Why does Caricom continue to look back rather than forward?

Dear Editor,

These are recent headlines, ‘Caricom Heads agree on reparations action’ and ‘Caricom to set up Reparations Commission.’ This revelation sent me reeling – taken totally by surprise. So the leaders are committed to this?

Are these guys and gals for real? I thought I had heard the last of this kind of reasoning. Why do we continue to look back rather than look forward? Why would the Caribbean want to waste scarce funds, valuable time and energy on an act of futility? Why can’t we learn from the past and inform our future?

Many will have their views on this, but the following is where I am coming from. The slave trade was business as usual for the stronger and more militaristic first world nations. It was aggressive entrepreneurism at the expense of our unfortunate foreparents. They were overpowered by some folly but undoubtedly by more sophisticated weapons.

Haiti today, its global abandonment and isolation, is the perfect example of what can be expected from the mightier nations by those who dared to retaliate. Haiti, the only Caribbean nation to win its freedom from slavery by war, is the worst off in the Caribbean, experiencing the brunt of first world hatred and oppression.

We have the right to be fuming mad, but we cannot as a people lose our heads.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica once declared that Jamaica will not be seeking financial compensation from Britain, but would apparently be satisfied with an apology. She, in my view, is on to something. It should be adopted by all. Why waste scarce resources, setting up commissions and offices to fight a system much more powerful than you? Just like carbon credits payment, actually receiving reparations hand-outs would most likely be a pipe dream.

For one, how much money will be enough? 10 billion, 100 billion, half trillion…? What will it be? Let’s say we are able to surmount the difficult task of having the Republicans in the US agree to a payout – whatever amount you agree to – how do we guarantee that this money would be properly managed and like most lotto winners, after 20 years we are not on the quest for reparations number 2. Do we have the right mindset to accomplish effectively what we are pursuing?

The mere fact that Caribbean leaders would want to seriously pursue this strategy is an indication of a bankruptcy of ideas. Well, I should not be surprised judging from the management of Caribbean cricket.

Aren’t Caribbean leaders paying attention? Europe is broke. Most of the hard cash they got from slavery is gone pursuing social programmes. All that is left is the infrastructure. There is austerity all around. Is this the time to be demanding payments, notwithstanding the heat that will be made to bear on the region?

Arguments will be made that the Jews demanded reparations for the Holocaust and payouts were made. For slavery, nothing substantial came down except some land and a few old army mules to some African Americans. Why the disparity? I have long realized that in the eyes of many the African is still three-fifths of a person, the last on the IQ level of all races according to a Republican.  I have long realized that Africans are not getting anything, treated with respect, unless we get them for ourselves. I am surprised that our leaders have not recognized this and are acting as if all is fair and square in the world.

Further, from a Guyanese point of view, reparations would not be appropriate for race relations in multiracial Guyana and probably to a lesser extent in Trinidad, where there are large numbers of Indian descendants. Given the delicate poise/balance of Indian and African relations at the moment, I would hate to see one race sitting down and relaxing to wait on an elusive dream.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer hailed the Caribbean’s request for reparations as integral to the 15-nation Community’s development. I think that the Caribbean Community coming together and working as one in the true spirit of Caricom is integral to the development of the region.

Spencer lamented that the constant search and struggle for development resources are linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of Caribbean peoples during slavery and colonialism. No. Slavery and colonialism have run the course. It was an obnoxious past, but we now have our independence. We have a chance to learn from the past, strategize and pilot our own destiny if we see it fit. Given that the Caribbean comprises mainly small islands, Caricom should be lauded for its intent and underutilized purposes. Even as we talk about reparations, there is no unity within the member states. There are still member states benches at other member state airports. After many years of pursuing free travel and work opportunity among member states, those ideas are the real pipe dream of today. What can be more “integral to the 15-nation Community’s development” than member states purchasing products from other member states? Why aren’t member states guaranteeing the purchase of rice from Guyana? Why are other products entering the region when they can be produced here? Why… Why… Why?

What we need among member states is the enforcement of the true potential of Caricom. Other than the changes needed, which I already alluded to above, the Caribbean needs to identify what is unique to the Caribbean, product and services, and as a body, market them as such. In the same manner, other countries protect their industries, the Caribbean must do the same. Outside businesses who wish to come into the Caribbean marketplace, be it tourism or whatever, will have to pay some fees and work within certain guidelines that will not harm Caribbean entrepreneurs.

In a nutshell, there is our ‘reparations,’ a constant flow of residual income if the region markets itself as one. We have to learn the ways of the oppressors and use their strategy to enhance ourselves. We have to realize there are no free lunches out there. You will be respected only if you can beat them at their own game – like the West Indies team under Lloyd. By learning from the demise of that team, the new bouncer rules and all, we should now be prepared for the kind of fight that is sure to follow. It will not be easy, but it is a strategy we must examine.

On a lighter note, I was looking at a group photograph of Caribbean leaders at the recent conference. Almost all the men were donned in suits. Suits are a representation of the people who enslaved our foreparents. They certainly are unnecessary in the Caribbean. We are proposing reparations but do not have a Caribbean dress, an identity. Maybe still locked in mental slavery? Incidentally the person who was largely responsible for the formation of Caricom and was duly recognized as such at the conference, was also responsible for the introduction of the ‘shirtjac’ to replace the suit for Guyanese men. Our President, Mr Ramotar, proudly wore his ‘shirtjac’ at the conference while not publicly recognizing the person responsible for its introduction. Amazing.

I must tell you, I’m still reeling from the mixed emotions coming out of Caricom.

Yours faithfully,
F Skinner

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