By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
Caribbean trade bloc countries fighting to make Britain and other European countries pay for the transatlantic slave trade have formally taken their case to the British Parliament, with their leading reparations advocate urging legislators to correct wrongs that were enacted into law by that very House of Commons, because millions in the region are still suffering from the effects of slavery.
Sir Hilary Beckles, principal of the umbrella University of the West Indies and head of the Caribbean Reparations Commission, told the House of Commons in an address a week ago that the Caribbean region fully expects that European governments would have no problem acknowledging the sheer brutality of the slave trade and the fact that European slave owners were paid for giving up slaves at emancipation in the 1830s, rather than the people who were brutalized on plantations without being paid a single cent.
The mid-July address to British MP’s was released by the bloc this week.
“Like you, I am aware that this parliament prepared the official political basis of the crimes that defined the colonial past,” Beckles said. “It is here, in this house, that the evil system of slavery and genocide was established. This house passed laws, framed fiscal policies and enforced the crimes that have produced harmful legacies and persistent suffering now in need of repair.”
He said research by governments shows that British slave ships brought an astonishing 5.5 million enslaved Africans to Caribbean colonies over 180 years, but by the time the practice was abolished in the 1830s, only 800,000 remained, a survival rate among the slave population, including those born into slavery, of a mere 15 percent.
His address came two weeks after Caribbean leaders at their summit in Antigua had asked European nations to participate in a reparations summit later this year or early next year and as the region prepares its case to fight Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, among others, for reparations for slavery, genocide against indigenous communities and Asians shipped to work on Caribbean plantations.
He said governments feel that paid reparations will “bring honor and dignity to the people of the Caribbean, as well as to the people of Great Britain and Europe.”
Additionally, Beckles argued, governments today are saddled with the task of “cleaning up the awful mess left behind by Britain’s colonial legacy,” noting that the region has waged this battle valiantly. “We are not beggars,” he said. “We are not subservient. We do not want charity and handouts. We want justice, reparatory justice.
“Britain and its Parliament cannot morally and legally turn their backs upon this past, and walk away from the mess they have left behind. This parliament has to return to the scene of its crimes and participate as a legitimate parliament, as a legal parliament, in the healing and rehabilitation of the Caribbean.”
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