Address by Prime Minister Gaston Browne at the Caribbean Reparations Commission Regional Symposium on Western Banking, Colonialism and Reparations, October 10th, 2019 at Starfish Jolly Beach Hotel – Pt 2

Monetary Compensation

       There are some who argue that reparations should not include any demands for monetary compensation. To those who are of that view, I ask the question – Having established that our forebears are owed for 400 years of unpaid labour – is it frivolous for their progeny to demand compensation for their labour? Is there a more suitable compensatory mechanism to pay for labour than monetary compensation?

To elaborate the justification of the reparatory claim, I will use the following case in point.  If today, anyone of you work for a few months and your employer refuses to pay you, that will be the subject of a litigation to ensure restitution. Why then, should we overlook 400 years of little or no payment, considering the debilitating effects on our development? Colleagues, we cannot be cowards in seeking justice and equity. We must fight for justice without fear of reprisal.

Common Humanity

Science and religion seldom converge.  However, science has proven that all human beings alive today, have a common mitochondrial DNA, evidencing a common matrilineal inheritance. If, as human beings, we share a common matrilineal descent, a common humanity and ancestry, then we are all equal and should state equitably in the resources of the earth. Our common humanity also debunks the false concept of white superiority. White superiority is a false concept that should be consigned to the dustbin of history and those of our colour, who are carrying any feelings of inferiority, need to disavow themselves of any such feelings. Fundamentally, we are all brothers and sisters, with a common humanity, irrespective of color, creed or class and it behooves us all, to fight for the creation of an equitable world, of love, peace, justice and unity.  

Global inequity is driven, primarily by the economic asymmetries between the powerful few and the masses. However, the powerful few exercise an inordinate amount of power and control over the political directorate of global leaders, through their campaign financing and corrupt lobby system to maintain the status quo.  The fight for full reparatory justice will be long and arduous, because it is a cause based on principles of equity and justice that challenges the status quo. Reparatory justice requires a shift in the global power structure to gain further currency.  Despite the push back and the consequential challenges, we must be unrelenting in our quest for reparatory justice.   We must keep the flame of reparatory justice alight.

The shift has started with a handful of entities that have agreed to reparations including the University of Glasgow and its recent agreement to provide a settlement of 20M Pounds Sterling in slave trade reparations. I thank Sir Hilary for his unrelenting and skillful negotiations resulting in this achievement.  The global reparations policy shift will take time, but it will come.  Therefore, we must remain unrelenting in our quest for reparatory justice. 

       Reparations and its compensatory mechanisms could be utilised as the new frontier to achieve equity,  global peace and unity.  A world in which the global resources would be utilised equitably for the benefit of all humanity. Reparations is about repairing, restitution, and could be broadened to resolve the inequities facing human beings globally, including those associated with Ruthless Capitalism.  Ruthless Capitalism, is just as vulgar as the system of slavery and colonialism. It is, in essence, economic colonisation, in which global resources are monopolised and harnessed primarily for the benefit of the few.  It is also extractive by nature, widens the gap between the rich and the poor and promotes under development among the masses, even in wealthy countries. 

While entrepreneurship should be celebrated and rewarded, there should be the Introduction of a Global Equity Restoration Tax on the wealthy, to address the scourge of global inequality, to assist the poor and vulnerable in wealthy countries and to cover the reparatory obligations to Caribbean States. The one percent that controls nearly half of the 85T in global wealth, should be made to pay this equity restoration tax, to restore global equity.  One percent for example, of 40T is 400B annually, which can help to build capacity, uplift people in poor communities in wealthy countries, to assist developing countries with their advancement and to settle reparatory claims.   This is where the leaders of the G20 should be focusing their attention, to raise resources to address their own financial challenges, global inequities, and to build global resilience against the threat of climate change.  Instead, these leaders remain enslaved to the dictates of the wealthy few at the expense of global equity and the advancement of the masses.  This is indicative of the bad governance practiced by global leaders in which they have failed to champion the interest of the masses. 

         Ladies and Gentlemen, this proposed equity tax would help to restore global equity and   augurs well for human development and global cooperation, peace and security. Excellencies, Antigua and Barbuda, like other Caribbean countries, is intent on promoting economic growth, social development and resilience by internal action, even as we expect developed countries to meet their reparatory obligations. But, it seems that every time we achieve a high level of competitiveness with rich regions of the world, they impose arbitrary measures to undermine and shackle us.

        In the financial services sector, anti-competitive actions have been forced on us by the European Union in the areas of taxation, despite the compliance of our countries with standards set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Further, despite our vulnerabilities as remote islands, confronted with high interest and insurance costs, as well as, unsustainable debt and frequent disasters arising from Climate Change, we are disqualified from access to concessional financing based on a single criterion – per capita income. In addition, they have introduced a new policy of financial abandonment or derisking which is now threatening the stability of the region in making and receiving payments.  For decades, Caribbean Central and commercial banks have kept billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves in western banks.  In fact, all of the regions foreign reserves are held in western banks, primarily in the US.  Yet, they, are seeking to cut Caricom countries off from the international payment system, with the spurious claim that we are tax havens and money launderers. We all know that the tax havens are located in the US and Europe.  This is yet another modern day injustice meted out against Caribbean people, which will undermine our achievement of the sustainable development goals. It is unfair and unjust – that is why we continue to call for justice in the international fora.

        The western banks have grown so powerful today, that they are now derisking the countries in the Caribbean where their initial wealth was established.  They reckon that the profits obtained from the region are too small today and do not justify the risks.  This type of behavior reinforces the need for broader domestic ownership and control of our enterprises especially, in banking, telecoms and energy sectors.   In planning for the future, we reasonably look to those who have profited from exploitation and oppression of the peoples of the Caribbean to help us to build socio-economic resilience.  However, we will continue to plan our own future utilising our innovativeness, creativity, entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, and internally generated resources.  This necessitates a restructuring of economies, which are still largely extractive to developmental, stakeholder economies, with greater retention of profits. 

       The present economic construct results in the repatriation of most of the profits generated by our respective economies.   We must develop our own bespoke economic model and I encourage our intelligentsia, several of whom are present here to today, to develop an economic model that will take into consideration our idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities, to include: our small size, limited resources, and the openness of our economies to Ruthless Capitalism. Clearly, the model by the Nobel Laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis cannot stand on its own.  While it is important to invite foreign capital to our shores, we must equally position ourselves with a new local business ownership, that will result in greater domestic profit retention to facilitate more robust growth and development. 

        Summary and Conclusion

       The CARICOM Heads of Government, in 2013, established the CARICOM Reparations Commission for the purpose of seeking reconciliation between victims and beneficiaries.  In summary, Reparation is a process of repairing the consequences of crimes against humanity by placing a value on those wrongs.  Chattel slavery is now, and has always been, a denial of human rights and a crime against humanity.  It is subject to reparatory justice. After 1834, those who committed the crimes against humanity were paid to end those crimes.  But, those who suffered the crimes received nothing.  Justice requires that the descendants of those who suffered for hundreds of years must also be compensated.  Reparations in the form of payments to the descendants is justified in international law.  This demand is not intended to create rancour and disagreement, rather, it is intended to repair a wrong that has persisted for generations. 

           We hold no enmity against the offspring of our oppressors, nor do we hold them responsible for the atrocities of their forebears.  However, Justice requires that the generations who profited from those wrongs can be called upon reasonably to compensate those mired in poverty and under-development.  If our forebears were rightfully compensated for their labour, we would have, by now had, 180 years of investment and in wealth creation. Our economies would have been much better developed and the quality of life of our people much more advanced. Our cause is a just cause, and our claim is a compelling one. If our claim is met with continued resistance, then we will have to accelerate our litigation in the international court of justice.  CARICOM heads have already sought a legal opinion on the matter and are prepared to work with the various NGO’s to seek reparatory justice through the courts.

           I recognise that we have lost some momentum at the level of the heads.   However, I undertake to encourage greater participation and commitment by my colleague heads on reparations as a very  important developmental issue.  This symposium will examine specific strategies and methodologies that can be adopted by the CARICOM governments, and non-governmental organisations pursuing justice for all.  Its end product will likely become a handbook for proceeding in the future.  If this symposium is to give greater credibility and utility to our ambitions for reparations, it must design a path that is not difficult to follow.  If it is not easy, then it must be practical in its proposals for going forward.  We must assemble the smartest, the most intelligent, the most creative, and the most determined group that can chart the way forward in pursuit of reparations.  This ambition cannot be an oral exercise.   It must continue to have substance and depth.  Under the leadership of Professor Hilary Beckles and Mr.  Dorbrene O’Marde and others, I am certain that our victories will be many, and the object of reparations will be glowingly achieved. May the spirit of our ancestors guide your deliberations today, and the enduring capacity to succeed continue to grip our leaders throughout the region.  I wish you all the very best.  Thank you. Blessings.