Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Sir Hilary Beckles, has once again called on Britain to come back to the table to discuss reparatory justice for the Caribbean economy.
He was giving the feature address at a recently held Symposium to honor the life and work of St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Sir Arthur Lewis, held virtually this week. The symposium was hosted by the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in collaboration with the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee and the Nobel Laureates Festival Committee, Saint Lucia on 15 June. The event included numerous prominent scholars, economists and public officials who paid tribute to Saint Lucian-born economist and Nobel Prize winner, Sir William Arthur Lewis. Former Governor General of St. Lucia and Chair, of the Nobel Laureates Festival Committee Dame Pearlette Louisy, was also present and gave welcoming remarks.
According to Sir Hilary, Britain should come back to the table to discuss what Arthur Lewis had asked for in 1939: A reparations package for the Caribbean based upon the 200 years of unpaid labour that has enriched Britain. He said Caribbean governments had exerted heroic efforts in the last 50 to 60 years to clean up Britain’s colonial mess as a precondition for economic development and transformation.
“That colonial mess has largely overwhelmed the Caribbean. Poverty has been increasing. Slum habitation has now revealed the extent of it and the immorality of Britain exiting the Caribbean on the cheap and within the context of punishing the Caribbean,” stated Beckles.
“We are asking for a return to the Lewis model where a Marshall plan must be rolled up for the Caribbean that includes the cancellation of all debt, investment in education, investment in public health, cleaning up the mess of ghettoisation of the people of the Caribbean,” he said.
Speaking more about Arthur Lewis’ work, Sir Hilary explained that in 1939 when Lewis wrote the development model for the region, he already understood that the worker’s movement had matured intellectually. He noted that Lewis suggested that what was needed was drastic action to increase economic development activity, the distribution of the wealth, and fundamental economic reform.
According to Beckles, Lewis maintained that Britain had a duty to fund economic reform because the Caribbean contributed millions to the wealth of Great Britain, a debt which Britain had yet to repay. That, he said, was the core of the Lewis model.
Senior Fellow at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Patricia Northover, who also made a presentation at the symposium, spoke to the issue of reparations through what she referred to as the lens of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Her presentation was entitled “Rethinking With Lewis the Problem of Reparations: The Question of Race, Primitive Accumulation and the Character of Reparatory Justice”.
In her presentation, Northover posited that Lewis established and demonstrated his critical interest in black lives and aligned himself to the revolutionary tides of Caribbean labour movements. According to her, in his own three-part movement in discussing the situation of labour in the British West Indies, Lewis first acted as a witness for objective black lives, then as an active voice for their labour movement, and finally he positioned himself to ask the question, “what is to be done?”.
Further, she noted that slavery was an evil for which there could be no monetary compensation.
“Reparatory justice claims are rooted in a structure of irredeemable damage. The response in seeking it cannot rest only on a backwards looking sense of repair, but rather has to be a forward looking concept of transformation and restorative justice. Indeed, I wish to suggest here that the debts owing for the injuries suffered in an irreversible process of cumulative causation to the present, are not principally for Lewis economic or financial,” she stated.
She maintained that reparatory justice was not framed in terms of a monetary calculus of accounting, but rather Lewis framed it as a recognition of a wrong and the moral and political imperative to make amends.
The symposium was one of the CRC’s outreach activities for 2020 to raise awareness of the regional reparations agenda and to focus on the 200 years of unpaid labour referenced by Lewis as the basis for reparatory justice, and as a foundation for independent, sustainable development across the Caribbean.