Nelson A. King
NEW YORK, United States, Monday September 30, 2013, CMC – St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says he plans to intensify efforts in addressing the issue of Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery when he assumes the chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) early in the new year.
“When I take over the chairmanship of CARICOM in January I hope to get letters to Europe,” Gonsalves, who is here for the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate, told a standing-room-only town hall meeting in Brooklyn late Saturday.
“We’re going for reparations because of state-sponsored genocide and state-sponsored slavery”, he added.
“Europe, by engaging us in this matter, can make us more free,” he continued. “We need reparations, but we need available resources.”
The Vincentian leader, who has been taking the lead in CARICOM on the issue, said efforts at seeking reparations from Europe are “not a conversation about protests.
“This is a serious conversation to see what is the legacy,” he said. “I’m not a little boy holding up a placard. I’m the Prime Minister of an independent country.”
Gonsalves warned that, as the reparations issue gains ground, European governments and their “agencies” are already “finding means to divide the Reparations Movement,” adding that “Reparations is for all of us.”
He noted that when former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide first raised the issue of reparations, in the early 2000s, from France, “the French Government organized for Aristide to – let me put it nicely – to go into voluntary exile.”
Gonsalves said some European governments and diplomats have stated that the reparations matter should not be adopted by governments but by the people.“But I represent the people, I speak for them,” Gonsalves retorted.
“Reparations are to repair the consequences,” he added. “The British carried out and killed 80 percent of the Callinago [St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ indigenous people].
“We’re looking at the legacy – the problems in education, in health,” he continued. “In the Caribbean, people of African descent have higher incident of diabetes and high blood pressure than elsewhere. How come in West Africa you don’t have that?”
Gonsalves said his country’s hosting of the recent, first-ever Regional Conference on Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery was the first step in the Caribbean’s quest to “address and redress a psychic, historical, socio-economic, and developmental wound that is, for CARICOM, 14 nations wide and 400 years deep.
“The genocidal oppression and suffering of my country’s indigenous Callinago, the Garifuna, and enchained Africans have been rightly adjudged to have been a horrendous crime against humanity,” he told the UN General Assembly last week.
“Accordingly, the collective voice of our Caribbean civilisation ought justly to ring out for reparations for native genocide and African slavery from the successor states of the European countries, which committed organised state-sponsored native genocide and African enslavement.
The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” he added.
“The historic wrongs of native genocide and African slavery, and their continuing contemporary consequences, must be righted, must be
repaired, in the interest of our people’s humanization,” he continued.
Gonsalves urged European nations to “partner in a focused, especial way with” the Caribbean in executing this “repairing.”
“Thus, the demand for reparations is the responsibility not only of the descendants, in today’s Caribbean, of the Callinago, the Garifuna, the Amerindian, and the African. It is undoubtedly an agenda for all of us to advance, to promote, to concretise, and to execute,” he said.
The Vincentian leader said the struggle for reparations represents, immediately, a defining issue for the Caribbean in this 21st century, stating that it promises to make both Europe and the Caribbean “more free, more human, more good-neighbourly.”
Recently, CARICOM decided to place the quest for reparations at the centre of its developmental agenda.
St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas told the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly that he was joining with CARICOM Member States in supporting the case for reparation associated with the atrocities of slavery.
Douglas said that though the repercussions of slavery “on the lives of those of our ancestors cannot be quantified, we are convinced that the deleterious effects which, even now, are translated into much hardship and poverty for the descendents of our ancestors, must be resolved.”
While speaking on the erection of a memorial at the UN in honor of the victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller also said she was supportive of the call for an international discussion on the issue but in a “non-confrontational manner.”
“We fully support the initiative for a declaration of a Decade for Persons of African Descent,” she declared.
Jose Francisco Avila, the Honduran-born chairman of the the Bronx, New York-based Garifuna Coalition, USA, Inc., who attended the town hall meeting with Prime Minister Gonsalves, said he looks forward to working with the CARICOM Reparations Commission, along with Garifuna representatives from the Diaspora, “in seeking justice for the crime of genocide committed against our ancestors by the British. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)