Copyright 2013 by Teofilo Colon Jr. (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”) All Rights Reserved. Telephone: (646) 961-3674.
Washington D.C. — Recently, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and The Grenadines, The Honorable Ralph Gonsalves, presented an argument for the slavery reparation for Caribbean Nations in an interview with Carib Nation Television. In the interview, which you can see below, he also puts the slavery reparations lawsuit by 14 Caribbean nations against the Britain, France and The Netherlands for their role in the Atlantic Slave Trade into context.
The interview, by Derrice Deane of Carib Nation Television is about 30 minutes long and is in English.
In this interview with CaribNation Television, St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves traces the evolution of the case for reparations, explaining that the history of discussion about reparations was initially (and in many respects still is) amongst small intellectual circles and religious groups like the Rastafarians. At its root, the case for reparations is the exploration of the consequences of native genocide and slavery in the world, with a focus on the Caribbean in this argument. What Mr. Gonsalves is interested in is transferring the discourse on reparations to public policy.
In this video, St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves also talks a bit about the challenges of making the case for reparations as well as what they want from this intelligent conversation about healing. Those interested in reparations for people of African descent may be surprised to learn what Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and CARICOM claim to want.
The Honorable Ralph Gonsalves takes great care to mention that this case is not fashioned in terms of a confrontation with Europe nor does he care to be involved in the politics of protest. In fact, he states,
“I am the head of an independent, sophisticated modern nation state. I am not involving myself in the diplomacy of protest. I am involving myself in the diplomacy of engagement. And an engagement which is not confrontational, because we are satisfied that we have both the FACTS, and the LAW on our side.” — Hon. Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines)
He goes on to explain,
“And the facts are on the ground in terms of the consequences, the legacy of native genocide and slavery. And, native genocide and slavery were brought about not just for economic reasons. But it was part of a display of domination, based on a racial theory of subordination of peoples. How could you explain other than that the organized British state policy in the Caribbean to ‘exterminate the savages, kill the natives.’ And that is why they carried out over a period of 37 years, extensive genocide of 80% of the people whom they met in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” — Hon. Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines)
What may be of interest to readers of beinggarifuna.com is that in presenting the case for reparations, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that not only is it for the role that Britain, France and The Netherlands played in the Atlantic Slave Trade, but also for the attempted genocide of native or indigenous peoples; the examples of attempted genocide he mentions in the video are that of the Kalinago (a.k.a. the “Yellow Caribs”) people and the Garifuna (a.k.a the “Black Caribs”) people, both native to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. You can find this at approximately the 14 minute mark of the video.
Later on in the video he talks about Haiti and in detail talks about the ‘terrible’ price they paid for their freedom after the Haitian revolution in 1803. He explains that France demanded (and received) reparations from Haiti to compensate French slave owners for the loss of property (slaves). They did so from 1823 through 1947 in exchange for Haiti being recognized as an independent, sovereign country. Raise your hand if you knew that.
Finally, St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves also talked about the importance of educating the Caribbean populace about the case for Reparations and the challenges inherent in attempting to do so. Namely, most people aren’t interested in history and that in Hon. Ralph Gonsalves words,
“We have to make it so history is not seen as an outside project.” — Hon. Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines)
It certainly has been interesting noting the rumblings of dissent from various peoples of Garifuna descent as this case for reparations builds momentum. The reality of this matter is, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves taking the initiative on this case for Caribbean reparations has revitalized the reparations movement for ALL peoples of African descent and it appears that the rumblings that I have come across in essence comes down to some of the spokespeople for Garifuna people feeling slighted in not being consulted with or being very much involved in these historic talks. Here, I’d also like to add another quote from the video interview by Hon. Ralph Gonsalves when talking about keeping concerned parties informed and the reality of how talks like these develop.
“(you) can’t wait until everything is in place…You have to do things in tandem.” — Hon. Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
That feeling of (and the reason for) Garifuna people being slighted is way too complicated to get into here, but it’s safe to say that some Garifuna people question the motives of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. While that skepticism is healthy (and in some ways, well deserved), it is sad that for all practical purposes, only one person of Garifuna descent has:
- followed this historic case for Caribbean reparations,
- been actively involved and over the years,
- maintained the necessary networks to continue his active involvement as these talks develop across the world.
As far as I know, that person is Jose Francisco Avila, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc.
As Mr. Avila serves as the public face for involvement of the Garifuna people, he also ironically demonstrates the challenges that pop up as he tries to report to the Garifuna populace the development of these historic talks.
At the annual Garifuna Mass in Brooklyn commemorating Belize Garifuna Settlement Day, I watched as Mr. Avila tried to report to the assembled audience the latest news on the matter of Caribbean Reparations as it relates to Garifuna people.
I watched, listened and took photos as Mr. Avila tried to talk about the current claim of Caribbean Reparations and how it relates to Garifuna people. In essence, he read off a bunch of statistics and tried to talk about the attempted native genocide of Garifuna people when they were forcibly removed from their ancestral land of St. Vincent in 1797.
Unfortunately, to my eyes, it mostly didn’t succeed. Mr. Avila’s speech came at the end of the mass, and most people were ready to either go home and attend the reception that takes place after this annual Garifuna Mass. They were listless and bored. A few select folks exited the church in small groups during Mr. Avila’s speech. It’s not enough for the subject matter to be important. The delivery of the subject matter so that the intended audience gets it is also important. What was needed was a speech that would rile people up and get them excited about the matter.
I should add that most if not all the audience consisted of working class individuals and there’s probably something of a disconnect between Garifuna peoples of Central America and their early history in St. Vincent. That disconnect relates to what Mr. Gonsalves briefly talks about in the video where an appreciation of history isn’t…encouraged for the most part. It’s that disconnect that Mr. Avila–to my eye–failed to overcome. And truth be told, he isn’t alone as far as people who speak for Garifuna people are concerned, whether they are ‘leaders’ or not.
I don’t mention these details to clown Mr. Avila or to dismiss his efforts. It’s just to highlight challenges that we all face as Garifuna people as we approach this new frontier in our collective history. There is a LOT more work we need to do and I hope that we can overcome our fractured state at this time. If you have the time, take the time to watch that interview of Prime Minister Hon. Ralph Gonsalves.
With the debate surrounding reparations for people of African descent, it’s well worth knowing and sharing. Considering the complicated relationship of Garifuna people and slavery (namely, that we are one of the few people of Garifuna Descent who were never enslaved), it’s even more important that we grasp the nuances of this groundbreaking reparations claim.
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– Teofilo Colon Jr.