Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the Peoples’ Partnership Government is committed to lobbying for reparations for the evils of chattel slavery. She also said citizens should be free to exercise their volition with issues like constitutional reform or they would forever remain in bondage.
Persad-Bissessar made these comments while delivering the feature address at the Emancipation dinner, at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on Thursday night.
Among those present were Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas,;Aiyegoro Ome, adviser to Ambassador Makandal Daaga and chairman of the Reparations Committee; and elder Equino Moyo.
On the issue of reparations, Persad-Bissessar said: “I note my good friend, Khafra Kambon, chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) chose the very topical theme of Reparations: Righting a Historical Wrong for this year’s celebration of Emancipation Day. As you know, across the Caribbean, the lobby for reparations for slavery and native genocide is growing. Trinidad and Tobago, along with several other Caricom nations, have established national reparations committees to pursue amends from former colonial nations.”
She added: “On Tuesday, the members of the Trinidad and Tobago National Committee on Reparations, led by my dear friend Aiyegoro Ome, received their official letters of appointment (investiture). We were also very fortunate to have visiting our shores this week, Dr Verene Shepherd, Professor of Social History, at UWI’s Mona Campus and co-chairperson of the Caricom Reparations Commission. I am certain Dr Shepherd’s insightful views will positively inform our national committee and Trinidad and Tobago’s perspectives.”
Persad-Bissessar also joined the chorus of voices, including St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonzalves, who have stressed the need to raise awareness for reparations.
She said: “While I know Ome and his team will create greater awareness of this issue throughout the country in the coming months; I must also state we, as Caricom leaders, are saying to the former colonial nations that the case for reparatory justice is unquestionably strong. This is therefore a good moment for me to reaffirm my full support and the support of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as you document the long-term effects of the enslavement of our African ancestors on their descendants and by extension our present society.”
She cited the research of eminent Barbadian historian/ Prof Hilary Beckles from his book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide.
An excerpt read: “In 1838, the British people ended their 250-year old “national crime” of black enslavement with a sum total payment of 20 million pounds to the last slave-owning cohort. Slavery came to an end with a festive orgy of public money being showered upon slave owners.”
Persad-Bissessar also said the need for reparations went beyond monetary recompense.
She said: “For the liberated Africans, there was nothing except a certain future of immediate poverty and continued social exclusion. This is why it must be carefully noted the Caribbean’s reparations is not merely about a quantifiable sum of money for each territory; it is a call for developmental recompense in the areas determined to have been severely compromised by slavery.”
She added: “Reparatory justice is being sought through: an indigenous people’s development programme; technology transfer; debt cancellation; illiteracy eradication; psychological rehabilitation; public health; the development of cultural institutions; repatriation, and a formal apology.”