by Lipton Matthews
IN October I wrote Part 1 to Reparations Debate Lost in Logic. Here is Part 2:
Many may not realize it, but those who argue for reparations are fighting a losing battle. European officials have made it quite clear that there is no intention on their part to compensate the descendants of slaves.
In a recent interview with Dutch reporters, noted academic Gert Oostindie stated that, “Europe is going to entertain the dialogue but they will not pay”.
His sentiments are not different from the Britain minister with responsibility for the Caribbean who made the following pronouncement:
“Do I think that we are in a position where we can financially offer compensation for events that happended two, three hundred years ago? No I don’t and I think we’ve got to focus on where our commonalities agree and I think that is eradicating slavery as it exists today, also building on the importance of driving the economy and economic development and economic growth.”
Another major problem with reparations is that we really don’t know who are the defendants, for example research is being conducted to ascertain the role played by Swiss and Russian slavers in the Transatlantic slave trade, but mere fact that a few private individuals supported slavery does not allow one to sue any of these states.
Emotive positions on reparations are irrelevant, slavery was a legal institution in the Caribbean and essentially a private business. Some argue that it is only fair to compensate the descendants of slaves since groups like the Mau-Mau and Japanese-Canadians have received settlements for past atrocities, but in both instances the state enforced heinous crimes and compensated the victims.
Slavery however was an independent enterprise. As there is no statute of limitation barring a crime against humanity, proponents of reparations are saying that although slavery was a private matter, the state condoned it, therefore their quest for compensation is quite reasonable. But this retrospective application of criminal law makes no sense.
Slavery was not unique to the enslavement of Blacks, nor was the horror meted out to slaves. For example, slaves in ancient Rome were often torn to pieces by savage animals in order to appease their masters and cheering crowds in the Colosseum. For hundreds of years the Vikings enslaved the Slavs (the origin of the word ‘slave’) in Eastern Europe. Russia had an empire of Soviet satellite states, including nations in Eastern Europe for decades resulting in the death of tens of millions. You will not see present day descendants of these groups asking for reparations because it is too absurd.
Furthermore, many of the descendants of European slavers are no longer wealthy, and modern Europeans whose ancestors played no role in slavery should not be forced to finance the bill for reparations.
Supporters of reparations should focus their energies on wealthy descendants of slave owners (especially those here in the Caribbean) and Africans governments since their earlier leaders allowed the slave trade to flourish. It is hypocritical to demand reparations from Europe, when the African kingdoms of Oyo and Abomey benefitted significantly from the slave trade.
According to one commentator in a recent piece: “While Europe invested profits from the trade in laying the foundation of a powerful economic empire, African kings and traders were content with wearing used caps and admiring themselves in worthless mirrors while swigging adulterated brandy brought with the freedom of their kinsmen.” Is it fair to say that blacks have always preferred pomp and pageantry, over actual work.
Even if we received reparations, the Maroons are not entitled to any compensation, because the British already provided them with the Cockpit country and their ancestors were not enslaved. I agree with Kavon, the demands for reparations are an absurd notion and we should forget about it.
Just read some of my other colleagues’ pieces (The Case Against Reparations Part 1 and Part 2; and Fighting From His Grave Too?) published previously to get a clearer picture on where Right From Yaad stands on this issue.
Lipton Matthews is a first year law student and is unusual in being a young Jamaican Libertarian-Conservative who believes in the virtues of Capitalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org