Sunday, April 14, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Leveraging reparations


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With the issue of reparations for Caribbean enslavement now adopted as part of the official work programme of CARICOM, the region has now crossed an important threshold in its long march to achieving historical justice. The idea of reparations, having been carried almost single-handedly by the isolated Rastafari movement, has now walked the full road of being accepted as a legitimate and reasonable political objective by officialdom. 
This confirms that progressive struggle is never futile.
However, now that reparations is now the responsibility of sovereign Caribbean states, it is important that the issue is not allowed to die from inertia, and that the issue is sufficiently enmeshed at the centre of Caribbean political decision-making to fully leverage its political possibilities.
At this current juncture, one of the obvious ways of achieving this is through our foreign policies. Indeed, the issue of reparations is naturally an “international relations” issue, given its concern with ensuring a dialogue between sovereign states, resolving the wrongs committed by one country against the citizens of another, and the guidelines of international law and international agreements and precedent which need to be brought to bear in resolving reparations questions.
Of concern, however, is the fact that Caribbean governments have been historically reluctant to use foreign policy creatively, boldly and fearlessly. Ideas of smallness, fear of reprisals and what Ralph Gonzalves called “learned helplessness” continue to define the manner in which Caribbean states interpret their foreign policy possibilities.
Civil society must galvanize itself to ensure that the reparations issue is not aborted at the hands of our tentative and insecure political directorates. Conversely, despite their obvious failures on the human rights front, most obvious of which include their unapologetic racism, biased incarceration practices and their historical crimes against humanity, the western powers have not only been largely successful in insulating themselves from global censure, but equally incredulously, champion themselves as global policemen and upholders of principles of universal morality.
Thus we have allowed other states to leverage “human rights” (now reduced to same-sex marriage) and other issues in their foreign policy stances towards us, while we have failed to utilize similar avenues for ourselves. The racist treatment of Afro and Indo-Caribbean populations in global capitals has seldom found its way into our international relations discourse. The one exception to this was our stance on apartheid in South Africa.
Today, in a world where the West is in crisis, and where other avenues for international support like China and Latin America currently exist, Caribbean governments should now be emboldened to leverage reparations as a basis for their trade and diplomatic relations, in much the same way that Argentina, for example, will use the Falklands issue as a basis for its friendships, its offer of diplomatic and voting support and the general conduct of its international relations.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.


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