Caribbean adopts plan to seek slavery reparations

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (AP) -- Leaders of Caribbean nations on Monday unanimously adopted a broad plan on seeking reparations from European nations for what they say are the lingering ill effects of the Atlantic slave trade on the region.

A British human rights law firm hired by the Caribbean Community grouping of nations announced that prime ministers had authorized a 10-point plan that would seek a formal apology and debt cancellation from former colonizers such as Britain, France and the Netherlands. The decision came at a closed-door meeting in St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

According to the Leigh Day law firm, the Caribbean Community also wants reparation payments to repair the persisting "psychological trauma" from the days of plantation slavery and calls for assistance to boost the region's technological know-how since the Caribbean was denied participation in Europe's industrialization and confined to producing and exporting raw materials such as sugar.

The plan further demands European aid in strengthening the region's public health, educational and cultural institutions such as museums and research centers.

It is even pushing for the creation of a "repatriation program," including legal and diplomatic assistance from European governments, to potentially resettle members of the Rastafarian spiritual movement in Africa. Repatriation to Africa has long been a central belief of Rastafari, a melding of Old Testament teachings and Pan-Africanism whose followers have long pushed for reparations.

Martyn Day of the law firm called the plan a "fair set of demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them."

Day said an upcoming meeting in London between Caribbean and European officials "will enable our clients to quickly gauge whether or not their concerns are being taken seriously." It was not immediately clear when the meeting to potentially seek a negotiated settlement will take place.

The idea of the countries that benefited from slavery paying some form of reparations has been a decades-long quest but only recently has it gained serious momentum in the Caribbean.

Caricom, as the political grouping of 15 countries and dependencies is known, announced in July that it intended to seek reparations for slavery and the genocide of native peoples and created the Caribbean Reparations Commission to push the issue and present their recommendations to political leaders.

They then hired Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for an award compensation of about $21.5 million for surviving Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

The commission's chairman, Hilary Beckles, a scholar who has written several books on the history of Caribbean slavery, said he was "very pleased" that the political leaders adopted the plan.

In 2007, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed regret for the "unbearable suffering" caused by his country's role in slavery but made no formal apology. In 2010, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged the "wounds of colonization" and pointed out France had canceled a 56 million euro debt owed by Haiti and approved an aid package.

The Caribbean Reparations Commission said Monday that far more needed to be done for the descendants of slaves on struggling islands, saying it sees the "persistent racial victimization of the descendants of slavery and genocide as the root cause of their suffering today."

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Associated Press writer Duggie Joseph reported this story in Kingstown, St. Vincent, and David McFadden reported from Kingston, Jamaica.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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