(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkey, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The Most Hon. P. J. Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, in a rousing address to the Opening Ceremony of the Second Regional Conference on Reparations in Antigua and Barbuda on Sunday night, gave the charge and entrusted the continuity of the pursuit of Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery, to the Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
“As one who belongs to the older generation of Caribbean leaders, I am here today to present that torch to a leader of the younger generation and to say: Never let that torch be extinguished,” Patterson said.
Prime Minister Browne at the start of his address accepted the charge and stated: “Let me assure you Mr. Patterson that the current Caribbean leaders have accepted the torch and will never allow it to be extinguished.”
Patterson paid special tribute to the Rastafari brethren and ‘sistren’ in the audience whom he said “ were among the first to carry on the struggle of indigenous and slave ancestors for reparatory justice. In the post-colonial period they stoked the embers and fanned the flames of the dying reparation fire. It has now become an unstoppable conflagration.”
Patterson focused his address on the issue of Africa’s role in the historic evil of human trafficking. He challenged critics that assert that Africans should share moral responsibility for the crime against humanity that was committed because they were complicit.
“One should not place on a victim the guilt for a crime; so we should stop putting the guilt of the collaborator on the shoulders of the victim. The African continent was the victim of imperial exploitation and slavery and suffered a massive loss. It resulted in a major depopulation of Africa, with its heavy male bias. It destroyed age old political traditions, undermined tribal systems, corrupted both moral and civil practices. In short, it crippled the potential for economic growth and social development,” he said.
Patterson also pointed out that the infrastructure established to support the heinous trafficking of Africans was not known in Africa before the mass exportation of Africans to the West. These included fortified forts along the African coast that directed the process of kidnapping; a booming shipping industry of floating prisons that transported the captured human beings; a system of production centres with forced labour plantations; the transport of the products from these centres to Europe; a distribution infrastructure for the consumption of these products and the banking and insurance sector to finance the whole process.
Patterson asserted that “The ideology of racism and the articulation of superiority and inferiority linked to race and colour were absent in Africa before the trans-Atlantic trade in Africans.”
He also posited that the history also showed that some African leaders were induced by intimidation or bribery or greed to collaborate in the capture and transport of Africans destined for slavery. However, many African leaders opposed vehemently the capture and trans-shipment of their people.
“There is no principle in law which permits the organizers of a criminal enterprise to escape responsibility because others collaborated in carrying out the enterprise. Legal responsibility is not affected by any collaboration,” Patterson said emphatically.
“It was European nations who conceived the trade, put the enterprise into motion, controlled its operation and were massively enriched by it,” he concluded.
The Opening Ceremony also featured presentations from Prime Minister Browne, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission; Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary General, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat; Mr. Stanley Liauw Angie, representative of the Indigenous People’s Organisation in Suriname; and a feature address from Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, National Hero of Jamaica. `
The opening was held at the Multi-Purpose Centre in Antigua and Barbuda and attended by other Members of Parliament, Members of the diplomatic corps, delegations from other CARICOM Member States and representatives of civil society groups and organizations.
The Second Regional Conference on Reparations is being convened under the theme “Scientific Engagement and Community Mobilization.” The objective of the Conference is civil society engagement by widening the dialogue and intensifying scientific and popular discourse on the CARICOM Reparations Commission’s Ten Point Reparatory Justice Plan. The Conference continues on 13-14 October.
The Conference brings together a number of expert economists, lawyers, academics, historians, faith-based leaders, community activists, scientists, journalists and artists to further map out national and regional strategies to advance the case for reparations from Europe. Delegations from Martinique, Guadeloupe, the British Virgin Islands and representatives of civil society organizations from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom were also in attendance.
The CARICOM Reparations Commission was established in September 2013 following a mandate from the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government at their Thirty-fourth Regular Meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago in July 2013, to establish national committees and a regional commission to pursue reparations from the former European colonial powers for Native Genocide, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery.
Twelve CARICOM Member States have established national reparations committees to date, namely: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
The First Regional Conference on Reparations was held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in September of 2013. Since that time, the action of the CARICOM Member States has re-energized the reparations movements on the African continent, the United States and the United Kingdom and has generated tremendous international media attention and interest.