I sit to write this post with trepidation in my heart. The angst that I feel welling up within my veins is only eclipsed by the unrepetant anger, in fact outrage, that I feel towards the forces in this world that have historically and contemporarily conspired to deny the horrific genocide that was wrought by the European colonization of the Caribbean region. I use the word genocide intentionally, as a statement of historical truth underpinned by the well-documented horrors of the enslavement of African people in the Caribbean for over 350 years and the catastrophic decimation, almost to the point of extinction, of the indigenous peoples of the region. Yet this truth about these horrendous crimes against humanity is not to be found in most history books anywhere in the world. Sadly, not even in the Caribbean is this information easy to come by. Yet thankfully, it still exists, or rather persists against all odds. For as William Cullen Bryant once famously said, ‘truth crushed to earth shall rise again.‘
Truth rises, like a thermal wind lifting us out of the dark pit of ignorance on its wings of enlightenment. It is time for us to make a reckoning with the past. For the chickens will surely come home to roost. The din of the cry for reparative justice for the Caribbean region grows louder by the day and will not go away. Though we are but a negligible fraction of the world’s population, we have exerted an outsized geopolitical influence on the world’s destiny. The wealth that built empires on which the sun never set, that fueled technological revolutions that advanced human civilization, and that laid the foundation of modern capitalism, was borne of the blood, sweat and tears of our people. It is everywhere and in everything. Nothing in modern civilization is spared from being tainted with its bloody fingerprints. Under every stone there are bones which tell the story of the systematic dehumanization that colonization of the Caribbean engendered. Yet still the dominant forces in this world spinelessly deny their complicity. And even worse they gaslight us, by purporting to claim the moral high ground over other modern day tyrants and brigands, whose crimes pale in comparison to theirs.
The Black Lives Matter protests which wracked the world two odd years ago are just another incarnation of the same struggle that African peole have been waging since colonial times, since time immemorial. Since the darkest days of slavery when European slave master’s concocted over 1800 heinous methods of torture for black people. Black lives have always mattered, since the dawn of slavery when black lives were valued as property, as the most precious resource for wealth creation. Yet, I know many will still protest and claim they are not convinced. They should not be asked to pay for the crimes of their forebearers. It was a different time. Back then we didn’t know better and so on. The litany of never ending denials and excuses is shameless, and selfservingly seeks to bring about a collective amnesia.
So permit me to enlighten you by taking you through some specific ‘clear cut’ cases from the Caribbean region. Haiti, the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere, fought a brutal war, against France, led by former slaves which ultimately led to its independence in 1804. The price for this triumph, the first time ever in history that slaves have prevailed over their slave masters to form a new nation, was a deleterious indemnity agreement with France, which required Haiti to pay its former colonial master damages for the loss of its property (including slaves) in Haiti. From 1825 until 1947 Haiti paid up to 80% of its GDP to France as a punishment for obtaining its freedom. In today’s money the value of this wealth transfer from Haiti to France is estimated to be around $21 Billion, while the impact on Haiti’s economic development is a staggering $100 Billion. The weight of this crushing burden debilitated Haiti from its birth as a nation, and is major contributing factor to its current impoverished state. Without a shadow of doubt restoration of Haiti’s rightful wealth is an essential step in reparative justice for the Haitian people and the Carribean region.
As a second, no less egregious case I present to you the Garifuna people (i.e., previously known as the Black Caribs or ‘wild negroes’). The Garifuna are an afroamerindian tribe indigenous to the Caribbean island of St. Vincent (Hiroona), who fought a brutal war against Britain in 1795 which they tragically lost. This resulted in the rounding up of almost the entire population of Garifuna on the island (over 4000 souls) and their subsequent deportation by ship to the island of Roatan, in present-day Honduras. During the voyage nearly half of the captive Garifuna population died. Abandoned on an island by the British, with no natural sources of fresh water, the surviving Garifuna were left for dead, with supplies only sufficient to last a few weeks. To be clear had this criminal act succeeded, an entire race of indigenous people would have been completely wiped out. This deliberate act of genocide 225+ years ago demands reparative justice. Quantifying the loss of life and property, as well as the untold suffering of the Garifuna, surely will run into the hundreds of millions or more (resulting from the illegal appropriation of their land, the loss of life and suffering endured during their deportation and subsequent abandonment, not to mention the compounding of interest due to the passage of time since the genocidal act was perpetrated). Among the greatest travesties of the Garifuna case is that so few of us know their story, not the least people in the Caribbean region. Yet against all odds this noble people has survived and refuses to give up their heritage, language and quest for reparations and repatriation.
The aforementioned cases highlight the magnitude and urgency for reparative justice in the Caribbean region. It will certainly be a massive undertaking which will touch the lives of nearly every West Indian. At this stage of the fight for justice, what is most important is that we collectively raise our awareness of our history. For without knowing what has happened in the past we cannot have an informed discussion in the present about matters such as these. I hope this post will spark you to embark on your own journey of discovery and elightenment. We shall overcome!
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