CARICOM to establish reparations commission

CARICOM Chairwoman Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
AP Photo/Rob Griffith

Caribbean Community leaders who ended their main annual summit in Trinidad last weekend, took some key decisions including plans to make Britain and other European nations pay for the horrors of the slave trade, making it easier for people to travel in the bloc and are now inching their way towards allowing the Dominican Republic to join the trade bloc in the near future.

In what was clearly one of the recent summits with a full slate of serious items on the agenda, the leaders also participated in a re-enactment of the Treaty of Chaguaramas that founded the 15-nation trade bloc in July 1973 as they reaffirmed their commitment to the integration movement inspite of lingering skepticism about the relevance of CARICOM.

In a move that many did not appear to see coming, the leaders decided to lay the groundwork for plans to push European nations, which had participated in the Transatlantic slave trade to pay reparations for the deaths of millions of people of African origin and for the fact that they were forced to work for hundreds of years without pay.

The conference announcement said the leaders have agreed to establish a reparations committee in each member state. The chairpersons from each national committee will be afforded seats on the CARICOM reparations commission that will seek to make the case to Britain and other countries which have greatly benefited from slavery.

“The heads of government of Barbados, St. Vincent, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad will provide political oversight,” the announcement said.

It comes as activists in Barbados, Haiti and Jamaica among others have stepped up their campaign to force governments to lend their weight to the fight to win compensation for slavery and its after effects.

St. Vincent’s Ralph Gonsalves who has been among the leading political lights for reparations has persistently pointed to the fact that many of the established companies in Britain including Barclays Bank and many of the rich and gentrified families in Europe have gotten their riches on the backs of slavery and not even having to pay for labor.

“Great homes in England-lord this and lord that-were financed by the compensation money from the slaves,” he said, pointing to the irony of slave owners being compensated for losing slaves to abolition but those who worked on sugar, coffee and cotton plantations not earning a single cent to this day.

In the meantime, CARICOM said that the leaders have decided to return to the single domestic space travel system that was in place for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. The system basically allows a traveler to have his passport stamped in the first destination of arrival and thereafter be treated as journeying on a domestic flight barring security checks if stops are made in other trade bloc member states.

But it was the visit of Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina who upped the ante on CARICOM by both publicly and internally pushing leaders to consider allowing the DR to become a full member of the bloc. He made his pitch despite a bitter but ongoing border row with neighing CARICOM member Haiti, fears from the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands that free trade could negatively affect their economies and the island’s own history of lukewarm solidarity with things CARICOM.

Still current bloc Chairwoman Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad said the region is now in the throes of organizational reforms that could result in space being made at the table for the DR.

“I urge you to consider expanding our membership to welcome the Dominican Republic into the CARICOM family. It’s not yet clear whether CARICOM heads will agree, but the move could prove critical as the Dominican Republic increasingly allies itself both with Latin America and Central America,” the TT prime minister said.

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