In an interview with the Guardian, Sir Hilary Beckles, who chairs the reparations task force charged with framing the 10 demands, said the plan would set out areas of dialogue with former slave-trading nations including the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. He dismissed claims that the Caribbean nations were attempting to extract vast sums from European taxpayers, insisting that money was not the main objective.
One of the most important, and most contentious, demands will be for European countries to issue an unqualified apology for what they did in shipping millions of men, women and children from Africa to the Caribbean and America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Beckles was scathing of European leaders who have issued statements of regret about slavery, including Tony Blair who in 2007, as UK prime minister, said the slave trade was a matter of “deep sorrow and regret”.
“It was disgraceful to speak of regret rather than to apologise,” Beckles said. “That was a disrespectful act on Blair’s part as it implied that nothing can be done about it – ‘Take our expression of regret and go away’.”
Ed Pilkington, “Caribbean nations prepare demand for slavery reparations,” The Guardian, March 10, 2014
This is great. We’ve done a lousy job in colonial nations of addressing the legacy of European invasion and brutality, but, for the most part, we do tend to acknowledge the existence of a continuing problem. Back in Europe, however, it looks a lot like the states that began it all and profited most from it are happy to pretend that colonialism is ancient history, and that their role and responsibility lies in times long since passed.
Also, we get this charming anecdote:
For Beckles, a historian who is pro-vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies in Barbados, the reparations issue is personal. His great-great-grandparents were slaves on the Barbadian plantation owned by ancestors of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
Beckles’s great-great-grandmother was herself a Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch, who plays a plantation owner in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave, has said he took on a previous role as the abolitionist William Pitt the Younger as a “sort of apology” for his family’s involvement in the trade.
Gosh, that was big of him.