WESTFORD, Massachusetts- The battle against global poverty is headed to the United Nations International Court of Justice in 2014. The Caribbean Community Secretariat, or Caricom, recently announced its decision to sue the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands for slavery reparations. Fourteen Caribbean nations are joining forces with the British law firm Leigh Day in this communal attempt for economic justice.
According to Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, “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. The European nations must partner in a focused, especial way with us to execute this repairing.”
This is not the first time economic justice has been demanded of the former colonial powers. In 1999, the African World Reparation and Repatriation Truth Commission unsuccessfully challenged many western nations for a total of over $770 trillion. Inspired by this, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda all tried independently to sue their respective colonial oppressors, but lacked the strength and unification that Caricom now provides.
These reparation movements have been subjected to a large amount of scrutiny and criticism. There are many economists and politicians who take the stance that slavery is a regrettable part of history, but should not be brought up in the present. To the frustration of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and many other African-American leaders, United States President Barack Obama vocally denounced reparations for slavery in 2008.
There is much contradictory evidence, however, that seems to indicate slavery is not quite as far in the past as many would like to believe. The Caricom case will be focusing on the lingering effects that still devastatingly resonate in the economies of previously enslaved nations, forcing them into a cycle of global poverty.
Revenue inhumanely earned during the active years of slave trade and plantation agriculture did not just disintegrate at the point of liberation. The colonial powers found a way to turn forced labor into thriving industrialization, kick-starting their economies and securing the continued wealth of their national banks. That money is still in circulation today.
In most cases, when independence was won, no developmental assistance was offered by the colonizers to help initiate necessary social, political, and economic institutions. There was also a reluctance to recognize many former colonies as legitimate trade partners in the global market, making the task of development an even steeper uphill climb.
Haiti, the first Caribbean nation to earn its independence and now a member of Caricom, was forced into debt by France to repay the slave labor lost. In 1825, they returned to the island with military force and demanded $150 million indemnity. The crippling debt was only dropped as a symbolic gesture in 2010, following the earthquake that destroyed much of the small island country’s capital city Port-Au-Prince.
Caricom has stated that its main objective is for the developmental benefit of the Caribbean nations going forward. If the lawsuit is successful, the 14 countries involved will be issued the money they need to stop the cycle of global poverty and establish institutions required for the economic development they did not receive several generations ago.
– Stefanie Doucette