By Carlena Knight
Discussions are underway for the implementation of an International Fund for Development and Reparations.
Cabinet is of the view that the challenges posed by Covid-19, especially the severe reduction in trade, revenues and dampened financial flows, will create huge debt problems for Caribbean countries, even well after the disease has been brought under control.
The belief is that development financing will be in great demand in the near future, and such a fund will prove very useful.
Antigua and Barbuda has received a pledge from Harvard University to provide a level of support for the UWI Five Islands Campus, since Harvard Law School received its first endowment two centuries ago from the Royalls’ family, who made tremendous profits from their slave estate in Antigua.
This, the government says, is just one example of the many entities and governments which have benefitted and now have an obligation to support this fund.
Nicholas maintained it is their “moral obligation” to “close the historical issue” — that is, world powers that profited from the Transatlantic slave trade should make reparations to Caribbean nations.
“At some point in time, we would expect that this moral virtue will seize the developmental nations, the countries that are responsible for developmental financing to understand and appreciate that there is an obligation that they have to settle with this historical issue,” the minister of information said.
“You would recall that, at an earlier juncture, that the Harvard University came to the discussion as the result of the type of moral injunction that came as a result of the voice of the prime minister and they have come back and said ‘listen we acknowledge that a wrong has been done’, that they would have drawn benefits and they must find some way of closing this historical issue,” he added.
The government was echoing comments made by UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, who was commenting on a recent apology made by British financial institutions and the Church of England which acknowledged and apologised for its ties to the slave trade and committed to fund projects to provide opportunities for minorities.
According to Sir Hilary, “These institutions need to come back to the site of their enrichment and participate in the legacy. This is not unreasonable. It is moral and just and the kind of standard management thinking one would expect in the 21st century.
“To issue statements of regret and apology from a distance as a public relations exercise…in public spectacle is unacceptable and absolutely rejected by the people in the Caribbean. What they are asking for is dialogue, negotiation and the participation in a system of economic development that will help these societies to move forward,” he added.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas said it is the stance of the government to support “any measure that brings this matter to the table of discussion in the multinational environment”.
He added, “We are never going to cease it…we are going to remain relentless and support whatever initiatives bring them closer to this particular decision.”
The fund is in its embryonic stage, but the Cabinet intends to seek support from other governments to make the venture a reality.