Reparations fight needs to be global movement, says Bethel


Tribune Staff Reporter

THE fight for reparations for people of African descent has to be a large enough "global movement" to "force the hands of Western countries", according to Attorney General Carl Bethel.

In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Bethel spoke of his support of the "concept" of payment for historic wrongs, but also highlighted the importance of determining how this should or could be done.

Mr Bethel's comments come amid national discourse on reparations in the aftermath of recent comments made by former Cabinet minister Brent Symonette who suggested he faced political barriers and attacks due to his skin colour.

Mr Symonette, who resigned as Minister of Financial Services, Trade, Industry and Immigration earlier this month, suggested the country was not ready for a white prime minister and reiterated his call for a national discussion on race and wealth in politics.

Former Minister of State on Legal Affairs Damian Gomez has said he believes that conversation should start with reparations.

"We would all support the concept to pay for historic wrongs inflicted on our ancestors which resonate in economic and social disadvantage to this day throughout the Western Hemisphere," Mr Bethel said.

"The question is how it should or could be done and whether there could be a large enough global movement to force the hands of Western countries."

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest said reparations are not at the top of the list of items the government is "concerned about", adding the Minnis administration is instead focused on developing the economy and "empowering people".

Opposition Chairman Fred Mitchell subsequently described this stance as "racist".

Mr Mitchell also described Mr Turnquest's comments that "looking backwards doesn't help you win a race" as hypocritical - noting the Free National Movement is "always seeking" to denigrate Sir Lynden Pindling and the Progressive Liberal Party government from the 1980s.

Regarding Mr Mitchell's comments, Mr Bethel replied: "The PLP's strategy of late is race baiting. No one country can go this alone. There has to be an international movement."

On Friday, Jamaican academic Verene Shepherd delivered a presentation, "Reparation: Righting Colonial Wrongs and Their Legacies in the Caribbean" at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals.

In her remarks, she described the impact of slavery and colonialism on the African diaspora in the Caribbean and underscored the importance of reparations from colonial powers.

"In the case of the CARICOM countries, though, governments' demand for reparation to former colonial governments that is framed within the development paradigm must be intensified and pursued intentionally," Professor Shepherd said.

"They have to continue the commitment they made to Caribbean people in July 2013, when they announced that they would press complicit states for reparation, formed a CARICOM Reparation Commission, a Prime Ministerial Committee on Reparation and directed governments to establish national committees on reparation that would advise them on the form of forms that reparation should take.

"The bold action by the Caribbean Regional Heads energised and in some cases re-energised flagging reparation movements around the world; yet today the disappointment with these same heads who do not even speak about reparation on the international stage as they used to do between 2013 and 2015, is palpable.

"It is up to the people to make it uncomfortable for governments to maintain this silence; otherwise we would have betrayed the hopes and dreams of our ancestors. European governments need to right the wrongs of the past and attempt reconciliation."

In March 2014, the Christie administration formed a National Reparations Committee to establish the moral, ethical, and legal case for the payment of repatriations by the former colonial European countries. However it is unclear if the committee ever came to any conclusions on the matter.

When asked if this current government has any plans to revamp this committee, Mr Turnquest said that's a question for the prime minister.