The Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) joins the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) and NRCs across the Commonwealth Caribbean, in observance of Emancipation Day 2020, which comes at a significant point in the history of Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the world of descendants of African slaves.
The day is still being observed here in several CARICOM states as a national holiday, all of 185 years after the ‘emancipated’ slaves were legally required to still give extra years of unpaid labour through ‘Apprenticeship’.
Landless and unemployed, the ‘emancipated’ slaves had simply had the chains removed from their necks and feet and applied to their pockets and bellies, in which state they remained even after slavery was legally abolished.
Emancipation Day 2020 follows over 150 years of Britain’s direct colonial domination in its West Indian colonies, up to independence.
It also follows the death of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests against institutional racism in the United States that reverberated in Europe, the Caribbean and the world.
The killing of Saint Lucian Botham Jean by an American police officer in 2019 helped fuel general outrage across America and at home against continued police killings of African Americans, resulting in sustained protests in the past year, morphing into continuous mass protests across the USA today and toppling of statues of racists or enslavers in both America and Europe.
The Caribbean response to the Black Lives Matter protests internationally has seen commendable and unprecedented actions forced by increased awareness of Black Identity issues, ranging from Jamaica’s Governor General indicating he will stop wearing a colonial medal issued by the Queen of England depicting a white angel standing on a black devil, to the Barbados government’s decision to remove the statue of pro-slavery Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson from the center of the island’s capital, Bridgetown.
Such actions follow by many years the much earlier decision by the Government of Saint Lucia, to quietly rename the Victoria Park playing field in Castries as ‘The Mindoo Phillip Park’ after the island’s most prolific cricketer of old; and renaming the Columbus Square in the city’s center to ‘The Derek Walcott Square’, to celebrate the island’s 1992 Nobel Prize-winner for Literature.
But Emancipation in 1834 wasn’t as much about freedom as it is about an unprecedented adjustment in the cycle of permanent exploitation of African slaves, who, as recently noted by CRC Chairman Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, were dehumanized through the process of Chattel Slavery that institutionally ‘transformed them from human beings to private property.’
As property, the African slaves were freely bought and sold, used and abused, treated no less than dogs or pigs, horses or cows also purchased by their common owners.
Through Chattel Slavery, as Sir Hilary noted in a recent program on the popular Caribbean ‘Tempo’ TV network, slave women were raped by masters at will and the children they were forced to produce also became the plantation owners’ property.
It was such human property that British-based companies like Lloyds of London, the Church of England, HSBC and others shipped to Saint Lucia and other Caribbean West Indian colonies through the transatlantic slave trade, highly-insured in passage before landing in a new world to produce the profits that built Britain and other European empires.
The Caribbean Reparations Movement has hadb a significant positive influence on the US Reparations Movement, where the issue was raised to the platform of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate hopefuls and in revival of the HR-40 Bill that seeks to deliver today on the accumulated debts to African Americans since America’s ex-slaves were promised ‘40 acres and a mule’ after fighting for US independence in 1776.
But in Saint Lucia and across the Commonwealth Caribbean, there is a need for the upswing in global popularity of the Black Lives Matter and Reparations movements to be harnessed in ways that will better inform Caribbean people, at home and abroad, of exactly what the CARICOM governments are seeking on their behalf by way of Reparations from Britain and the European Union (EU) for Slavery and Native Genocide.
CARICOM’s demands for Reparations aren’t only for African descendants in the Caribbean, but equally for the descendants of the native, indigenous, First People destroyed through systematic native genocide by Europe following Columbus’ accidental arrival in Hispaniola in 1492.
Saint Lucia’s indigenous people did not leave structured monuments and statues, but they did leave petroglyphs and burial sites that must be preserved in their memory through continued research and investigation.
The great emphasis placed so far in 2020 by the CRC and CARICOM leaders on the pioneering role of Sir Arthur Lewis as the intellectual author of the first blueprint for Caribbean Reparations (in his early 1939 book ‘Labour in the West Indies’) has helped lead to calls by the region’s leaders for using his blueprint as a template for development of a Lewis Development Plan for the Caribbean, akin to the Marshall Plan for Britain following Germany’s destruction during World War II, to be financed by Britain to atone for centuries of unpaid labour and naked colonial exploitation of millions of Caribbean people, over centuries.
The NRC also supports the call for CARICOM leaders to summon a special summit on Reparations and urges that they start taking steps to pursue legal proceedings at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, at the United Nations and in British, European and Caribbean courts of justice.
The NRC also calls on Saint Lucians to join its efforts for the rest of 2020 to ensure the reparations message is spread across the island to all its people, in both their languages and through all available means of contemporary and traditional communications, in a nation that saw slavery under both Britain and France and where the legacy of slavery still lives on.
Chairman, Saint Lucia NRC,
July 30, 2020