By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 12, 2021)
Dr. Hilary Beckles was “ambushed” last Wednesday during a meeting of the Caribbean Reparations Commission (CRC). Earl Bousquet, St Lucia Reparations Committee, and Professer Verene Shepherd, Caribbean Reparations Research Centre, Mona Campus were the ring leaders.
Other plotters included PM of SVG Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Dorbrene O’ Marde of Antigua, David Commissiong and Mighty Gabby of Barbados, Cikiah Thomas and Glenroy Watson of the Global African Congress residing in Toronto and London, Carla Astaphan of the St Kitts Reparations Committee and Artley Gill of the Grenada Reparations Committee, among others.
Beckles was honoured for his 41 unbroken years of commitment to the University of the West Indies.
Beckles, chairman of the Caribbean Reparations Commission (CRC), is undoubtedly the most prominent reparations voice in the Caribbean. Beckles is an unrelenting campaigner against Britain and other former enslaving European powers for their crimes of genocide, the slave trade, slavery and colonialism.
Dr. Beckles’ central task is to take the message of reparatory justice to every corner of the earth. He has done so with aplomb. In the simplest of terms, Beckles tells all those prepared to listen that Britain and the other European powers have created a development mess in our region and has a case to answer for their crimes.
In recognition of Beckles’ brilliant work as a reparationist, the region most outstanding public intellectual, author of seminal “Britain’s Black Debt: The Case for Reparations for the Caribbean”, along with other illuminating texts on slavery, West Indies cricket, in addition to his scholarly and administrative prowess as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, won tributes and honours from a virtual who is who in the regional reparations movement.
PM Gonsalves lauded Beckles scholarship and strategic leadership of the Caribbean Reparations Commission. In turn, Beckles and all others involved praised Gonsalves for bringing the reparations issue to the CARICOM leadership, and being the intellectual force that helped get a unanimous decision in 2013 for the regional governments to pursue this crucial human rights campaign.
In tribute, Eric Phillips of Guyana said ‘the most important thing a leader can do for his people is to give them back their future. He credited Beckles for doing just that with his contribution.
Carla Astaphan reminded all present of Beckles’ prophetic words during one of his visits to St Kitts: “We fought for Freedom, and we got it. We fought for independence, and we got it. We are fighting for reparations, and we will get it.”
David Commissiong cited his long history of struggle and connection with Beckles. Commissiong credited Beckles for his commanding leadership skills. He mentioned the stellar work Beckles performed as the Barbadian and Vincentian delegation leader during the United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Commissiong noted that one of Beckles’ strengths is his ability to “eveal our people to themselves.”
Cikiah Thomas told Beckles his ‘transformative leadership style differentiated him from other transactional leaders. Adrian Greene credited Beckles with shaping his consciousness.
The tributes were touching and overwhelming, and they brought Beckles to tears. On more than one occasion, he was forced to dab his eyes dry.
In response, he said, “When babies cry, we give them a hug. When you hug a grown man, you make him cry. The tributes made me cry.”
He said he was confident that the hug he received was a “hug of love, integrity and care. My tears are not based on fear of what’s going to happen. My tears are based on a realization that we are an army, and I know we are going to win.”
Beckles, in speaking of the work of the CRC, said he was buoyed by the fact that during the seven years of its existence, “…we have not betrayed each other and we have not undermined each other.”
Beckles expressed the confidence that the 21st Century will be when the struggle for reparatory justice will gain significant successes.
Following the tribute to Beckles, the CRC went about its work and heard reports from the Prime Ministerial Steering Committee on Reparations’ chair. Beckles described the meeting as “magnificent.” PM Mottley, who leads this committee, was enthusiastic about pushing for this vital work. PM Gonsalves was also credited with being steadfast with his commitment to ensuring that the fight for reparatory justice remains front and centre of the international agenda.
When SVG chaired the UN Security Council, both Beckles and PM Gonsalves raised the issues of genocide, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism and the debilitating effects on the Caribbean.
CARICOM took the strategic decision to broaden the base of its reparatory justice work. The CRC planned a Pan African Summit on Reparations for late 2021.
The CRC agreed to step up regional community work, especially among young people, and get more youths involved in reparatory justice work.
Beckles said regional reparations leaders from across the region must not lose heart because there is no better time than now to be a reparationist. The movement is growing in intensity and scope. Beckles disclosed that the Indian parliament has been very active in examining colonialism’s harmful effects on India.
The Indian Parliament estimates that Britain extractive exploitation cost the country $350 trillion. Some parliamentarians say this is responsible for the widespread poverty and structural dislocation.
Then there is the momentum to the reparatory justice work in the United States. This work has gained especially around the fight for racial justice after the brutal assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
There are now reparatory justice bills before the US Senate and House of Representative. This development is a historic first.
Here at home, the work continues in 2021 with a presentation on reparations and the Windrush Generation to the Rotary Club. Radio programmes on reparations also featured Earl Bousquet, Claremont Chung and Dorbrene O’ Marde.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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