Thu | Aug 16, 2018

Letter of the Day | We will not forget

Published:Friday | November 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM


The recent statement by Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister of state with responsibility for the Caribbean, Commonwealth and the United Nations, that "it would be better for Jamaica to look ahead and to maximise its potential through robust trade rather than to peer into history"; and that his recent visit to the region "is not to look back in history, but to help chart an even richer association between Britain and Jamaica," represents a contradiction with the British tradition of "peering into history" to honour service and sacrifice (as it did recently on Remembrance Day), and even to make amends for human-rights abuses committed by the British State.

His statements could not have been more ill-timed, published as they were on November 13, when Jamaicans reverently peered into a past made painful by the British, and observed the anniversary of that day in 1865 when the colonial military forces finally stopped the hangings of justice advocates in the Morant Bay War.

Apparently, just as the air of Britain was too pure to breathe the air of slavery, but the Caribbean was a suitable place for its brutal implementation, so Britain must never forget the past in the north Atlantic, but the South Atlantic must forget the past and move on.

The minister's comments on the region's demand for reparation in the midst of a growing movement, including among the "British people with Jamaican heritage" he mentioned in his Gleaner interview, is not surprising.

Neither is the fact that he made this insulting statement in the Caribbean, right among the people who no doubt showed him respect and hospitality. He is following a long tradition of British politicians who have been arrogant enough to insult Caribbean people right in their yard by making light of their pain.

Former PM Cameron's response to a 2016 letter sent to him by the chair of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on Reparation, Freundel Stuart of Barbados, setting out the evidentiary basis for the Caribbean reparatory justice movement was that "the British Government does not believe that reparations are the answer".


Posture not new


Of course, Britain's posture is not new. History has shown that Britain has not always lived up to its responsibilities.

Minister Ahmad might think that for the CARICOM nations to press a claim for reparation would be "a mistake of massive proportions". But the people of the Caribbean and its Diaspora beg to differ. The mistake would be for the UK to ignore the growing support in the Caribbean and other countries for the need for reparatory justice, including from Habib University in Karachi, Pakistan, where there is interest in forming institutional links with the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies.

As the late reparation advocate Dudley Thompson has said, reparation activism will continue because "the debt has not been paid, the accounts have not been settled".


Director, Centre for Reparation Research