Reparations for Development and Justice for the Caribbean

Prime Minister Gaston Browne
https://cdn.uc.assets.prezly.com/c7a93afb-d14f-4356-b641-22e14dfbaffd/-/resize/1108x/-/quality/best/-/format/auto/The labor costs alone of our forebears would have created a debt of approximately two trillion dollars, which must be repaid.

“Reparations and its compensatory mechanisms could be utilized as the new frontier to achieve equity, global peace and unity.”

The following is an address by Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne during the Caribbean Reparations Commission Regional Symposium on Western Banking, Colonialism and Reparations, October 10th, 2019 at Starfish Jolly Beach Hotel, Antigua.

I bring no special expertise or unique perspective to the issue of reparations. However, I am here primarily to signify my personal commitment to the fight to achieve reparatory justice.

Approximately five years ago, on October 14, 2014, at the second regional conference on reparations, held at the Multipurpose Cultural Centre, a mere four months of becoming Prime Minister, the Hon PJ Patterson, who was the featured speaker said to me: “As one who belongs to the older generation of Caribbean leaders, I am here today to present that torch to a leader of the younger generation and to say: Never let that torch be extinguished.”

It’s a torch that I have accepted with dignity and pride on behalf of the current Caricom leaders, with undertaking, that we will never allow it to be extinguished.

Today, five years later, I say to all of us, following on the admonition of PJ Patterson – that, as the progeny of an enslaved people we should all commit to keeping reparations fire burning.

I wish to welcome to Antigua and Barbuda, today, all the delegates from around the region and elsewhere. We especially welcome the members of the Caricom Reparations Commission which was formed in 2013, to seek reconciliation between the victims and beneficiaries of the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism.

We thank you for participating in this very important symposium on the issue of reparations and the scholarly that you have done on the issue of reparations.

Colleagues, you have come at an opportune time when Antigua and Barbuda is beginning to celebrate its 38thanniversary of Independence, on 1st November, 2019.

In 1981, despite the colonial mess we inherited, we were successful in growing our country’s economy by 1400 percent in the space of 38, years   from the gross domestic product (GDP) totaled US $125 million.  Today, in 2019, the GDP totals US $1.75 billion.

Antigua and Barbuda’s economy has grown exponentially; in several instances, doubling within five-year periods.  My government aims to turn Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse within the region, and believe it can be achieved if the people of Antigua and Barbuda continue to put their shoulders to the wheel.

It might appear somewhat contradictory to bemoan the cruelty meted out to generations of my forebears, who toiled ceaselessly for four hundred years, and in the same breath to applaud recent generations for moving Antigua and Barbuda out of poverty and into middle-income status.

As the progeny of an enslaved people we should all commit to keeping reparations fire burning.”

This is to demonstrate that the people of Antigua and Barbuda, notwithstanding the oppression, have never stopped trying to improve their material, spiritual, cultural condition, utilizing the limited internally generated resources.

Consequently, we are not sitting in a state of paralysis, awaiting handouts from the international community to advance our country and its people.

The optimism of our forebears has permanently impacted our vision of tomorrow and we have utilized our entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, innovativeness and creativity to propel our countries forward despite the challenges.

Our ancestors have left us a proud history, legacy of seizing the reins of our independence and sovereignty, against all odds, to develop our countries rapidly after centuries of colonial or hegemonistic exploitation.

However, we cannot forget that our European oppressors, not only exploited us but left us all in a condition of extreme poverty, mass illiteracy, inadequate health and educational institutions and a pandemic of chronic debilitating NCDs derived from centuries of excess salt and sugar consumption.

The Europeans utilized an inhumane model, a brutal extractive economic model to control the Caribbean, as a zone of wealth creation to fund their development.

They presided over the brutal genocide, resulting in the death of millions of Africans, and created a system of slavery and colonialism.

This system of wealth creation, involved the use of three million, unpaid and underpaid African workers for four hundred years.

The human bodies and labour of our ancestors, provided Europeans with lucrative sources of capital, and the trade in human beings (chattel slavery), was intimately linked to the financial sector.

Financial institutions to include banks and insurance companies, provided supply chain credit to charter vessels and funds to purchase and cover insurance of their stock (slaves) and other operating expenses.  These loans were repaid from the sale of slaves, as human commodity.

Banking & the Slave Trade 

European banks to include British banks, made a fortune from the transatlantic slave trade. The plantocrats invested their profits and their compensation money in various businesses to include, banks and universities.

The Colonial Bank which was established in 1836, is one such institution in which the plantocrats invested the 20M pounds compensation, representing 40 percent of the UK’s annual revenue at the time. The Colonial Bank expanses throughout the British Empire, was subsequently subsumed into Barclays Bank, generating trillions of dollars in investment value for the plantocrats and their offsprings.

Slavery and colonialism were central to European trading history, they built impressive cities and generated significant wealth, including inter generational wealth on the backs of slaves.  Even the funding of the industrial revolution by these banks, would have linked to the profits generated from the trans Atlantic slave trade.

While they exploited our people to build their empires, they have left Caricom countries and our people, poor and vulnerable, hence the need for reparations.

Reparations is the process of repairing the intergenerational poverty, debilitating effects and vulnerabilities, created by the savageous system of colonialism and slavery.  It is non confrontational and conciliatory and seeks reconciliation between victims and beneficiaries. Notwithstanding, the conciliatory nature of reparations, we should be strident in our just claim for reparations.

The legal process of reparations seeks an apology for wrongdoing and reasonable reparatory actions, but does not speak specifically to monetary compensation, because of the difficulty in quantifying the claim and the potential push back by the beneficiaries.

While they exploited our people to build their empires, they have left Caricom countries and our people poor and vulnerable, hence the need for reparations.”

I believe, that financial reparations, is the best way to give substance in making amends to the wrongs committed.  Whereas the countries concerned may cite fiscal difficulties as an impediment, I am of the firm view, that creative mechanisms could be found to provide the fiscal space to settle the challenges.

For example, compensation of one percent of the GDP of the European countries that were involved in the transatlantic slave trade and the barbarism of slavery, would yield one billion dollars annually.  This could retire an estimated two trillion reparations debt, at two percent over 25 years.

Financial settlement is a critical component to our reparatory claim to achieve justice and restore equity.  Therefore, we should not be intimidated to make a financial claim to complement any “in kind” settlement that may be offered bearing in mind that, in kind settlements could be easily inflated.

It is well known that the factors of production available to supply goods and services to an economy are: land, labor, capital and enterprise, all of which come with significant value.

If land is utilised in a business, the economic value to acquire the land must be paid.  Capital attracts dividends and interest as compensation and entrepreneurs are rewarded monetarily for their time and skills by the payment of salaries, wages and dividends.  This brings us to labor which also comes with a cost and attracts financial compensation in the form of salaries and wages.

Three Million Africans working for 400 years, 16 hours a day, at a meager rate of ten cents an hour, would have created a debt of two trillion dollars, without taken into account the time value of money, interest, opportunity costs for investment, or compensation for the atrocities associated with slavery and colonization.

The labor costs alone of our forebears, would have created a debt of approximately two trillion dollars, which must be repaid to restore international developmental equity between the Caribbean States and the European States who exploited them.

There is a notion that our call for reparatory justice is a frivolous claim, and that we are wrongfully blaming European nations for our under development and consequently, we live in a state of paralysis, waiting for handouts.

That notion as I said before is very different from reality. It is false.

Contrary to their claim, our call for reparatory justice does not make us mendicants or laggards.

There is irrefutable evidence that our forebears are owed trillions of dollars for their work over a period of 400 years with little or no compensation.

In addition, we know that our underdevelopment and financial vulnerability were created by centuries of exploitation in slavery and colonialism.

That is why Caribbean countries, in all sectors, driven by the Caricom Reparations Commission, have urged relevant governments in Europe, to repair the debilitating social-economic conditions; the destruction of resources, and the dehumanization and genocide of Caribbean peoples’ resulting from the slave trade, slavery and the ravages of colonialism.

“Our forebears are owed trillions of dollars for their work over a period of 400 years with little or no compensation.”

The relevant European nations should provide reparations not only because, at last, it would compensate for their development on the backs of our people, but because it is the morally and legally correct thing required to restore equity and resilience.

And, we should be clear. Reparation is not aid; it is not a gift; it is justice to correct the atrocities of the past, that have left our people poor and vulnerable to disease and the ravages of climate change.

Similarly, our request for the provision of finance to support mitigation, adaptation and resilience in small states, such as Antigua and Barbuda against the ravages of climate change, is not begging for a handout.

It is compensation for the damage done to our countries, for the reversals in our economic gains, and for the additional money we must spend, to counter further injurious effects of Climate Change in which we play little part.

The science has shown that the greenhouse gas emissions, from the profligate use of fossil fuels, have resulted in global warming and climate change with all of its consequences to include: frequent and ferocious hurricanes, droughts, floods, ocean acidification and coral bleaching.

We maintain that the emitters must be held accountable and compensate affected states for damage and loss.

Why should we pay for someone else’s greenhouse gas emissions?

Why should we carry the burden for their unsustainable growth model?

Why should our existence be threatened, while they live comfortably within their homes?

Why should we continue to be burdened with unsustainable debt levels and be denied the right of reprieve?

The climate change is far more impactful and consequential on Caribbean States our people because of a lack of financial resources to build resilient homes and infrastructure.  The reality is, our people have been left poor, destitute and vulnerable. Therefore, we say that the industrialized countries have a moral and legal responsibility to provide compensation.

Monetary Compensation 

There are some who argue that reparations should not include any demands for monetary compensation. To those who are of that view, I ask the question – Having established that our forebears are owed for 400 years of unpaid labor – is it frivolous for their progeny to demand compensation for their labor? Is there a more suitable compensatory mechanism to pay for labor than monetary compensation?

To elaborate the justification of the reparatory claim, I will use the following case in point.  If today, anyone of you work for a few months and your employer refuses to pay you, that will be the subject of a litigation to ensure restitution. Why then, should we overlook 400 years of little or no payment, considering the debilitating effects on our development? Colleagues, we cannot be cowards in seeking justice and equity. We must fight for justice without fear of reprisal.

Common Humanity 

Science and religion seldom converge.  However, science has proven that all human beings alive today, have a common mitochondrial DNA, evidencing a common matrilineal inheritance. If, as human beings, we share a common matrilineal descent, a common humanity and ancestry, then we are all equal and should state equitably in the resources of the earth. Our common humanity also debunks the false concept of white superiority. White superiority is a false concept that should be consigned to the dustbin of history and those of our color, who are carrying any feelings of inferiority, need to disavow themselves of any such feelings. Fundamentally, we are all brothers and sisters, with a common humanity, irrespective of color, creed or class and it behooves us all, to fight for the creation of an equitable world, of love, peace, justice and unity.

Global inequity is driven, primarily by the economic asymmetries between the powerful few and the masses. However, the powerful few exercise an inordinate amount of power and control over the political directorate of global leaders, through their campaign financing and corrupt lobby system to maintain the status quo.  The fight for full reparatory justice will be long and arduous, because it is a cause based on principles of equity and justice that challenges the status quo. Reparatory justice requires a shift in the global power structure to gain further currency.  Despite the push back and the consequential challenges, we must be unrelenting in our quest for reparatory justice.   We must keep the flame of reparatory justice alight.

“The fight for full reparatory justice will be long and arduous, because it is a cause based on principles of equity and justice that challenges the status quo.”

The shift has started with a handful of entities that have agreed to reparations including the University of Glasgow and its recent agreement to provide a settlement of 20M Pounds Sterling in slave trade reparations. I thank Sir Hilary for his unrelenting and skillful negotiations resulting in this achievement.  The global reparations policy shift will take time, but it will come.  Therefore, we must remain unrelenting in our quest for reparatory justice.

Reparations and its compensatory mechanisms could be utilized as the new frontier to achieve equity, global peace and unity.  A world in which the global resources would be utilized equitably for the benefit of all humanity. Reparations is about repairing, restitution, and could be broadened to resolve the inequities facing human beings globally, including those associated with Ruthless Capitalism.  Ruthless Capitalism, is just as vulgar as the system of slavery and colonialism. It is, in essence, economic colonization, in which global resources are monopolised and harnessed primarily for the benefit of the few.  It is also extractive by nature, widens the gap between the rich and the poor and promotes under development among the masses, even in wealthy countries.

While entrepreneurship should be celebrated and rewarded, there should be the Introduction of a Global Equity Restoration Tax on the wealthy, to address the scourge of global inequality, to assist the poor and vulnerable in wealthy countries and to cover the reparatory obligations to Caribbean States. The one percent that controls nearly half of the 85T in global wealth, should be made to pay this equity restoration tax, to restore global equity.  One percent for example, of 40T is 400B annually, which can help to build capacity, uplift people in poor communities in wealthy countries, to assist developing countries with their advancement and to settle reparatory claims.   This is where the leaders of the G20 should be focusing their attention, to raise resources to address their own financial challenges, global inequities, and to build global resilience against the threat of climate change.  Instead, these leaders remain enslaved to the dictates of the wealthy few at the expense of global equity and the advancement of the masses.  This is indicative of the bad governance practiced by global leaders in which they have failed to champion the interest of the masses.

Ruthless Capitalism is just as vulgar as the system of slavery and colonialism.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, this proposed equity tax would help to restore global equity and   augurs well for human development and global cooperation, peace and security. Excellencies, Antigua and Barbuda, like other Caribbean countries, is intent on promoting economic growth, social development and resilience by internal action, even as we expect developed countries to meet their reparatory obligations. But, it seems that every time we achieve a high level of competitiveness with rich regions of the world, they impose arbitrary measures to undermine and shackle us.

In the financial services sector, anti-competitive actions have been forced on us by the European Union in the areas of taxation, despite the compliance of our countries with standards set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Further, despite our vulnerabilities as remote islands, confronted with high interest and insurance costs, as well as, unsustainable debt and frequent disasters arising from Climate Change, we are disqualified from access to concessional financing based on a single criterion – per capita income. In addition, they have introduced a new policy of financial abandonment or derisking which is now threatening the stability of the region in making and receiving payments.  For decades, Caribbean Central and commercial banks have kept billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves in western banks.  In fact, all of the regions foreign reserves are held in western banks, primarily in the US.  Yet, they, are seeking to cut Caricom countries off from the international payment system, with the spurious claim that we are tax havens and money launderers. We all know that the tax havens are located in the US and Europe.  This is yet another modern day injustice meted out against Caribbean people, which will undermine our achievement of the sustainable development goals. It is unfair and unjust – that is why we continue to call for justice in the international fora.

“All of the regions foreign reserves are held in western banks, primarily in the US.”

The western banks have grown so powerful today, that they are now derisking the countries in the Caribbean where their initial wealth was established.  They reckon that the profits obtained from the region are too small today and do not justify the risks.  This type of behavior reinforces the need for broader domestic ownership and control of our enterprises especially, in banking, telecoms and energy sectors.   In planning for the future, we reasonably look to those who have profited from exploitation and oppression of the peoples of the Caribbean to help us to build socio-economic resilience.  However, we will continue to plan our own future utilizing our innovativeness, creativity, entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, and internally generated resources.  This necessitates a restructuring of economies, which are still largely extractive to developmental, stakeholder economies, with greater retention of profits.

The present economic construct results in the repatriation of most of the profits generated by our respective economies.   We must develop our own bespoke economic model and I encourage our intelligentsia, several of whom are present here to today, to develop an economic model that will take into consideration our idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities, to include: our small size, limited resources, and the openness of our economies to Ruthless Capitalism. Clearly, the model by the Nobel Laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis cannot stand on its own.  While it is important to invite foreign capital to our shores, we must equally position ourselves with a new local business ownership, that will result in greater domestic profit retention to facilitate more robust growth and development.

Summary and Conclusion 

The CARICOM Heads of Government, in 2013, established the CARICOM Reparations Commission for the purpose of seeking reconciliation between victims and beneficiaries.  In summary, Reparation is a process of repairing the consequences of crimes against humanity by placing a value on those wrongs.  Chattel slavery is now, and has always been, a denial of human rights and a crime against humanity.  It is subject to reparatory justice. After 1834, those who committed the crimes against humanity were paid to end those crimes.  But, those who suffered the crimes received nothing.  Justice requires that the descendants of those who suffered for hundreds of years must also be compensated.  Reparations in the form of payments to the descendants is justified in international law.  This demand is not intended to create rancour and disagreement, rather, it is intended to repair a wrong that has persisted for generations.

We hold no enmity against the offspring of our oppressors, nor do we hold them responsible for the atrocities of their forebears.  However, Justice requires that the generations who profited from those wrongs can be called upon reasonably to compensate those mired in poverty and under-development.  If our forebears were rightfully compensated for their labor, we would have, by now had, 180 years of investment and in wealth creation. Our economies would have been much better developed and the quality of life of our people much more advanced. Our cause is a just cause, and our claim is a compelling one. If our claim is met with continued resistance, then we will have to accelerate our litigation in the international court of justice.  CARICOM heads have already sought a legal opinion on the matter and are prepared to work with the various NGO’s to seek reparatory justice through the courts.

After 1834, those who committed the crimes against humanity were paid to end those crimes.  But, those who suffered the crimes received nothing.” 

I recognize that we have lost some momentum at the level of the heads.  However, I undertake to encourage greater participation and commitment by my colleague heads on reparations as a very  important developmental issue.  This symposium will examine specific strategies and methodologies that can be adopted by the CARICOM governments, and non-governmental organizations pursuing justice for all.  Its end product will likely become a handbook for proceeding in the future.  If this symposium is to give greater credibility and utility to our ambitions for reparations, it must design a path that is not difficult to follow.  If it is not easy, then it must be practical in its proposals for going forward.  We must assemble the smartest, the most intelligent, the most creative, and the most determined group that can chart the way forward in pursuit of reparations.  This ambition cannot be an oral exercise. It must continue to have substance and depth.  Under the leadership of Professor Hilary Beckles and Mr.  Dorbrene O’Marde and others, I am certain that our victories will be many, and the object of reparations will be glowingly achieved. May the spirit of our ancestors guide your deliberations today, and the enduring capacity to succeed continue to grip our leaders throughout the region.  I wish you all the very best.  Thank you. Blessings.

This article appeared in two editions the Antigua Observer, parts one  and two .