Caribbean nations sue - Why reparations for slavery are an injustice to the living
There is a better justice than reparations.
A coalition of 14 Caribbean countries are suing the governments of Britain, France, and the Netherlands seeking reparations for slavery. The Caricom coalition, made of 12 Caribbean countries plus Haiti and Suriname, say they should pay, especially the UK.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said before the UN General Assembly, that European nations must pay for slavery.
The claim is that the legacy of the slave trade continues today with shocking poverty across the Caribbean.
The British law firm, Leigh Day has been hired to represent the Caribbean countries. Leigh Day recently won reparations for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British government in the 1950s.
When England freed its slaves in 1834, it paid slave owners £20 million for their losses. Freed slaves were given nothing, except turned lose.
The transatlantic slave trade dates back to early Columbian times when native populations were ravaged by disease and ill treatment and died off. Led by the Portuguese and Spanish, then joined by the Dutch, British, and French, and finally the Americans, African nations were emptied of their people who were transported in chains to the Americas and the Caribbean to work as slaves.
Slavery was cruel and perpetrated by Europeans, however the guilty, as well as the victims, are long dead.
For many slaves, especially in the Caribbean, the fate was a literal death sentence. For fit young African man on a Caribbean cane plantation, life expectancy was about five years.
In America, the British experimented with indentured servitude in the 17th century, then transitioned to imported slaves as the flow of willing debtors in English prisons and slums reduced to a trickle.
That these European states profited handsomely from slave trade and the labor of slaves is beyond question. In inestimable quantity of slave-generated profits coursed through the economies of the world through the past five centuries and some of that wealth continues to flow today, now entirely untraceable.
However, monumental questions of justice and fairness present themselves.
No person alive today has ever been a slave or a slaveholder, specific to African chattel slavery. Too much time has passed and the guilty as well as the immediate victims are all gone. Should the great grandchildren of slavers pay the great grandchildren of slaves?
If so, then where does one draw the line? When do a people stop being victims and become responsible for their own condition? Shall the nations of Europe sue France for Napoleon's conquest? Shall England pay its former colonies? Should England sue Italy for the conquests of the Romans? You can see the absurdity.
It must also be noted that the first perpetrators of slavery were African themselves. Slaves were commonly captured by rival tribes and sold to European slavers who worked along the coasts of West Africa. By this standard, shouldn't the modern nations of Africa also be sued?
It was Africans who often formed the first link in the transatlantic slave trade.
It was also an African, Andrew Johnson, a prosperous, freed indentured servant who won the first legal court case that affirmed slavery in the colonies. Understand that in 1655, an African man sued to hold another African man in slavery in a colonial court and won a decision that legally entrenched slavery in the colonies and later United States.
There is no question that the problems which plague the Caribbean are the result of slavery's long shadow. Yet, the guilt is widely spread and those living today have not perpetrated any crime against those living in the Caribbean. You cannot make the innocent pay for the sins of the guilty, or else it is not justice.
Instead, the world should recognize that slavery casts a long shadow that affects us all today. Instead of reparations, the people of the Caribbean must take responsibility for their condition and find ways to cooperate with the nations of the world to lift themselves from poverty. They must fight corruption within their governments, build trades and industries that the world wants, and take responsibility for resolving their own issues as nation-states. Likewise, the world does owe them cooperation in a spirit of brotherhood. Where before masters ordered slaves, why not let the great grandchildren contract as equal partners? There is no better justice than that.
Meanwhile, the world would do well to be reminded that newer forms of slavery have replaced the African chattel-slavery of centuries past and that more people live in bondage today than at any other time in history. This slavery is both real and immediate and should be the focus of efforts at abolishment and justice.
As for the long-dead past, it is for God to dispense justice.
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© 2013, Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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