Wed, 30 October 2013
How Serious is the Caribbean Reparations Suit?
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford
“Real reparations means nothing less than a revolution in global power.”
Twelve English-speaking Caribbean nations, plus Haiti and the South American country Surinam, are going to court demanding reparations from their former colonial masters for the crime of slavery. Great Britain, France and the Netherlands, all of rich grew fat from generations of captured African labor, would be defendants in a trial before the International Court of Justice, the world body that adjudicates disputes between nations. The Black countries have hired the British law firm Leigh Day, which won a settlement for victims of British torture in Kenya. Judging by the way the lawyers tell it, this is going to be a very polite affair, in which the Caribbean countries will angle for some type of relatively modest money settlement.
By “relatively modest,” I mean that real reparations would be enough to forever sever the relationship of subservience of the former slave colonies to global systems of white supremacy and European rule. Real reparations means nothing less than a revolution in global power, because without such a revolution, those nations that became rich from slavery will maintain their position as overlords deep into the future. Ten or even fifty billion dollars in payments divvied up among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit will not change the basic master-slave relationship that has obtained since Europe embarked on world conquest, 500 years ago. Unless there is a fundamental political change within these Caribbean nations, such as occurred in Cuba, then any exchange of money will only reproduce the existing neocolonial relationships. If the leadership of Caribbean governments is incapable or unwilling to build new social relations at home, they cannot be expected to use reparations money to build true independence, internationally. I strongly suspect that what is really on the table is an “aid” package in “reparations” wrappings – which would be an insult to the ancestors and a deception of the living.
“A just settlement of the monstrous crime of slavery would up-end the current world order.”
Let me make this clear: The Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic owe their relative prosperity to the millions of enslaved Africans, and to other peoples whose lives, lands and cultures were stolen in order to build the global white empire. There is no question that the Debt must be paid if there is to be any semblance of justice in the world. But, no court sitting in The Hague, in the Netherlands, or anywhere else, is going to dispense justice on a global and historical scale. Justice means taking Europe and the United States off the throne that was built on the bones of slaves. A just settlement of the monstrous crime of slavery would up-end the current world order. Anything less is merely a pay-off to Black politicians to make the historic indictment go away.
So, I am for reparations, internationally and here in the United States. Most of the Caribbean leaders, on the other hand, are already allowing their British lawyer to telegraph that all they really want is a nice package of aid with a “reparations” bow tied around it. They signal an eagerness to settle, even before the proceedings begin.
However, something useful may come out of this. The Caribbean nations say they will conduct an intense study into the many ways that slavery has hindered their national development. This could be a very educational exercise for the people of these countries. They might learn something about the real workings of power, and use it to overthrow their useless leaders, and help start a world revolution - to bring real reparations.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.