Caribbean nations demand payment for slavery-era damages

Will Britain, France and the Netherlands pay up?


Phil Moore / AFP / Getty Images

What is the legacy of slavery—in dollars? Some 175 years after Britain freed its last slaves, 14 Caribbean nations are demanding financial compensation for the legacy of centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM)—an alliance of former British colonies, Haiti (a former French colony) and Suriname (a former Dutch one)—are already tallying and cataloguing slavery-era damages. They demand that Britain, France and the Netherlands issue an official apology for slavery—and then pay up.

“[Our] 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,” said Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. That sentiment was echoed by Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: “Look, the Germans paid the Jews . . . ”

Things got rolling in July, when each country agreed to set up a National Reparations Committee. Last month, CARICOM held a Regional Reparations Conference, where attendees discussed slavery’s broad and varied legacy. The group has hired Leigh Day & Co., the London-based law firm that recently represented a group of Kenyans in their successful compensation case against Britain, over the use of torture by British colonial officers in the 1950s. Lawyer Martyn Day tells Maclean’s that CARICOM’s “intention is to see whether an amicable solution can be reached.” But if a negotiated settlement fails, Day will take the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Britain officially ended its slave trade in 1807, but it did not free its last slaves in the Caribbean until 1838. Over the centuries, Britain shipped some 3.4 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean as slaves.

But Europe’s fallen empires and chastened superpowers have long been loath to acknowledge past wrongdoings. Willy Brandt—the former West German chancellor who, in 1970, famously fell to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto monument—remains one of the exceptions.

Indeed, critics charge that the Caribbean group’s threats will amount to little—and that Britain is not legally liable for centuries-old claims. Others insist that Caribbean nations already receive compensation: in the form of development aid. To make its case valid, says Martyn Day, CARICOM must focus on the present-day legacy of slavery—rather than the suffering of long-deceased slaves.

The Caribbean lobby has yet to place a dollar value on its grievances—but a number of commentators have urged it to look back to 1833, when Britain’s Parliament ordered compensation for former slave owners to the tune of $33 million—which was a staggering 40 per cent of government expenditures.


Caribbean nations demand payment for slavery-era damages

  1. Mongolia had better watch out. If these Caribbean countries are successful then most countries in Asia might realize that they’ve got a good case to demand reparations from Mongolia for atrocities committed by the Mongolian Empire during the time of Genghis Khan.

    • Apparently a remarkably high percentage of people carry the genes of Genghis himself… a prolific porker of women folk.

  2. Not going to happen. Maybe something symbolic like a university or a hospital but that’s it.

    The US is concerned about former slaves and reparations too.

  3. And I certainly hope Africa pays up too. After all, they were selling the slaves to begin with, no?

    • No.

      • The slavers didn’t go to Africa to capture slaves, they bought them from the coastal tribes who did all the grunt work to catch them in the first place.

        • Greeks and Romans had slaves. So did Celts. So did everyone else. The Bible tells you how to look after your slaves.

          Slavery was actually a step forward….POWs were previously unknown….everybody just got slaughtered. Slavery saved lives although it wasn’t how anybody wanted to live.

          Excess slaves got sold. White Americans bought black slaves…it was considered Bible-approved.

          Not the kind of behavior expected from a nation of the Enlightenment …which considers all humans equal….but the US could never have made it without slaves. They just didn’t know when to quit. They still don’t.

          There are millions of slaves today.

          But why you’d blame illiterate tribespeople in Africa selling off POWs to Americans who knew better….well……….

          • You might want to cast blame, but I just reaffirmed that the slave takers were in fact Africans.

          • Some were. Some were Brits. Some were Americans. Some came from other countries. There was a boom in what was a minor trade before. There were even custom orders. Made the Africans look like pikers

          • Nope, the vast majority were africans.

            The yanks and brits and frogs would not mount expeditions to go inland for slaves.

            Why would they when the slaves were right on the coast, ready to be purchased?

          • Flash: Egyptians sold Egyptians, Greeks sold Greeks, Muslims sold Christians, and Christians sold Muslims.

            The English sold hundreds of thousands of Irish into slavery in the Caribbean and NA.

          • ????

            I would be surprised to find even one Egyptian or Greek slave having been sent to the Caribbean.

            You’ve wandered off course.

          • Mmm noooo I believe you need that talk with your family.

          • Well, if you really think there were Greek and Egyptian slaves in the Caribbean, try finding an historical record of any of them. Or even just one.

          • This is the reason you need that talk.

            I said nothing of the sort….you are simply now incapable of seeing the pattern here, and have misconnected points.

          • I pointed out that Africans caught the slaves that were brought to the Caribbean, the place dealt with in this article.

            You started in on Egyptian, Greek, Celt, and other slaves… however none of these folks had or have any relevance to the ones brought to the Caribbean. The place dealt with in this article.

            You wandered away on some path of your own, for whatever motivations you might have had.

          • And I pointed out that humans have sold slaves for thousands of years….all colours of them. Everywhere. It is not something exclusive to black people…or FN for that matter.

            Nice white Englishmen sold nice white Irish to the Caribbean and NA….hundreds of thousands of them.

            So there goes white supremacy.

          • What are you on about now?

            None of those slaves, except the ones bought from coastal Africans, are involved with the Caribbean.

            This story is not a comparison of different slaving techniques or cultures from time to time or from place to place.

          • The Irish could sue the English for slavery reparations. Don’t be blaming Africans for what everyone else….including us….did.

          • I would only blame Africans, if at all, for the slavery they themselves conducted.

            But the ‘blame’ concept is something you have introduced which was absent from my remarks.

            I offered no blame, made no complaint, and merely pointed out that despite your protest, Africans were indeed the ones catching the slaves that came to the Caribbean.

          • Well I’m afraid they weren’t.

            But even if they were…..that doesn’t excuse the US from building their nation on slaves.

            Slaves even built the WH.

            ‘Land of the free’ and ‘all men are created equal’ my foot.

            They are still waving the Confederate flag in DC.

          • Who weren’t what, Emily?

            You’ve scattered your remarks into so many different areas that it’s difficult to track that to which what you’re relating.

            There’s no excuse (nor defense) been offered for anybody’s slaving practices in this conversation; you’re the only one bringing up that idea.

            Meanwhile, the west African tribes did catch and sell slaves to the slave traders, despite your denials.

            It is a well documented practice and an inherent part of the famous triangle trade, where goods were taken to Africa to trade for slaves, slaves taken to the Caribbean to trade for sugar products, Rum and molasses taken back to Britain to trade for more goods for Africa… with the shippers getting a slice of profit on every leg of the journey.

            The US entered into the triangle after a while, either as recipient of the rum or directly of the slaves, with cotton and other products being taken back to Britain. And again the shippers making sure of a nice slice for themselves on every leg.

          • It’s only difficult for YOU to track…..that’s why I’m telling you to get help from your family.

          • You could intend to mean that the English weren’t Irish, for example.

            But just “they weren’t” is too small a fragment when it could apply to many things.

            Your penchant for introducing new and unrelated matters into discussions means that any or all of the various assumptions I might make as to your meaning could be wrong.

            I’m assuming here that you meant Africans were not catching slaves and selling them. And I answered under that assumption. Now if in fact you had some other idea, maybe about Greek or Arab slavery, then you need to make it clearer.

          • You are a very confused older man….and while I have sympathy for you….for your own safety, talk to your family.

  4. One side of my family was forced out of Scotland during the highland clearances. Do you think I have a shot at getting anything?

    • One side of mine suffered the same fate. Others of my ancestors were driven from France in 1685 and deprived of their property for being protestants (Huguenot), or driven from the colony of New York for being patriotic in 1783.

      • Hi GlynnMhor,
        Although being driven from their highland farm and coming to Canada to live in a mud/grass hut with freezing winters, breaking untouched land, no hospitals or schools, made my family the tough pioneers that they were. They helped build a country from the ground up and gave a legacy that I and my present family are proud of.
        You should be proud too……….Bless you!

  5. These Caricom countries have some of the highest sex slavery/human trafficking stats in the world. What will Caricom do for their own victims?

  6. I wonder if those in my extended family who starved in Ireland can get some bucks too?

    Remember, those who complain about coming from Africa in chains – they were very often caught by their own kind and sold to the slavers – quite like they still do today. Yeah, it is always the white guys fault. LOL

    How be we offer those in the Carib Islands who are looking for yet another free meal ticket – one way tickets back to Africa?

    Good riddance to yet another complete society of “Living in the past”.

    If they want to live their traditional life – then I say put them back – they will not be missed.

  7. Entitlement culture at its finest.

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