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Monday, March 10, 2014

14 Caribbean Nations to sue British & Europe - reparation of slave trade

Touted as the story that will torment America's soul, the film that brutally portrays the horrors of slavery threatens to reignite racial tensions- “12 Years A Slave” won best picture at the 86th Academy Awards.  We grew up watching the exploits of the WI team led by Clive Lloyd, batting giants Isaac Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes…. Roberts, Holding, Garner, Marshall … Croft, Ambrose, Patterson, Walsh, Bishop and more…………  the team unitedly called West Indies – but representative of more Nations that dominated the Cricket world for decades.

Roberts, Holding Croft Garner...

   The West Indies is a region of the Caribbean Basin and North Atlantic Ocean  consisting of many islands.  Going by Worldatlas.com, the Caribbean, long referred to as the West Indies, includes more than 7,000 islands; of those, 13 are independent island countries.  WI mainly comprises of : Bahamas (north); Greater Antilles (central) & Lesser Antilles (southeast).  The Greater Antilles include the island countries of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola), and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles are the much smaller islands to the southeast, and they are divided into two  groups, the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands.

Indians were the first inhabitants, and then, in 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive at the islands. Columbus called these islands the Indies because he thought he had finally reached Asia …… sadly, across the Caribbean, slaves from Africa were imported in great numbers to work the sugar and tobacco plantations.  By then the indigenous populations of the islands were in severe decline as exposure to disease and brutal genocide wiped out much of their number. Great military powers continually fought for control of the islands, and finally, a blended mix of African and European cultures and languages transformed this large group of islands and its peoples into one of the premier tourist destinations on the planet. One would be imbued with sadness when seeing slavery even in films ~ ‘Amistad’  ~ a  historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the true story of an uprising in 1839 by newly captured African slaves that took place aboard the ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba, the subsequent voyage to the Northeastern United States, and the legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue cutter, is one. The film begins in the depths of the schooner La Amistad, a slave-ship carrying captured West Africans into slavery and is a touching story of the travails of the humans who were traded as slaves those days.

Now comes the news that 14  Caribbean nations are suing the governments of the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations over what the plaintiffs say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade. In a speech Friday at United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves said the European nations must pay for their deeds. “The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity – a legacy which exists today in our Caribbean – ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,” Gonsalves said. “The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.” The lawsuits – which are likely to amount to a lengthy battle – are being brought by The Caribbean Community, or Caricom, a regional organization that focuses mostly on issues such as economic integration. They will be brought to the U.N.'s International Court of Justice, based in The Hague in the Netherlands. It is not immediately clear when court proceedings will begin.

The countries will focus on Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, France for slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a Caricom member and former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America. They reportedly  have hired British law firm Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.  It is stated that the first step will be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and the Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans.

Britain is sued by 14 Caribbean nations for the 'damage' it did through slavery – even though country was first in the world to abolish the trade…  more than 150 years after Europe abolished slavery, the Caricom coalition meets in St Vincent today to discuss claim for reparations. Caricom has not specified how much money they are seeking but senior officials have pointed out that Britain paid slave owners £20 million when it abolished slavery in 1833, which sum would be the equivalent of £200 billion of date.  It is claimed that  'Over ten million Africans were stolen from their homes and forcefully transported to the Caribbean as the enslaved chattels and property of Europeans,' the claim says. 'The transatlantic slave trade is the largest forced migration in human history and has no parallel in terms of man's inhumanity to man.'  This trade in enchained bodies was a highly successful commercial business for the nations of Europe. The lives of millions of men, women and children were destroyed in the search of profit. Over ten million Africans were imported into the Caribbean during the 400 years of slavery. At the end of slavery in the late 19th century, less than two million remained. The chronic health condition of Caribbean blacks constitutes the greatest financial risk to sustainability in the region. Daily Mail reports that Britain currently contributes about £15million a year in aid to the Caribbean through Department for International Development in a drive to further develop 'wealth creation'. The subject of reparations has simmered in the Caribbean for many years and opinions are divided. Some see reparations as delayed justice, while others see it as an empty claim and a distraction from modern social problems in Caribbean societies.

'The transatlantic slave trade is the largest forced migration in human history and has no parallel in terms of man's inhumanity to man. This trade in enchained bodies was a highly successful commercial business for the nations of Europe'. Their stories make a traumatic reading - slaves laboured mainly in sugar and coffee plantations and were forced to work around the clock in the fields during harvest.  It is stated that by the 18th century, European traders would sail to the west coast of Africa with manufactured goods which they exchanged for people captured by African traders. The European merchants would then cross the Atlantic with ships full of slaves on the notorious 'Middle Passage'. Conditions were so torrid that many of the captors, who often had barely any space to move, did not survive the journey. For those who did survive, conditions did not improve much; they were to toil on plantations across the modern-day United States, the Caribbean and South American nations such as Brazil, producing crops including sugar, coffee and tobacco for consumption back in Europe. Happy that the inhuman form was abolished many decades back

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

10th March 2014.
Cricket photo : Cricinfo.com... other 2 photos courtesy : www.dailymail.co.uk

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