“It is the defining matter of our age,” said the prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, as he peers out towards the Atlantic from the veranda of his family’s secluded villa in the grounds of an old plantation on the main island, St Vincent.
The outspoken 67-year-old, who often refers to himself as “Comrade Ralph”, has been in office for almost 13 years. He says his attempt to seek not only an apology but money from those European powers that built fortunes through the trafficking of slaves across the ocean in front of him is his moral duty. And it is one he pledges to devote his energies to as he prepares to assume the leadership of Caricom, the organization that unites the key Caribbean states.
“We believe we have the facts on our side. We believe we have the law on our side,” he tells the Observer. “International law is there to resolve disputes between strong states and weaker ones.”
For several decades, activists, academics and cultural leaders have sought compensation from European governments for the role they played in abducting slaves from central and West Africa, packing them in gruesome conditions in ships and forcing those that survived the journey to work in the hugely profitable sugar plantations of the Caribbean.
To date, those efforts have not succeeded. But last June supporters of the reparation movement were emboldened by an approximately $30 million out-of-court payment made by the U.K. to victims of British colonial forces in Kenya.
Lawyers had argued that Britain was legally responsible for the brutal suppression and torture carried out against the anti-colonial group, the Mau Mau ,in the 1950s. The foreign secretary, William Hague, publicly expressed regret for the abuses, although the U.K. government never formally accepted responsibility for the actions of the administration in Kenya.
Now Gonsalves has instructed Leigh Day, the same London law firm that acted for the former Mau Mau, to represent Caricom in a joint action against the U.K., France and the Netherlands. He says that, while other countries may have been involved, the European countries cited were “the main culprits”.
Read the complete story on the Guardian