As questions about reparations for slavery underscore public conversations surrounding racial justice in America, so do similar questions inhabit global concerns—particularly for our neighboring countries that share a similar history of exploitation and control.
Coinciding with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Jamaica and Grenada, Jamaican officals are demanding reparations for the impoverished West Indian nation from the United Kingdom, its longtime ruler. The call was originally made in 2013 by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and it has been reiterated in recent days.
Sir Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian scholar and chair of the Caricom Reparations Comission, wrote an open letter for the Jamaica Observer outlining Cameron and Britain’s obligation to the former colony:
The Jamaican economy, more than any other, at a critical moment in your nation’s economic development, fuelled its sustainable growth. Britain, as a result, became great and Jamaica has remained the poorer. Jamaica now calls upon Britain to reciprocate, not in the context of crime and compulsion, but in friendly, mutually respected dialogue.
It is an offer of opportunity written not in the blood of our enslaved ancestors, but in the imagination of their offspring and progeny who have survived the holocaust and are looking to the future for salvation.
The open letter echoes calls from Jamaican officals like Mike Henry, a Parliamentarian who said that he would not attend any functions with Cameron unless reparations was discussed:
If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in parliament.
Cameron has spoken of the need to bridge gaps with former colonies and acknowledged Britain’s role in the slave trade and colonization of much of the West Indies. His visit to the West Indies—the first in 14 years for a sitting British PM—aims to re-strengthen the UK’s relationship with its former colonies and the region at large.
Cameron addressed Jamaican Parliament today and ruled out reparations while pledging aid to Jamaica and other West Indian nations (including 25 million pounds for new prison construction). He has a historical tie to the British slave trade through General Sir James Duff, his cousin six times removed. Many protested Cameron’s address outside of the Parliament building, demanding reparations.