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Caribbean Countries Seek Multi-Billion Dollar Slavery Reparations From Three European Countries

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The Caribbean Community, a regional organization that typically focuses on rather dry issues such as economic integration, has taken up the cause of compensation for slavery and the genocide of native peoples and is preparing for what would likely be a drawn-out battle with the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands.

The legacy of slavery includes widespread poverty and the lack of development that characterizes most of the region, Gonsalves said, adding that any settlement should include a formal apology, but contrition alone would not be sufficient.

“The apology is important but that is wholly insufficient,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “We have to have appropriate recompense.”

Each nation that does not have a national reparations commission agreed to set one up, sending a representative to the regional commission, which would be overseen by prime ministers. They agreed to focus on Britain on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean as well as France for the slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America that is a member of Caricom.

Attorney Martyn Day said his first step would likely be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans.

“I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably,” Day said of the Caribbean countries. “But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business.”

Caribbean officials have not mentioned a specific monetary figure but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, both mentioned the fact that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today.

“Our ancestors got nothing,” Shepherd said. “They got their freedom and they were told ‘Go develop yourselves.’”

British High Commissioner to Jamaica David Fitton was quizzed on the issue Wednesday during a radio interview and said that the Mau Mau case was not meant to be a precedent and that his government opposes reparations for slavery.

“We don’t think the issue of reparations is the right way to address these issues,” Fitton said. “It’s not the right way to address an historical problem.

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