British Prime Minister David Cameron is headed to Jamaica, where he will discuss trade with the island nation and former British colony, and address the parliament. Despite calls that the UK pay billions of dollars in reparations to Jamaica for the horrors of slavery, Cameron reportedly will have none of it.
However, although he will not atone for the sins of his country in enslaving Africans, the prime minister will build a prison in Jamaica.
Cameron does not believe apologies or reparations for slavery are the right way to go, as reported in the Guardian. Already, the issue has dominated the prime minister’s visit. Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission and vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, urged Cameron to “play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire,” as many Caribbean nations are overwhelmed from the inherited mess of slavery and colonialism.
“We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal,” Sir Hilary wrote in an open letter in the Jamaica Observer. “The continuing suffering of our people, Sir, is as much your nation’s duty to alleviate as it is ours to resolve in steadfast acts of self-responsibility.”
The Jamaican academic called the prime minister “an internal stakeholder with historically assigned credentials,” given his family’s long history in Jamaica.
“To us, therefore, you are more than a prime minister. You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors,” Beckles wrote.
Beckles also reminded the prime minister that “the Caribbean region was once your nation’s unified field for taxation, theatre for warfare, and space for the implementation of trade law and policy. Seeing the region as one is therefore in your diplomatic DNA, and this we urge that you remember.”
In March 2014, CARICOM unanimously approved a 10-point plan for slavery reparations. In its preamble, the plan asserts that European governments:
• Were owners and traders of enslaved Africans
• Instructed genocidal actions upon indigenous communities
• Created the legal, financial and fiscal policies necessary for the enslavement of Africans
• Defined and enforced African enslavement and native genocide as in their ‘national interests’
• Refused compensation to the enslaved with the ending of their enslavement
• Compensated slave owners at emancipation for the loss of legal property rights in enslaved Africans
• Imposed a further one hundred years of racial apartheid upon the emancipated
• Imposed for another one hundred years policies designed to perpetuate suffering upon the emancipated and survivors of genocide
• And have refused to acknowledge such crimes or to compensate victims and their descendants
In July, 14 Caribbean nations filed lawsuits against Britain, France and the Netherlands for slavery reparations in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The suits target the nations for, respectively, slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, Haiti and Suriname, as reported by Al Jazeera America.
Dr. Robert Beckford, a British academic theologian, calculated that Britain extracted an estimated £4 trillion from the Caribbean in unpaid labor, £2.5 trillion in unjust enrichment to the British economy, and an additional £1 trillion in pain and suffering, according to the Jamaica Observer. This amounts to a total of £7.5 trillion, of which Jamaica is owed 30.6 per cent, or £2.3 trillion (which is J$413.6 trillion and US$3.5 trillion).
Meanwhile, when Britain abolished slavery, it provided reparations not to slaves, but £17 billion in compensation to slave owners in today’s terms. The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in the country’s history until the 2009 bank bailout, notes the Guardian, and slave ownership was far more common than has been presumed. Moreover, the 800,000 emancipated Africans, who received nothing, picked up part of the tab, as they were forced to work 45 hours of free labor each week for four years after they were supposedly freed.
The large slave owners of the “West India interest” owned enormous estates and made massive fortunes over Black slave labor. The slave owner who was compensated the most was John Gladstone, the father of Victorian prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstone, who owned 2,508 slaves in nine plantations, was paid £106,769, or £80m in modern terms, the Guardian reported. Charles Blair, the great-grandfather of George Orwell, was paid £4,442, the modern equivalent of £3m, for the 218 African men and women he owned as chattel. Further, the records show that ancestors of Prime Minister Cameron, novelist Graham Greene, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott all received compensation for slaves, along with so many thousands of other slave owners, large and small.
“The PM’s point will be he wants to focus on the future. We are talking about issues that are centuries old and taken under a different government when he was not even born. He wants to look at the future and how can the UK play a part now in stronger growing economies in the Caribbean,” said a UK government official, as quoted by the Guardian.
However, the U.K. will allocate £25 million ($37.9 million) of its foreign aid budget to help build a prison in Jamaica. The British government will pay for 40 percent of the facility, according to Time magazine, in which Jamaican prisoners prosecuted in the U.K. will spend their sentences.
“It is absolutely right that foreign criminals who break our laws are properly punished but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the hardworking British taxpayer,” Cameron said in a statement. “And it will help Jamaica, by helping to provide a new prison – strengthening their criminal justice system.”
The British Empire enslaved Black people and compensated slave owners, and will pay to keep Black people imprisoned today, yet it will not pay the trillions it stole from Black people in order to build its enormous wealth.