the former colonists not Germans who, incidentally, were not colonisers of Caribbean countries.

As always, we would be happy to be proven wrong that this CRR is not just another talk shop. We'll surely see what comes of it.

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