Financial reparations best way to amend wrongs committed – PM Gaston Browne

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne has emphasised that financial reparations were the best way for colonisers to make amends for the wrongs they had committed.

The Prime Minister was speaking at the opening of a symposium titled “Western Banking, Colonialism and Reparations” at the Jolly Beach Hotel in Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday.

The CARICOM Secretariat and CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), in collaboration with the Centre for Reparation Research (CRR) and the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission, are hosting the symposium.

In his keynote address, Prime Minister Browne emphasised that financial settlement was a critical component to the Region’s reparatory claim to achieve justice and restore equity.

He said that there was no need to be intimidated to make a financial claim to complement any “in kind” settlement that may be offered, and added that the Europeans used an inhumane and brutal extractive economic model to control the Caribbean, as a zone of wealth creation to fund their development.  He said that they presided over the brutal genocide, resulting in the death of millions of Africans, and created a system of slavery and colonialism. He explained that it was a system of wealth creation that involved the use of three million, unpaid and underpaid African workers for four hundred years.

Climate Resilience

Speaking to climate resilience of the Community, Prime Minister Browne said that the request for finance to support mitigation, adaptation and resilience in small states, such as Antigua and Barbuda against the ravages of climate change, was not begging for a handout. Rather it was compensation for the damage done, reversals of economic gains, and additional funds that had to be spent to counter the effects of Climate Change in which the Region played little part.

“We maintain that the emitters must be held accountable and compensate affected states for damage and loss. Why should we pay for someone else’s greenhouse gas emissions? Why should we carry the burden for their unsustainable growth model?” he questioned.

On the matter of de-risking, the Antiguan Prime Minister was quite emphatic about the ways in which it was threatening the stability of the Region in making and receiving payments.

He opined that Caribbean Central and commercial banks had kept billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves in Western banks for decades, but the Western nations were still seeking to cut CARICOM countries from the international payment system, claiming that the Caribbean countries were tax heavens and money launderers. He said it was another modern day injustice meted out against Caribbean people, which would undermine the Region’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is unfair and unjust – that is why we continue to call for justice in the international fora,” he stated.

While reiterating his commitment to the cause, he implored the symposium participants to continue their enthusiasm to keep the reparations fire burning.

We cannot forget that our European oppressors, not only exploited us, but left us all in a condition of extreme poverty, mass illiteracy, inadequate health and educational institutions and a pandemic of chronic, debilitating NCD’s derived from centuries of excess salt and sugar consumption,” he said.

He further noted that the global reparations policy shift would take time, but it would come, so they must remain unrelenting in the quest for reparatory justice. He pointed out that a number of entities were agreeing to reparations including the University of Glasgow, which had committed to provide a settlement of 20 million Pounds Sterling in slave trade reparations.

Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) also delivered a brief address at the opening. Other major presentations were made by Prof. Verene Shepherd, Director of the Centre for Reparation Research at the UWI and Mr. Hans Fassler, an influential Swiss historian.