UWI Fulbright Scholar Interviews Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Reparations

“…question of righting historical wrongs…scars still persist-there is pain and suffering arising from the legacy of native genocide and African slavery”

The Honorable Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been a leading proponent of reparations for native genocide and African slavery in the Caribbean. The “…legacies (of slavery) are directly tied to modes of operation and the economic arm of European capitalism.”

As a child growing up in St. Vincent, he witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of colonialism in the limited opportunities, dilapidated housing, limited health care, sanitation and education of the population.

Often asked why he doesn’t include indentured servants in the claim, he replied, “…they, including his own parentage, came voluntarily”.  Along with the HPM’s pursuit of a political career, he is an academician and it was through his studies that he became enlightened on the ills of colonialism, under-development and exploitation of the world’s population.

Most significant to him is the extent colonialism has penetrated and shaped the minds of the colonized, this he sees as the major challenge to the reparations struggle.  As a forty-nine-year political activist, Gonsalves began his quest to seek reparations from Britain in particular with the convening of the World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Discrimination (WCAR) in 2001 where Sir Hilary Beckles and Mia Motley represented St. Vincent on his behalf.  The Europeans then stated that the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery “should” be declared crimes against humanity”.

Following WCAR, the Prime Minister delivered a number of speeches on the subject and penned The Case for Reparations and Slavery. In addition, he hosted a historic meeting reparations and convinced CARICOM (Caribbean Community of Twenty States) to endorse a “Ten Point Plan” for reparations in March of 2014.  CARICOM then established a Reparations Commission (CRC) and appointed Freundal Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados to head that effort; agreed to retain the legal services of Leigh Day that litigated the Kenyan Mau Mau case and enlisted the expertise of Sir Hilary Beckles as Co-Chair of CRC.

Since then, a letter has been sent to the British Foreign Affairs office asking them to “…formally acknowledge the regions demand for payment for the trans-Atlantic slave trade”; however, the response did not “embrace reparations”.

The next step is the filing of a law suit in the International Court of Justice.  The Prime Minister asserted that much work is to be done in educating the population on reparations and breaking through the barrier of the “colonial political mind”.  HPM Ralph Gonsalves stated that he does “…not live in history” but in order to “come home to ourselves we have to know our history and use it for our upliftment”.

Dr. Ife Williams, from Delaware County Community College in Media, Pennsylvania, is a Fulbright Fellow presently conducting research on Reparations in the Caribbean at the University of West Indies, Cavehill.