A noted Dutch historian, Gert Oostindie, has warned Caribbean leaders that they should not expect much from their reparation claims against Europe, even as they adopted a plan to further pursue the issue on Monday.
“Europe is going to entertain the dialogue, but they will not pay,” Oostindie told the Dutch television station, NOS, on Tuesday.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders now winding up their two-day intersession have adopted a 10-point reparatory justice framework, presented by professor Sir Hillary Beckles, head of CARICOM’s Reparations Commission.
The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the host and CARICIM chairman, said the framework comprises “issues relating to things which have been talked about all the time like an apology, the question of organizing with African countries and those persons who want to have reparations, matters relating to health, education and literacy, building the cultural institutions and matters concerning a special program for the development of the indigenous people.”
At least 14 CARICOM member states have set up national reparations commissions, even as some Europeans countries against which claims are being made have said that they will not pay compensation for slavery and native genocide.
Gonsalves said Caribbean countries are hoping to hold talks with Europe in June on the issue.
Oostindie, who is director of the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, Netherlands, and whose primary areas of interest are Caribbean and Dutch colonial history, said he could understand why the Caribbean countries were making the move.
“(At the same time) the countries that experience slavery know that the European nations will never offer excuses. If those would be expressed, it could lead to financial claims and that is not a risk European countries want to run.
“Nonetheless, some of the former slave states feel that they are entitled to compensation; many of them are poor; some very poor. They blame slavery and are of the opinion that development aid is warranted,” he said.
Oostindie said the Caribbean leaders want Europe to acknowledge its role in slavery.
“They want unconditional acknowledgement and a dialogue with the former colonizers. I understand that, because so far the European nations have not wanted to discuss it and stopped short of expressing sorry,” he said.
Ooostindie said that in a recent discussion with a British ambassador to the Caribbean, he was told that it was not likely that the United Kingdom would pay any financial compensation.
“The ambassador told me, ‘We will not be avoiding the dialogue, but we will not be talking about money. We have to look toward the future.'”
As for the Netherlands, he named Suriname as an “important factor” in the pending suit from the Caribbean.
Among the initiators of this is the Surinamer Armand Zunder, who a few years ago wrote a book that says that Suriname is owed at least Euro 50 million (One Euro = US$1.29) by the Netherlands.