Reparations quest begins at home

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. File photo/David Reid
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. File photo/David Reid

BY NOW, all the major political forces in this country have come out in favour of reparations for slavery.

So why exactly is there still not a feeling of our politicians acting in one accord on this issue?

In March, the Prime Minister joined the leaders of Caricom countries who had called for reparations during the Caribbean tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Dr Rowley urged the second in line to the British throne, who expressed “profound sorrow” over slavery, to do more than talk. In correspondence sent to the royals in April, the PM amplified his position, referring to an “outstanding debt.”

This week, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar noted her own efforts, from her time as prime minister, to set up a committee on reparations in the wake of a UN resolution. This committee also appears to have coincided with an effort by Caricom to set up national-level reparations committees to work towards a co-ordinated, regional position, under the Caricom Reparations Commission led by Sir Hilary Beckles.

Meanwhile, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine urged people to continue to speak out about the horrors of slavery until “unrepentant royal families in Europe” become sincerely apologetic for their inheritance. Though Mr Augustine fell into the trap of inelegantly pitting the plight of one persecuted community against another, the overall import of his call was clear enough.

With these leaders singing seemingly from the same hymn sheet, you would think this country would by now have a coherent diplomatic position when it comes to engaging international powers on this issue.

But no. Instead, what we have is bickering over who has done more to advance the cause.

According to Ms Persad-Bissessar, the committee that her administration set up was “disbanded” by Dr Rowley, whom she has attacked personally in terms that can be interpreted as attacking the Prime Minister’s commitment to race issues.

The PM and his party, meanwhile, have in the past failed to distance themselves from the rhetoric that suggests a politics organised along ethnic lines and not issues.

It is Mr Augustine who has properly diagnosed what is going on this week.

“For some reason, we are afraid of coming together,” he said. “We have to find a way to be united…to change all of those colonial rules that keep us from economic development, self-actualisation and that stymies our creativity.”

If the leaders of the PNM, UNC, PDP and company really care about reparations, they must avoid the colonial trap of disunity and start collaborating in a focused way on this matter. The reparations issue is too important to be merely another political football.


"Reparations quest begins at home"

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