Confronting the Legacies of Slavery

Here are excerpts from an op-ed (The New York Times) by Laurent Dubois (Duke University) on the legacies of slavery, reparation, compensation, abandoning condescending visions of the Caribbean, and “consigning racial discrimination, exploitation and political exclusion to the past.”

Late one afternoon in March, officials unveiled a new monument at the University of the West Indies, in Cave Hill, Barbados. The ceremony featured African drumming, a historian’s lecture, a bishop’s prayer and a song performed by a school choir with the chorus, “We cry for the ancestors!”  Those ancestors, 295 of whom have their names on the monument, were slaves who once lived where the campus now stands. What today is a university was once a plantation. What is now a nation was once a colony. In Barbados and throughout the Caribbean, slavery remains a vivid and potent metaphor, and a cultivated memory.  Presiding over the event was Sir Hilary Beckles, the head of the university and a prolific historian. He and his Jamaican colleague Verene Shepherd have spurred on the recent call by the 15-member Caribbean Community for Britain, France and the Netherlands to pay an undefined amount of reparations for slavery and the slave trade. The group plans to file suit in national courts; if that fails, it will go to the International Court of Justice.

Uniting the Caribbean around any kind of policy is not easy. The region is linguistically and politically fragmented, with links to former colonial powers or the United States often trumping cooperation. But with this new call, the community, known as Caricom, is tapping into one thing that all its member states have in common: the lingering effects of slavery.

Calls for reparations have a long history. As early as the 1790s, one French anti-slavery activist argued that the enslaved could easily ask not just for freedom but for repayment for generations of unpaid labor. But at the time of emancipation, the British granted not the ex-slaves but their former owners “reparation” in the form of a large financial indemnity.  Haiti won its freedom 1804, but in 1825 it agreed to pay an indemnity to France in return for diplomatic recognition. The money was used to compensate French plantation owners.

[. . .] But only reparations can reverse the long-term harm. As Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said, “We have to have appropriate recompense.” The claim is not, however, about compensating individuals, but their communities. And in this way, since most countries in the Caribbean are financially in debt to international banks, Caricom is making a provocative argument: It is actually Europe that owes the Caribbean.

This is more than just creative accounting. When economists debate why some countries are poor and others are rich, they often focus on the cultural, political or economic structures of poor countries. But historians of the Caribbean have long argued that national inequality is a direct result of centuries of economic exploitation.

The foundations for this argument go back to a 1944 book by the Trinidadian historian Eric Williams, “Capitalism and Slavery.” [. . .] His argument, that the profits from the slave trade and slavery were the foundation for Britain’s Industrial Revolution, spurred decades of debate and research, and today there are hundreds of books documenting slavery’s profound impact on the modern world.

But knowing is one thing; figuring out what to do is another.

Consider this: In 2003, Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, called on France to repay the 1825 indemnity, which he blamed for his country’s poverty. The argument was historically sound: to pay France, Haiti had had to borrow money from French banks, entering a century-long cycle of debt.  But a French commission concluded that, while there was a responsibility on France’s part, financial reparation was not the solution. Its report suggested that French aid to Haiti was a kind of “reparation” and urged more of it. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, President Nicolas Sarkozy offered an aid and debt-forgiveness package to the country. But the French government never officially apologized, let alone offered compensation.

Despite the rightness of the Caribbean nations’ claim, European governments are likely to respond similarly this time. If Caricom accepts this approach, the call for reparations may ultimately just come to play a strategic role within international negotiations over aid and trade. Perhaps, though, something more will come of this. In the United States, calls for reparation have long served mostly as a catalyst for debate. One good way to make the point that something is important, after all, is to attach a monetary value to it.

That goes for history, too. Scholars have worked for decades to educate people through their writing and teaching. Now their arguments will be heard in court, and perhaps find their way into headlines.  Just as important, the discussions around reparations — in the Caribbean as in Europe — might become an occasion to delve into history, to mourn but also confront the many ways in which the past continues to shape the present.

What would it mean to truly rid our world of the legacies of slavery? In the Caribbean, it would mean undoing the divisions created by colonialism, through regional economic cooperation and reduced dependence on foreign aid and foreign banks.

It would mean, above all, ending the continuing mistreatment and stereotyping of Haitians, who were the pioneers in the overthrow of slavery and have been paying for it ever since.

In Europe and the United States, it would mean abandoning condescending visions of the Caribbean and building policies on aid, trade and immigration based on an acceptance of common and connected histories.

It would mean, above all, consigning racial discrimination, exploitation and political exclusion to the past. That would be the truest form of reparation.

Voor het origineel bericht:

In Accounting for Slavery’s Cost, Figures Vary Widely


Different approaches to tallying the harm wrought by slavery produce a vast range of results, Carl Bialik reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Fourteen Caribbean nations and a British law firm are trying to find the solution to a puzzle that has eluded many economists, historians and activists: how to put a price tag on the harm wrought by slavery, and then persuade someone to pay.

Members of the Caribbean Community, a regional bloc, have hired London firm Leigh Day to help them prepare a suit for the International Court of Justice. The countries plan to seek reparations from the U.K., France and the Netherlands for the lasting effects of the slave trade, which over four centuries brought millions of people against their will from Africa to European colonies in the Caribbean region.

The legal challenges to seeking reparations are immense: Countries must prove crimes committed by—and against—long-dead people.

But the bigger difficulty may be setting a price tag. Scholars have sought to quantify reparations for as long as activists have sought them—for slavery and, in the U.S., for racial discrimination after the Civil War. There are many approaches, from calculating lost wages over the years to tallying disparities in health that can be tied to slavery. All produce widely varying figures, and the sheer size of many of the numbers has been an impediment to the reparations movement.

Martyn Day, founding partner of Leigh Day, said his clients are working to document the legacy of slavery for today’s Caribbean residents, such as the economic effects of being unable to accumulate wealth over the centuries, and elevated diabetes rates due to the diet imposed on slaves and passed down the generations. “What in the end will all that work out to?” Mr. Day                     

  The Slavery Reparations Calculations

French president François Hollande, in rejecting reparations, points to the futility of tallying slavery’s cost. History, he said earlier this year in a speech commemorating slavery’s victims, “cannot be subjected to an accounting process that … would be impossible to complete.”

“We do not see reparations as the answer,” said a spokesman for the U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

A spokesman for the Dutch foreign ministry said, “the Dutch government has expressed its deep regret about the history of slavery and has thus recognized injustices from the past.”

In 1974, economists Julian Simon and Larry Neal ran one set of reparation numbers. They tried to estimate the total wages U.S. slaves might have earned on the free market, then account for what was spent on their upkeep, and then calculate how much the difference might have earned in interest in the years since then. The calculations required many assumptions, including that market wages would have prevailed even with an expanded labor force. The most significant assumption was which interest rate to use: A 6% rate produced a total cost 100 times larger than a 3% rate. Both figures were presented. The authors said the larger one was “so astronomical as to be almost meaningless.”

The varying numbers, and methods, have been used as arguments against reparations seekers. A Ghanaian group called the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission announced it was seeking reparations for the African continent of $777 trillion in 1999, or about 70 times U.S. gross domestic product that year. The group and its members couldn’t be located today, and activists distance themselves from the number. Yet it still pops up in arguments calling reparations unfeasible.

Such estimates fill a void that Richard America, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said wouldn’t exist if the government or mainstream research institutions had been tallying costs from slavery. “This should be standard economic analysis,” he said.

Mr. America suggests first calculating the cost and separately seeking a remedy, which he would like to see achieved via policy changes rather than lawsuits. His ballpark estimate of the overall net cost of slavery and post-slavery discrimination for American blacks is $20 trillion, “if you need a provocative number that comes out of the air,” he said.

Perpetrators of more-recent atrocities have paid victims. The U.K. government agreed to pay about $21 million this year to Kenyans tortured in 1950s colonial detention camps. Germany has paid over $90 billion to victims of Nazi crimes.

Such developments encourage Mr. Day in his pursuit on behalf of Caribbean countries, though he added, “We don’t think for a single second we have some slam-dunk case.”

It remains unclear how the Caribbean governments will tally costs. “I’m not going to give you any sort of number,” Mr. Day said.

Voor het originele bericht:

Caribbean Nations to Seek Reparations, Putting Price on Damage of Slavery

LONDON — In a 2008 biography he wrote of an antislavery campaigner, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, described the trade in human beings as an indefensible barbarity, “brutal, mercenary and inhumane from its beginning to its end.”

Fourteen Caribbean countries that once sustained that slave economy now want Mr. Hague to put his money where his mouth is.

Spurred by a sense of injustice that has lingered for two centuries, the countries plan to compile an inventory of the lasting damage they believe they suffered and then demand an apology and reparations from the former colonial powers of Britain, France and the Netherlands.

To present their case, they have hired a firm of London lawyers that this year won compensation from Britain for Kenyans who were tortured under British colonial rule in the 1950s.

Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807, but its legacy remains. In 2006, Tony Blair, then prime minister, expressed his “deep sorrow” over the slave trade; the Dutch social affairs minister, Lodewijk Asscher, made a similar statement in July.

Britain has already paid compensation over the abolition of the slave trade once — but to slave owners, not their victims. Britain transported more than three million Africans across the Atlantic, and the impact of the trade was vast. Historians estimate that, in the Victorian era, between one-fifth and one-sixth of all wealthy Britons derived at least some of their fortunes from the slave economy.

Yet the issue of apologies — let alone reparations — for the actions of long-dead leaders and generals remains a touchy one all over the globe. Turkey refuses to take particular responsibility for the mass deaths of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, let alone call the event a genocide, as the French Parliament has done. It was not until 1995 that France’s president at the time, Jacques Chirac, apologized for the crimes against the Jews of the Vichy government. The current French president, François Hollande, conceded last year that France’s treatment of Algeria, its former colony, was “brutal and unfair.” But he did not go so far as to apologize.

His predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, offered an aid and debt-cancellation package to Haiti in 2010 while acknowledging the “wounds of colonization.”

In Britain, in 1997, Mr. Blair described the potato famine in Ireland in the late 1840s as “something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today,” but suffering pain is not the same thing as making a formal apology.

For some, such comments do not go far enough, particularly when some European nations, like postwar Germany, have apologized — the former chancellor Willy Brandt went to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970 — and paid reparations for Nazi crimes.

Caribbean nations argue that their brutal past continues, to some extent, to enslave them today.

“Our constant search and struggle for development resources is linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our peoples during slavery and colonialism,” said Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, in July this year. Reparations, he said, must be directed toward repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism.

Martyn Day, the senior partner at Leigh Day, the London law firm acting for the Caribbean countries, said a case could start next year at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a tribunal that adjudicates legal disputes among states.

“What happened in the Caribbean and West Africa was so egregious we feel that bringing a case in the I.C.J. would have a decent chance of success,” Mr. Day said. “The fact that you were subjugating a whole class of people in a massively discriminatory way has no parallel,” he added.

Some Caribbean nations have already begun assessing the lasting damage they suffered, ranging from stunted educational and economic opportunities to dietary and health problems, Mr. Day said.

Critics contend that it makes no sense to try to redress wrongs that reach back through the centuries, and that Caribbean countries already receive compensation through development aid.

The legal terrain is not encouraging. Though several American and British companies have apologized for links to slavery, efforts by descendants of 19th-century African-American slaves to seek reparations from corporations in American courts have so far come to little. And, unlike the successful case made in Britain by Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau uprising, there are no victims of slavery to present in court.

Even that case was disputed initially by a British government worried that it would expose itself to claims from numerous former colonies. And when he agreed to pay compensation, Mr. Hague insisted this was not a precedent.

Though Parliament abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, the law took years to put into effect. In 1833, Parliament spent £20 million compensating former slave owners — 40 percent of government expenditure that year, according to estimates by Nick Draper of University College, London, who estimates the present-day value at about $21 billion.

Mr. Draper’s work traced recipients of compensation and showed they included ancestors of the authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, as well as a very distant relative of Prime Minister David Cameron.

But the prospects for a modern-day legal case for reparations by victims are far from clear. Roger O’Keefe, deputy director of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law at Cambridge University, said that “there is not the slightest chance that this case will get anywhere,” describing it as “an international legal fantasy.”

He argues that while the Netherlands and Britain have accepted the court’s jurisdiction in advance, Britain excluded disputes relating to events arising before 1974.

“Reparation may be awarded only for what was internationally unlawful when it was done,” Dr. O’Keefe said, “and slavery and the slave trade were not internationally unlawful at the time the colonial powers engaged in them.”

Even lawyers for the Caribbean countries hint that a negotiated settlement, achieved through public and diplomatic pressure, may be their best hope. “We are saying that, ultimately, historical claims have been resolved politically — although I think we will have a good claim in the I.C.J.,” Mr. Day said.

Mr. Hague’s own views add an intriguing dimension. In his biography of Britain’s most famous abolitionist, William Wilberforce, Mr. Hague highlighted many atrocities of slavery, including a case in 1783 involving a slave ship that ran out of drinking water, prompting its captain to throw 133 slaves overboard so he could claim insurance for lost cargo.

In 2007, on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trade, Mr. Hague spoke of his deep regret over “an era in which the sale of men, women and children was carried out lawfully on behalf of this country, and on such a vast scale that it became a large and lucrative commercial enterprise.”

But as foreign secretary, Mr. Hague is opposed to compensation. In a statement, his office said that while Britain “condemns slavery” and is committed to eliminating it where it still exists, “we do not see reparations as the answer.”

Voor het origineel bericht:

Haiti’s child slaves land country high on new global slavery index

Slavery is alive and thriving, a new report says.

But many of the 29 million modern day slaves might challenge your concept of who is a slave. It might be an indebted laborer, a victim of human trafficking, or, in the case of Haiti, the child working in the kitchen.

Walk Free Foundation used an expanded definition of slavery to produce what it says is a first-of-its-kind look at the practice in the modern world.

“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” says Nick Grono, CEO the Australia-based foundation that produced the Global Slavery Index 2013, the first of a planned annual publication.

Nearly half of the world’s slaves live in India. But the index ranked 162 countries according to the percentage of enslaved people in the general population. Western Africa’s Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the three highest rates of slavery, respectively, according to the index.

While Mauritania’s 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people fit more closely with the historical perception of who is a slave, Haiti provides a different face to the practice.

Haiti’s 200,000 to 220,000 enslaved people are mostly children who live with families not their own, working as household servants in the Caribbean country’s complex and long-standing restavèk system.

Under restavèk (a Haitian creole word derived from French meaning “one who stays with”), poor, often rural, families send their children to live with a family of better means, usually in urban areas. The children are sent with the understanding that the family will clothe, feed, quarter, and educate them in exchange for their work.

But inside the homes, “many of these children suffer the cruelest form of neglect – denied food, water, a bed to sleep in, and constant physical and emotional abuse,” the report says.

The group estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 children are in a similar circumstance, according to information it gathered on the ground. It is unclear why they counted some, but not all, restavèk children as slaves.

In compiling the index, researchers defined slavery as “the possession and control of a person … with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.”

Some have argued against defining slavery so broadly, based in part on its historic significance.

In The Haitian Times last year, columnist Max Joseph wrote, “For Haitians, or any member of the African Diaspora for that matter, the word ‘slavery’ is distinctively associated with the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their villages and sold like domesticated animals in faraway lands.

“The notion of associating the restavèk phenomenon with slavery is a naked attempt at trivializing one of the most grotesque episodes in human history,” Mr. Joseph wrote.

In its report, the foundation says it’s important to focus on “hidden” enslaved people, such as restavèk children.

“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, said in a statement.

Countries with the five highest rates of slavery:

  1. Mauritania
  2. Haiti
  3. Pakistan
  4. India
  5. Nepal

*The United States ranked No. 134 of 162

Voor het origineel bericht:

Why are so many middle-class children speaking in Jamaican patois? A father of an 11-year-old girl laments a baffling trend

Nick Harding worries about the new “linguistic affectation” that England’s young people have adopted—a hybrid of accents incorporating “Jamaican patois, American west coast and London.” He wonders why so many English children are speaking a version of what academics call ‘Multicultural Youth English’, or MYE—a mix of South Londonese and Western American, with strong Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean inflections. He calls it Amerifaican, which is not quite like the also popular Jafaican, which apparently makes most English boys sounds like Bob Marley! According to Lancaster University’s Paul Kerswill, who has studied MYE, it is no passing fad

With her ear glued to her mobile phone, my 11-year-old daughter, Millie, was deep in conversation, her brow furrowed as she discussed some arrangement with a friend.

I listened in, as I made jam in the kitchen. ‘Lol, that’s well sick!’ Millie said. ‘DW, yolo!’

This indecipherable code-speak (‘sick’ means awesome, ‘DW’ is don’t worry and ‘yolo’ means you only live once) was delivered in an accent I could only place as somewhere between South London, downtown Los Angeles and Kingston, Jamaica.

It certainly isn’t indigenous to our home village of Ashtead, in the rolling Surrey hills.

It's not a'ight: Many youngsters are now adopting a bizarre hybrid of accents incorporating Jamaican patois, American west coast and LondonIt’s not a’ight: Many youngsters are now adopting a bizarre hybrid of accents incorporating Jamaican patois, American west coast and London

When Millie ended the call, she turned to me, smiled and asked: ‘What’s for supper please, Dad?’ in perfect Received Pronunciation.

It seems that after less than a month at secondary school, my daughter is now bi-lingual — but it is not French or German in which she is suddenly fluent.

Her new language, comprising alien words and abbreviations delivered with faux West Coast American inflections, will not stand her in good stead when she embarks on a school trip to visit museums in Berlin.

Millie now speaks a version of what academics call ‘Multicultural Youth English’, or MYE, which she has picked up from her friends — middle-class girls from the Home Counties.

Many well-heeled parents with children who have started secondary school this term will, like me, be familiar with this change in the way their children speak.

  Some will be frustrated, while others will be depressed that their youngsters are conversing in what I can only describe as a clumsy rap-speak derived, variously, from the West Indies, Mumbai, MTV and American reality TV stars the Kardashians.

Initially dubbed ‘Multicultural London English’ by linguists, this bizarre way of speaking is now creeping out of the city and into the shires, infecting children like some linguistic superbug.  I greet my daughter’s new vernacular with puzzled bemusement.

To her friends she speaks in what I like to call ‘Amerifaican’ — a linguistic affectation where the final syllable in each sentence plunges off an intonational cliff.

Her vowels are stretched to breaking-point, and conversations are now dotted with misused prepositions which I constantly try to correct. Just yesterday, for example, I asked her: ‘What did you have for lunch today?’

She replied: ‘I had, like, lasagne.’

‘Like lasagne? Do you mean cannelloni, or maybe moussaka?’ I persevered. . .

‘No, I had, like, lasagne.’

The ruination of language does not stop there, since everything good is now ‘epic’, every triumph is met with ‘ooosh’, and humour no longer merits a laugh but is instead acknowledged with ‘lol’.

So why is my daughter — along with hundreds if not thousands of other children — committing these linguistic atrocities.

‘It’s cool,’ she told me. ‘Everyone speaks like it.’

‘How do the boys at school talk?’  I asked.

‘Like Bob Marley,’ she said.

While I sometimes tire of yanking the grammatical reins and worry that this dialect will spill over from the playground into Millie’s everyday life, I actually thank heavens she isn’t speaking that particular version of MYE favoured by teenage boys through Middle England: the hideous dialect known as Jafaican, which seems to be spreading rapidly.

It differs from Amerifaican in that the influence is mainly Jamaican, yet it has been adopted by boys of all races and colours.

Our local 406 bus ferries people from the affluent Surrey village of Ewell to the leafy riverside borough of Royal Kingston upon Thames. 

Mostly, the verbal soundtrack to this journey through the middle-class heartlands of the South East is Estuary English, the formal clipped tones of Received Pronunciation and, perhaps, a smattering of Korean and Polish. 

But at 3.30pm each weekday, the destination on the front of the bus might as well read ‘Kingston, Jamaica’ rather than Kingston upon Thames, as hundreds of children from comprehensive schools head home, bickering in an indecipherable language which, frankly, only they can understand.

Lampooned by the television comedy characters Ali G and Lee Nelson, Jafaican has its very own lexicon, a random hotchpotch which includes words such as blud (friend), cotch (relax) and creps (trainers), and originated in the ethnic melting pot of East London.

It is heavy with Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean inflections; words are clipped and there are idiosyncrasies with unknown origins, such as saying ‘raaait’ instead of right.

Worryingly, MYE in all its forms takes many of its characteristics from the misogynistic and expletive-ridden world of rap music.

Professor Paul Kerswill, of Lancaster University, has  studied MYE — and says it is no passing fad.

‘There is evidence that this new type of English is spreading outside London around the big urban centres of England — some young people in Birmingham and Manchester use local versions of it, for example.

‘Because of the slang and its association with hip-hop, it’s considered cool and fashionable. This leads young people — and some older people too — to pick up the slang and the style in their everyday talk, even though they may be middle-class and not from the inner city.’

Professor David Crystal, linguist and author of Wordsmiths And Warriors: The English-language Tourist’s Guide To Britain, adds: ‘Groups and bonding are especially important to teenage girls so, if there is a feature which is perceived to be cool and fashionable, you are almost certainly going to get it spreading like wildfire in that particular age group.

‘It is already many people’s ordinary speech and will stay with them into adulthood’ – Professor Kerswill

‘It is now perfectly normal for kids to leave junior school, start senior school and switch their accent and dialect.’

Experts agree that MYE has spread quickly because of mobility between cities, and also technology. Worryingly, it is projected to usurp some traditional regional dialects, such as Cockney in London, within the next 20 years.

In cities, the problem is so acute it even affects the school choices parents make for their children.

Rock star Paul Weller is one of them, admitting that he chose private education for his children over the local comprehensive near his home in London’s wealthy Maida Vale because of the way local teenagers speak.

‘I don’t want my kids coming home speaking like Ali G — I’m just not having it,’ he says.

It is not just snobbery about accents which is stoking parental concerns. Diction has a direct bearing on how speakers are perceived, especially in the job market.

An investigation by ITV’s Tonight programme two weeks ago concluded that there is a social stigma attached to certain regional accents. A survey commissioned by the documentary revealed that people speaking with Liverpool and Birmingham accents were perceived as less intelligent.

Jafaican was not included in the report, but it seems unlikely to score highly in any linguistic league table.

However, it is now so entrenched that some experts believe it will never be eradicated.

‘It is already many people’s ordinary speech and will stay with them into adulthood,’ says Professor Kerswill.

For my part, I am sure that if I persevere with my light-hearted nagging, Millie will grow out of her new verbal habit.

I hope that I’m right. It concerns me that children are becoming conditioned to speaking in a dialect which many potential future employers will find totally off-putting.

These children are in danger of literally talking themselves into unemployment in later life.

Legacy of Slavery Still Monumental

Brimstone Hill Cannon in St. Kitts (Thinkstock)

The reparations movement in the Caribbean has lessons for blacks in the U.S.

All of this activity by CARICOM doesn’t mean that there’s universal support across the Caribbean for reparations. There are plenty of voices against the idea. Before, during and after the conference, they were heating up the letters and comments sections of major news outlets like Jamaica’s Gleaner. Some regard the call for reparations as a straight-up shakedown of Europeans and a canny way to divert attention from Caribbean politicians’ own poor leadership. But the pro-reparations folks, led by actual heads of state, clearly run the show. (Jamaica’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, called for “an international discussion in a nonconfrontational manner on the question of reparations” at the United Nations General Assembly.)

Things are a bit different here in the U.S. Over the years, there have been sporadic, reasoned and publicized debates among scholars, and even in Congress. Prominent African-American opponents such as Roger Clegg and Armstrong Williams from the right, and Paul Gilroy (an Afro-Brit who taught at Yale for a time) from the left, have weighed in. But the debate always stops at a certain level of officialdom before it can become part of the national agenda.

Since 1989 Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has been trying to move House Resolution 40, a bill that proposes a seven-member commission to study reparations. This is not a cabal of bureaucrats preparing to toss taxpayer dollars at every black person they can find, but a half-dozen-plus-one people sitting around a table with only the power to talk and write reports. H.R. 40 dies in committee every time, even with backing from the likes of the American Bar Association and the Episcopal Church.

Folks like Iowa’s Republican Rep. Steve King deploy arguments popular among people who wish to undermine any broader, governmental examination of government redress for slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. At a 2007 hearing of a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, King (no relation to Martin Luther King Jr.!) equated the sacrifice of his Yankee relatives in the Civil War with that of the enslaved — people who endured centuries of legal, state-sanctioned bondage — and their descendants, who lived under American apartheid for another century and a half because of their skin color.

I asked Verene A. Shepherd, keynote speaker at the Kingstown reparations conference, a crude but obvious question: How much of this is about money, and how much of it is symbolism? Her reply was succinct: “Reparation is about repairing the damage done because of a crime committed.” Shepherd, who is director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, chairs Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparations. “People will always argue about financial versus symbolic settlements. We will see.”

We in the States should keep an eye on the reparations movement in the Caribbean, whether we are in favor or opposed. There may be no resolution soon — or ever — but if CARICOM and its legal partners launch serious litigation, buried information about the slave trade will come to light. That benefits all of us.

Voor het origineel bericht:,1

‘Ark of Return’: Telling the stories of 15 million slaves in a UN permanent memorial

Judges, Rodney Leon and the “Ark of Return,” the winning design for the Permanent Memorial in Honour of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Photo: DPI

23 September 2013 – A Manhattan-based architect of Haitian descent was today announced as the winner of an international competition to design a memorial that will be permanently on display at United Nations Headquarters in New York to honour victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Unveiling Rodney Leon’s ‘Ark of Return’, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the memorial “will serve as a reminder of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to rise up against an oppressive system, fight for their freedom and end the practice.”

The ceremony, held on the eve of the General Assembly’s annual debate, was also attended by the President of the body’s 68th session, John Ashe, who commended all participants in the competition for “being a voice of change and hope” whose ability to create meaningful artwork “deepens our faith in human goodness and decency, and for this, we are all grateful.”

The piece by Mr. Leon, a designer and architect of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan, features a “symbolic spiritual space and object where one can interact and pass through for acknowledgement, contemplation, meditation, reflection, healing, education and transformation,” according to its creator.

Mr. Leon’s work was selected from among 310 design proposals from 83 countries in a competition launched two years ago by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with support from the UN Department of Public Information’s Remember Slavery Programme, and Member States from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union. Jamaica, as the Chairman of the Permanent Memorial Committee, was represented at today’s event by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

UNECO Director-General Irina Bokova, who also participated, said she was “moved” to be participating in the event given she just returned from Haiti where the memory of slavery and the slave trade carries precious significance not just of suffering but also of “victorious fight from oppression for freedom”.

The design had to be created around the theme of “Acknowledging the Tragedy; Considering the legacy; Lest we forget”. It was to be not only a symbol, but part of an educational process in memory of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and to architecturally embody each affected region of the transatlantic slave trade – Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Americas.

It also had to artistically complement to the landscape of the UN Headquarters, described by UNESCO as “an iconic site that will deepen, both visually and spiritually, the visitor’s experience of this important environment.”


List of Finalists

The winning design was unanimously chosen by a committee of five international judges who met at UN Headquarters in August. Ahead of the judging, they spoke with UN Television about how their decisions were shaped.

Ashfar Isahq is the Chairman of the International Children’s Art Foundation. He said he founded the organization to harness children’s imagination for positive change.

“At the end of the day, I and my work with children means that I have to look at an inner voice that tells me that this is what children and future generations will like,” Mr. Isahq said. “I listen to that inner voice to make my selection.”

Curator and artist Dominique Fontaine said she was looking for a certain aesthetic value, one “that will appeal to the viewer.”

From New York University, Michael Gomez, a professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies who specializes in the African Diaspora, said he was primarily interested in identifying a piece that spoke directly to the experience of the transatlantic slave trade and the significance of that trade.

“I was interested in finding a project that would in some way give expression to that experience, and would allow those who would visit the memorial to have a good sense of what that experience was about and its ongoing implication for various societies,” Mr. Gomez told UN Producer, Mary Ferreira.

Meanwhile, David Boxer, a former curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica said the real challenge for him was to find a piece that both spoke to the tragedy itself – which he said required a memorial in a “more traditional sense” – and something that is inspirational.

Mr. Boxer said he was looking for a piece “that looks to the future, that deals with the whole question of hope. That things are going to improve, that things are going to become better. So it’s how do you combine those two sentiments into a single monument.”

Completing the jury, Nadia Bakhurji, and architect, women’s empowerment advocate and former Board Member of Saudi Council of Engineers, said she knew the winning design right away.

“I had emotional reactions to some of the sculptures and I knew which one would be the right one because it has to be the one that will really inspire thought provoking ideas, make you step back and say – oh my God, is that really what happened and how can we prevent that from happening again,” Ms. Bakhurji said.

She added that she was also looking for a design that bridged educational and spiritual experiences.

The judges made their unanimous selection after meeting with each of the seven finalists, each of whom also spoke with UN Television ahead of their presentations.

The winner, Mr. Leon, said the competition was “a once in the lifetime opportunity to do something which is going to last generations and has had an impact on so many people’s lives, not only spiritually and emotionally but also in an educational capacity, as well.”

Hanxi Wang, an architectural student from China who submitted ‘Untitled’, said just getting to the finalist stage, after being one of 16 shortlisted artists, was “already incredible.”

Carlo Gandolfi, an architect from Italy, worked with Paola Passeri, Alessandra Ripa, and Monica Sachetti to create ‘The Wounded Earth.’

“We put a lot of effort into this project,” Mr. Gandolfi said ahead of entering the board room where the jury was waiting for a presentation of the design.

Pertti Kukkonen, a Finnish sculptor was straightforward about his aspirations for the design, ‘80 Million Beats of the Heart’. “I want to win this,” Mr. Kukkonen said. “This is maybe one of the most interesting days in my life.”

From France, the team of Pierre Laurent and Nicolas Grun said they were nervous “but in a good way” ahead of the judging.

“It’s normal to be nervous because there is a lot going on behind this project,” Mr. Laurent told UNTV. “We would like the jury to understand and capture what we have done. So that’s why we are nervous, but in a good way.”

Portuguese architect Sofia Castelo, who created ‘Middle Passage’ with Romanian Adriana Thion, said: “I’m just very enthusiastic about the project and I’m excited to be here.”

The final contestant, Jaime Catelanos, a Colombian-French architect, whose piece “Palenque” features what look like orange metal slabs, said he was nervous but, “I think I will forget very quickly – the panic – as we call it.”

In addition to today’s first place winner, the Panel of Judges awarded Mr. Grun and Mr. Laurent a second place awards. Two designs – Middle Passage and The Wounded Earth – were named as third place winners.

All designs aimed to honour the more than 15 million men, women and children who were victimized in the transatlantic slave trade for over 400 years, and created the largest forced migration in history.

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Blood money

LAST month Rodney Leon, a Haitian-American architect, won a competition for a memorial to victims of the slave trade. His white marble “Ark of Return”, shaped somewhat like a paper boat, will stand outside the UN headquarters in New York. Inside the building, some Caribbean leaders have used their annual General Assembly speaking slots to call for financial compensation for this great wrong. “We have recently seen a number of leaders apologising,” said the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer. They should now “match their words with concrete and material benefits”.

Britain ended its slave trade in 1807, and freed the slaves in its Caribbean colonies by 1838. The British government borrowed £20m, then around 40% of the budget, to meet 47,000 claims for loss of human property. The former slaves got nothing.

Close to two centuries on, Caribbean politicians want redress. The Caribbean Community (Caricom) which links former British colonies with Suriname and Haiti, established an official reparations commission in July and has approached a British legal firm, Leigh Day, for advice.

Few of history’s great wrongs have been smoothed over with cash. Attempts to make Germany pay for the first world war simply hastened the second. Ukraine has not sought compensation from Russia for those who died in Stalin’s famines and purges. Among the precedents for financial reparations, West Germany and Israel signed a financial agreement in 1952, seven years on from Auschwitz. In June this year, after legal action by Leigh Day, Britain conceded payments averaging £2,600 ($4,000) each for 5,228 now elderly Kenyans who were brutally mistreated during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. Britain’s courts will not now consider claims for atrocities occurring before 1954. Unpicking wrongs from 60 years ago is hard enough.

Who should pay? With the slave owners all dead, Caricom wants taxpayers’ money from Britain, France and the Netherlands. At emancipation, around 3,000 slave owners lived in Britain; their wealth and their descendants are now scattered over the globe. Liverpool was once a wealthy slave port; the city’s current inhabitants, many of them Afro-Caribbean in origin, hold little of that cash.

How much should be paid? It is impossible to value the pain of those who are long dead, or even the economic damage suffered. Figures quoted for the current equivalent of the £20m paid to slave owners vary from £16.5 billion to £76 billion. A widely reported demand in 1999 was for $777 trillion to be paid to Africa over five years. More than ten years on, that would still be around ten times global GDP.


Who should be paid? Caricom is talking about compensation at a national level. Based on the numbers with slave ancestors, that would funnel the lion’s share of the money to America and Brazil—with a good slice to Brixton and Birmingham.

There is potential for divisive squabbles. In Trinidad and Guyana, descendants of Indian indentured labourers outnumber the black population. Sat Maharaj, Trinidad’s most prominent Hindu leader, argues that the Indo-Caribbean population also deserves compensation. He asks whether it should also come from Islamic countries that imported slaves, and from African countries where local merchants sold slaves to Europeans.

Most former slave colonies in the Caribbean are now fairly successful middle-income countries, or better. On a PPP basis, the Bahamas has a GDP per head close to that of Spain or Italy. Barbados scores higher on the UN Development Programme’s human-development index than any of its much larger South American neighbours. Jamaica and Guyana are less prosperous; but only Haiti ranks among the world’s poorest. Any assistance to the region should be carefully targeted; and should surely stem from today’s needs, not the wrongs of the past.

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For Orquesta Buena Vista, the ‘son’ also rises

orquesta-magAlejandro Perez

WE BE CLUBBIN’: Barbarito Torres, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, and Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

When Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa convened with a group of seasoned Cuban musicians and American guitarist Ry Cooder to record an album of Cuban son music for the World Circuit record label, he couldn’t have imagined that the project would become an international sensation that would endure for more than a decade.

But since its release in 1997, Buena Vista Social Club has grown into a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Hailed as the first internationally best-selling album of Cuban music — and one of the best-selling world music albums of all time — it has sold more than 8 million copies and spawned a number of offshoot solo albums and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars side project. Although the original lineup only performed two concerts together, a new configuration known as Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, featuring several surviving members of the original collective, is in the midst of a month-long U.S. tour.

“It’s almost addictive,” Ochoa says through an interpreter. “People respond to the music on so many levels.”

Ochoa, who’s been called “Cuba’s Johnny Cash” due to his dark jeans, cowboy boots, and status as a champion of his country’s traditional music, was one of the younger of the Buena Vista musicians, none of whom were particularly well known outside their native country when they got together. Likewise, son — a fusion of Spanish guitar and African percussion and rhythm, with roots stretching back to the early 20th century — was hardly in fashion at the time, especially in Cuba.

Both of those facts changed with the release of the album (and the 1999 Wim Wenders film of the same name, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature). In the wake of the album’s success, son experienced a resurgence in Cuba, as musicians scrambled to play the now-popular style for eager tourists.

In the states, the album danced its way to the top of the Billboard World Music, Latin Albums, and Tropical Albums charts, and made it to No. 80 on the magazine’s Top 200 chart. By the time Cooder took home a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance, the Buena Vista Social Club (named for a popular Cuban music club from the ’40s) had established itself as a brand — one that “has come to represent Cuban roots all around the world,” says Ochoa.

That worldwide popularity can be attributed to the label’s canny decision to market Buena Vista Social Club to fans of world music — a group that author and musician David Garlitz, in his book Tourist Songs: Cultural Tourism, The Buena Vista Social Club, and The Cuban Son, describes, not unkindly, as “middle-class white consumers” with “no previous knowledge of Cuban music” — at the expense of the Latin market in the United States and elsewhere, a demographic to whom Cuban sounds like son “are old news.”

That strategy certainly reaped dividends stateside. While U.S. familiarity with the music of Cuba had grown a bit thanks to a trio of early ’90s compilations released by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, Buena Vista Social Club was promoted as an archeological find, the discovery of a new (to many audiences, at least) and exotic musical form.

That’s not to suggest that the project’s whirlwind success was the result of a cynical cash-grab. Cooder himself has expressed amazement at the album’s remarkable performance. “Find me one reason why this would have been popular; there’s no logic. It’s just that it’s great, and everybody picked up on it,” he told the “Global Village” world music radio show.

And mainstream American audiences are uniquely susceptible to sales pitches that present unfamiliar forms of traditional music as an unexplored frontier (witness the similar reaction to the 2000 soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, with its mixture of folksy country, blues, gospel, and bluegrass sounds).

Instead, Ochoa attributes the ongoing popularity of the Buena Vista project to the deep respect he and the other musicians have for the source material. “We do what we do because we love it,” he says. “That love for traditional Cuban music comes through in a way that is bigger than us.”

Ochoa has kept plenty busy in the years since the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, recording on his own and with collaborators, including blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. In 2010, he recorded an album as part of the group AfroCubism, a cross-cultural foray comprising musicians from Cuba and Mali.

The experience, which Ochoa describes as “so rewarding — a historical milestone marking the brotherhood between Cuban and African music,” was the realization of a long-deferred dream that inadvertently gave birth to the Buena Vista phenomenon: The World Circuit label originally intended to pair Cuban and Malian musicians in Havana in 1996; the project switched gears to what became the Buena Vista sessions only after the Malian musicians couldn’t make it to Havana.

While a number of musicians who played on the Buena Vista Social Club album — including singer and guitarist Compay Segundo, bassist Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, pianist Rubén González, and singers Ibrahim Ferrer, Pío Leyva, and Manuel “Puntillita” Licea — are deceased, the 15-member Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club boasts original members Omara Portuondo (vocals), Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal (trumpet), and Barbarito Torres (laúd, a 12-string instrument in the lute family), in addition to Ochoa, known for his work on the tres, a Cuban six-string guitar.

As for the future, Ochoa has no new projects lined up, but he’s open to the idea of another AfroCubism album, and has voiced his support for a modern-day Buena Vista album with the current Orquesta lineup, as well. “There are no firm plans”, he says. “But there’s definitely a desire to do it. So who knows?”

While the future of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club is uncertain after the current tour wraps up, Ochoa remains confident that the Buena Vista name will continue in some form or another. “It never ends,” he says. “It has become a myth.”

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US says ‘No’ to Fly Jamaica, Caribbean Airlines direct GEO-NY flights

Chief Executive Officer of Fly Jamaica, Capt. Ronald Reece








Chief Executive Officer of Fly Jamaica, Capt. Ronald Reece

The United States Department of Transportation (Dot) has denied requests Caribbean Airlines and Fly Jamaica to fly direct from Georgetown to New York, saying the carriers did not provide compelling evidence that doing so will be in the public’s interest.

“In light of these existing Georgetown-New York services and the lack of a showing by the applicants on the record that there is a truly demonstrable need for additional Georgetown-New York services, we are unable to find that the CAL and Fly Jamaica seventh freedom turnaround proposals satisfy our public interest test for the type of extraordinary authority at issue,’ states the order dated September 30.

The Guyana government had hoped that the granting of flag carrier statuses to Caribbean Airlines and Fly Jamaica would have aided those airlines in offering cheaper direct flights from Georgetown to New York.

But the DoT said the applications did not pass the test that would have aided American authorities to conclude that a demonstrable need for the service exists, there would be a negligible impact on U.S. flag carriers, and the proposed operation is limited in scope. “Against that background, we have reviewed the applications of CAL and Fly Jamaica and determined that we cannot make the necessary public interest finding,” states DoT.

The US regulatory agency assured that the decisions would not affect Fly Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines’ flights to New York through Kingston and Port-of-Spain respectively.

Petitions against the order could be filed within seven days of that action although, according to DoT, filing of petitions would not alter its effectiveness which began Wednesday. Fly Jamaica’s Chief Executive Officer, Ronald Reece said no decision has been taken about whether to appeal the order. “They have seven days to appeal and we have not made a decision yet. The Board is still looking at it,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Two organisations-Airlines for America and the Air Line Pilots Association- had opposed the requests by the Fly Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines. Air Line Pilots Association has contended that oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago has been providing a “substantial fuel subsidy” to CAL “and at least one US carrier has ceased services in the market. For all of these reasons, the Department should deny these applications.”  The Trinidad and Tobago government has since announced that it would be scrapping the subsidy from next month. Airlines for America had stated that granting the applications will reward behaviours and policies in the region that have resulted in less choice because market distortions have resulted in the withdrawal of service on the route

The DoT in its order acknowledged concerns raised by ALPA and A4A pertaining to fuel subsidies paid to CAL but said “we have been advised through diplomatic channels that those subsidies have already ceased or will soon cease.”

Fly Jamaica hopes to use the one-stop in Kingston to its advantage by offering reasons to travel to that Caribbean island. They include concerts, festivals and games. Reece said the Kingston stop would also help intercept drugs that might leak through the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).

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