By Dorbrene E. O’Marde, Chairperson ABRSC
I thank The UWI and the Centre for Reparation Research for affording me this opportunity to share ideas in this – the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum. I send very special regards to VC Prof Sir Hilary Beckles at this time and I am sure you all know why. We have your back Sir!
I also wish to let the CRR know that I have observed their love affair with the letter ‘R’ – in their acronym and also in the subject of this discussion. I hope they allow me to add another ‘R’ – regionalism in my presentation. I isolate from the topic – two Rs – Republicanism and Reparations. I think if we deal with reparations we are automatically dealing with both Royalty and Racism – in a way.
One of the unwritten but fundamental principles of the CARICOM 10-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice is that having recognized the massive psychological trauma inflicted on us as a people, we must repair ourselves – a concept of ‘internal reparations’ which tends however to be focused on the personal or individual. So we have called for the rejection and/or remedying of the denial of the African natural – redefinition of standards of beauty, end to skin bleaching and hair processing and affirmation of African based cultures in speech patterns, traditional medicines and nutrition, religion and the arts.
But there are two broader aspects of repair that we must pay attention to as we move in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of nationhood in the CARICOM and those are i) decolonisation and ii) the failure of republicanism movements. I use the latter term – not as the political scientist does – but simply refering to the constitutional and other changes required to free us from the rule of a foreign monarch. It is important that we examine the contemporary picture.
Our region still is stomping ground of four former enslaving nations – the British, the French, the Dutch and the USA. Colonies still exist – The British Anguilla, BVI/Tortola, Montserrat, Turks & Caicos along with the Cayman Islands; the US-bought St Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico; the French Departments of Guadeloupe/Marie Galante, Martinique, Cayenne, St Martin & Saint Barthélemy; the Dutch St. Maarten and special municipalities Saba, Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire.
This is the state of political dependence in the region, a state that is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 that affirmed that ‘the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.’
All English speaking nations except Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Dominica still swear allegiance to Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith – the owner of all state property, including prisons.
And as anachronistic as that may sound – and is, and notwithstanding the advances we have made in political thought and activism in the immediate post independence periods – Black Power, The UWI think-tanks and uprisings, socialism, revolutions in Trinidad and Grenada, the establishment of CARICOM and the OECS – the fact remains that if the issue of the acceptance of republicanism is put to most populations in this region, it would be rejected. The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has tried. In Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada, referenda to reject the Privy Council and join the Caribbean Court of Justice failed – miserably. One should note here that referenda are required in the constitutions of some countries to change entrenched clauses – those clauses that make some portions of a constitution virtually irrevocable.
One suspects, without empirical evidence, that calls for independence in colonies will also be rejected by the majority of electorates.
But the call for national transition to a republic has been going on for decades during our independence period. It was raised here in Antigua and Barbuda by Sir Lester Bird since the mid-nineteen nineties…PM Portia Simpson raised it in Jamaica since 2012, to have it repeated by present Prime Minister Holness in 2016; in Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur raised the issued as far back as 2003…to be followed by PM Freundel Stuart and now by PM Mia Mottley who is poised to shepherd the matter through the Barbados parliament.
But why this reluctance to make advancements in our nationhood? Some may point to a long period of colonial cultural aggression – forcing many my age to sing ‘Rule Britannia – curiously ascertaining the fact that Britain – the most heinous of enslaving countries – never ever will be slaves – one wonders what they have against slavery’; to celebrate the Queen and Prince Charles’ birthday and Empire Day and Commonwealth Day – lauding the fact that for a while there ‘the sun never set on the British empire’; along with the deification of the literature of Keats, Wordsworth and Shakespeare and the required study of history – solely thru British eyes; and of course the teachings of the Christian church that always had the rich man in his castle and the poor man at the gate – positions ordered by its God.
It is easy to suggest that therein lies the reason for our seeming affinity to the monarchy and her institutions such as the Privy Council – and it is easy to suggest that the reparations movement must sponsor a serious struggle to push back against colonial education and its accompanied abuse – to push back against the psychological trauma that we enunciate in our 10-point plan. But there is an equally important consideration.
I was an active participant in the campaign in Antigua and Barbuda to reject the Privy Council and during that campaign one of the many issues that surfaced –and I think this may be pan-Caribbean – was a lack of confidence in our governments to abide by the democratic principles which they preach and on which they were elected…a fear of the disregard and compromise of the rule of law and its importance to the protection of civil and other rights; an example-strewn history of the dictatorship of parliaments – a system based on the ayes-have-it, generally in total disregard of minority but correct views.
The contradiction in this is that the governments the electorates impugn with improper motives are the very governments they elected. The CRC reparations movement faces a similar challenge – the potential of its rejection because of its imperative leadership of Heads of Governments. ‘Dorbrene boy, if this reparations thing work, you know dat as soon as dem politicians get hold of de money, it gorn,’ or ‘mek sure dem boys don’t get hold of that money’ or even more damaging ‘the only reason dem talking reparations is because of their failure to govern properly and their corruption’.
But this is not all. There is distrust of regional organisations. The CCJ example comes forcefully to mind. CARICOM itself is still discussed as a ‘talk shop’. The OECS has seemingly lost effectiveness – Covid has made unimportant one of its main achievements – the OECS union with its freedom of travel, of establishment, the end of work permits. So it seems that the advance of the reparations movement is dependent of good Caribbean governance and regionalism made relevant to the masses of Caribbean people.
I then ask the question, for which I have no answer, how – as government appointed commissions and committees – how do we get involved in issues that may be in full contradiction of the ruling party that appointed us? We know the politics of this region – I need not say more. How do we as regional bodies ourselves – The UWI and the CRC challenge other regional bodies about their relevance and performance?
What however is clear to me is that we must broaden and support struggles for decolonization – as a human rights issue; republicanism – not only the replacement of a white monarch by a national, but as the next step in our constitutional and independence advancement; and regionalism – the basis of our future as reparations issues. Is this point 11 of our ten-point plan? We must not celebrate sixty years of nationhood in CARICOM without sharp focus on these issues and we must insist on and demand for progressive leadership.