The British prime minister’s jaunt to Jamaica isn’t likely to be a pleasant island sojourn or an easy respite from the refugee crisis plaguing Europe. For David Cameron, who arrived Tuesday and speaks to parliament on Wednesday before leaving, the trip is shadowed by a debate over reparations for slavery and colonialism.
The debate over reparations in the United States remains largely on a theoretical level. When my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on the idea last year, he noted how embryonic the conversation was: “A crime that implicates the entire American people deserves its hearing in the legislative body that represents them. … No one can know what would come out of such a debate.”
In the Caribbean, however, the conversation is far past that. In March 2014, a panel commissioned by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) delivered a plan for seeking reparations, and called on Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to begin negotiations. The preamble states that European governments:
- Were owners and traders of enslaved Africans
- Instructed genocidal actions upon indigenous communities
- Created the legal, financial and fiscal policies necessary for the enslavement of Africans
- Defined and enforced African enslavement and native genocide as in their ‘national interests’
- Refused compensation to the enslaved with the ending of their enslavement
- Compensated slave owners at emancipation for the loss of legal property rights in enslaved Africans
- Imposed a further one hundred years of racial apartheid upon the emancipated
- Imposed for another one hundred years policies designed to perpetuate suffering upon the emancipated and survivors of genocide
- And have refused to acknowledge such crimes or to compensate victims and their descendants
From there, the report lays out 10 points, ranging from a full, formal apology to literacy education to debt cancellation.