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Yes, they owe reparations

FeaturesYes, they owe reparations

In a special sitting of the House of Representatives in October, DPM Cordel Hyde asked the House to unanimously endorse the position that our GOB is “morally, legally and ethically obliged on behalf of the former slaves and the descendants of Belize…to present the appropriate case in the United Kingdom to determine whether as a matter of law, the United Kingdom is liable for the unlawful seizure, transportation and subsequent enslavement of African people in Belize under British colonial rule up until 1833 and to receive the appropriate reparations from Britain.” I think the House agreed, without a nay, but outside the House not everyone is down with it.

In his column on page 14 of the November 14 Reporter, the well-educated and very successful Neri Briceno said more than “whoa there”, he said “Europe owes you nothing.” I have to believe that if Neri got a chance to put an editor’s pen there, he would change “you” to “us,” because he isn’t European, he’s a multi-race brother from PG.

Neri teed off for quite some length, and to get the full salvo you’ll have to go to the Reporter’s archives. Summing him up, he said that despicable slavery has been with mankind like forever, from the Good Book to the modern day, and that in its most common form it involved(s) parents giving up their children to work to pay off debts. He said globally slavery is about business and they have been “acquired, traded and sold as any other commodity on the free market.”

Slavery is a “terrible thing”, he says, “but we need to get over it and stop portraying it as the boogie monster for all our present-day problems…” Asia experienced it and, without seeking reparations they rebounded to become some “of the fastest growing economies in the world”, he said.

Neri says he was brought up in a world where “sound education and hard work were viewed as the two pillars of success”, that one lived within their means, took responsibility for their actions, and didn’t drink “the Kool-Aid of victims to accept liberalism or the belief that the world owes us something.” He says perhaps Europe owes an apology, and if so Africa owes us one too, for their involvement in the slave trade.

Neri says we need to get over our dependency and entitlement syndrome, that the reparations bill will “correct nothing from the past.” “The majority of what we face today is not rooted in slavery…(our failure) is as a result of poor leadership since post-independence…I know no person that is a slave or anyone that has directly benefited from slavery that is currently alive,” he says. “Therefore, I want nothing from Europe,” says Neri. He said Europe has invested in its former colonies in the form of grants and loans, and “the monies have been pilfered by some of the very same leaders that would now like reparation monies.”

In one of my columns a long time back, I said I wasn’t strong on demanding “reparations”, but I have said I was open to be influenced by intellectuals at home and abroad who have studied the matter in depth. After reading Neri’s scathing piece, I would advise him to draw back too. I share some of the views he expressed, but clearly his knowledge of the subject is limited. In a couple instances he is exposed, a dead duck caught midway between first base and second base.

The first thing that must be accepted is that the enslavement of our African ancestors is unlike every other form of slavery in known history. It placed people with black skin and tight curly hair at the very bottom of the ladder, and through every device possible the Europeans have worked to keep people of that phenotype subjugated. Those of us with brown skin only experience half of it.

I share the view that Africa’s involvement in the slave trade shouldn’t be ignored, largely because there are still many traitors there who do the work of Europeans who persist in pillaging the continent. But to put Africa on the same plane as Europe is a major reach. Unlike in Africa and other parts of the world where an individual could escape bondage, the aim here was to keep black people down in perpetuity.

The Europeans, incredibly, paid the slave masters for loss of property when formal slavery ended. The British government paid slave owners 20 million pounds (2.5 billion pounds in today’s money) when the slaves were emancipated, and the slaves were forced to work a further 4 years, in apprenticeship, so the European businesses were not disrupted. The people who controlled the prized properties and businesses when slavery ended still do. Black Belizeans still sing about Isaiah Morter because he is one of only a handful of black Belizeans who has owned a sizable tract in Belize.

Europeans taking care of Europeans is no strange thing. The Europeans ganged up on the Germans after WWII, forced them to acknowledge guilt and pay reparations to the modern Jews for what happened, and they carved out a territory, all their own, for them in Palestine. A Wikipedia page on the topic says the Germans paid the modern Jews US$1.7 billion (US$18 billion in today’s money) to make up for what they did in that six years’ war. Israel, as heir, received the payments, and the monies were “invested in the country’s infrastructure and played an important role in establishing the economy of the new state.”

A “sound education and hard work (are) the two pillars of (economic) success”, Neri says, but of course he isn’t using Cuba as a model. If he had he would have added, doing the bidding of the master nation. Why is it that progressive leaders of non-European countries, Arbenz in Guatemala, Bishop in Grenada, Sankara in Burkina Faso, don’t survive? A feature in the British Guardian said that “between 1961 and 1973, six African independence leaders were assassinated by their ex-colonial rulers.”

Our failure is indeed rooted in poor leadership, but every single leader in a non-European country must be acceptable to them, or else. You can have “individual” economic success, yes, it’s there for you if you work hard and study, but don’t ever dare give a daam about your less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Neri was asleep on the base when he made the statement, “I know no person that is a slave or anyone that has directly benefited from slavery that is currently alive.” The letter there can’t be refuted, but that’s a truth with absolutely no worth. Can a tree be divorced from its roots? Jesus died on the cross to save us from the sin of Adam and Eve, but nothing changed in our physical DNA.

How indirect is this superiority born from the slave trade and the massive wealth it produced to give one race the resources to research, develop their infrastructure, and create propaganda to perpetuate their dynasty?

Europe has invested in its former colonies in the form of grants and loans, but I don’t know how much that can be considered as “reparations”. The present pyramid was built during slavery, every effort was put in to keep that structure through colonialism, every effort is exerted to maintain the status quo through neocolonialism, and that explains why we are stuck in the production of primary products and the purchase of finished goods, many of which we can produce for ourselves.

I’m a practical person. I respect the British for their achievements and appreciate them as our allies. Neri has some good points, but the fact is that our friends have never apologized for slavery. At their football stadiums, they have up signs saying no tolerance for racism; well, their leaders can start showing their people the way by making an apology for the worst crime in recorded history. And yes, see how they can make financial reparations.

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