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Reparations for who? Caribbean countries are in an uncertain place

Last week, Jamaica announced its plans to demand reparations from the Queen for Britain’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade. Financial reparations are clearly long overdue, as they are for many other Caribbean countries such as Haiti. The current events in Jamaica are reminding us of the many people in the Caribbean who still deserve redress.

In 1838, Britain transported over 3 million African people across oceans for the purpose of slave labor. The British profited from this slave labor from 1655-1855. An apology cannot erase this wicked, racist, history between a country, its people, and their (former) colonizers.

And neither can payment. Nothing can undo the years of psychological suffering, racism, economic trauma, etc. that colonizers have caused. But countries like Britain and France should provide the reparations asked of them. It’s an important step toward healing the country and victims of crimes against humanity (CAH). 

This is why organizations such as the CARICOM Reparations Commission—a collection of 15 member states and Caribbean government heads—are working to collect reparations from Caribbean colonizers. Trauma transcends generations, so it is about time the abusers are held accountable for their actions.

Jamaica seeks financial reparations from Great Britain 

Jamaica is asking that the UK pay the country $13.5 billion. This is not an outrageous request considering how the history of slavery and colonialism is still present in Jamaica today, which can be seen in patterns of economic disparity, poverty, and the fact that Jamaica is still ruled by the Queen. 

Jamaica remaining under the Queen’s rule means they cannot simply sue their head of state for compensation. If Jamaica was disconnected from the British Commonwealth, it would be a different story. 

Colonial history is even affecting the way Caribbean countries can ask for reparations centuries later. Meanwhile, their colonizers still financially and psychologically benefit from slavery.

Jamaica deserves not only the money itself but also the respectful, humble acknowledgment from Britain that they have caused centuries of pain. Paying financial reparations is a small but necessary step toward reconciliation and healing. 

Instead of paying reparations, Britain has compensated slave owners

One might argue that these financial burdens should be forgiven considering how the horrors of slavery “ended” almost 200 years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago, and those traumatic events are clearly still manifesting in Caribbean countries.

Evidence of colonialism can be seen in some of their struggling economies, their education systems, and even in the languages they speak. 

Moreover, Britain has been completing payments on interests from a $27 million loan the government acquired back in 1834 to compensate slave owners once it was abolished.

This adds up to about $35 million of British taxpayer dollars going to slave owners, which would be $24.5 billion in today’s economy according to the University College London. However, Jamaica is only asking for $13.5 billion in reparations. 

Therefore, Jamaica’s request seems perfectly reasonable, especially considering how Britain has been making loan payments as recently as 2015.

So, Britain was, in essence, paying slave owners just 6 years ago. If Britain is willing to acknowledge these debts attached to slave owners in the 21st century, they should be more than willing to correct their debts to the people they enslaved. 

It is twisted to think about how Jamaica, with its connection to Britain, has been forced to participate in the payments on these loans by proxy. However distant that participation was, Britain making these payments reintroduces the all-too-familiar concept of a Caribbean country having to pay its colonizers. We’ve seen this phenomenon in Haiti as well. 

Haitians have been forced to pay billions for independence

After winning independence from France in 1825, Haiti was forced to pay France $150 million France (the equivalent of $21 billion dollars today). This was the only way France would agree to recognize Haiti’s independence, and for Haiti, to refuse would mean war. 

The money was purposed as reparations for French slave owners who lost their “property.” It took Haiti 122 years to pay off this debt. That is 122 years of paying for its independence.

Paying to live on land that was theirs to begin with. Their payments were finally complete in 1947, but because of that monstrous financial setback, Haiti is still considered the poorest country in the Caribbean and Latin America. 

Anyone with an understanding of this history also understands that France owes Haiti reparations, $21 billion dollars. In the world we live in, unfortunately money is often essential for autonomy, and Haiti has been denied this by its colonizers. 

CRC helping Caribbean countries recover from traumas 

The CARICOM Reparations Commission has been working to find reparatory justice for victims of CAH since its formation in 2013. This includes genocide, slave trading, slavery, and racial apartheid. The 15 member states include: 

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The CRC’s ten-point action plan emphasizes helping victims in these countries and their descendants. This organization recognizes how reparations must include acknowledgment of and apology for colonial history, as well as how that history pervades today. 

To support the CRC, you can stay informed by reading CARICOM News and joining the movement on Facebook and Twitter.

Historical trauma passed down

Trauma can survive generation after generation. When a group experiences collective suffering, such as those who were colonized and enslaved in the Caribbean, that suffering can mentally and physically be inherited by posterity.

Colonizers such as Britain and France inflicted this long-lasting trauma on Caribbean countries and their people, and financial burdens only exacerbate these preexisting traumas.

France and Britain need to take an important step towards correcting their literal and financial exploitation of Haiti and Jamaica by paying them the reparations they ask for.