Reparations debate: Diabetes, hypertension among colonial legacies
UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles said colonial powers left the Caribbean in a mess and development reparations are needed.
Sir Hilary Beckles says Jamaica and Barbados are the amputation capitals of the world per capita thanks to the legacy of colonialisation.
Speaking on the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) virtual media engagement on Monday, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies said Britain and Europe walked away from the mess they created and left it to the leadership of Caribbean Governments and civil society.
Among their legacies, he said, is a pandemic of chronic diseases in the Caribbean.
“The hypertension, the diabetic pandemic collectively has constituted a threat to the existence of Caribbean societies. Over 60 percent of all Caribbean people over the age of 60 have hypertension and diabetes or both. The Caribbean is the diabetic and hypertensive centre of the world. Barbados and Jamaica are considered the amputation capital of the world as a result of complications arising from diabetes.
“More amputations are committed in the Caribbean per capita than any other part of the world. For 300 years the people of this region were forced to consume a diet based on what we produced, sugar. In this part of the world, sugar was not consumed as a sweetener, it was consumed as a meal, as part of the dietary plan. If we take the marker of chronic diseases, the black people in the Caribbean are the sickest in the world on a per capital basis, this is a direct consequence and legacy of slavery and colonisation,” he said.
Making his case for reparations, Sir Beckles looked at other legacies of colonialism such as the creation of slums, the lack of industrialisation and poor academic infrastructures, all of which newly independent Governments had to address.
Calling on Britain to accept, recognise and honour the debt owed to the Caribbean, Sir Beckles said: “Reparatory justice is about development. That Britain and Europe do indeed owe a debt to this region, a debt that is recognise,d that can be computed, that is historically sound in terms of its legitimacy,” he said.
Sir Beckles called for a three-day reparations summit to discuss the debt owed to the Caribbean which should include conversations between Governments, conversations with the private sector and conversations with civil society institutions such as the Church of England which owned slaves.
He made it clear that the discussion was not just about chattel slavery but the decimation of the first people and the indentureship of East Indians and other people from parts of Europe and Asia.
“There is no carpet in the world that is large enough to conceal and contain the legacy that must now be confronted and removed,” he said.
In her presentation, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said to walk the talk the continued agitation, as well as education of Caribbean people everywhere, is critical so they could sensitise persons in their communities.
“Similarly our ability to be able to ask formally for the discussions and contextualise that for us that reparations is not just simply about money but it is also about justice and even in the space that allows us to have the policy flexibility to be able to deal with a lot of what we are dealing with,” she said.
Mottley said post-Independence, Caribbean countries were not given a development compact that allowed us to be able to move off.
“We were given political independence, we were given the power to make laws and make laws we did to reverse the legal trappings of discrimination and bigotry for the most part. But the trappings were not just legal, the trappings were psychological, the trappings were sociological in terms of the breaking up of our families, the trappings led to a destruction of trust, the most important virtue in the building of families, communities and nations,” she said.
Mottley said we cannot go further unless there is a reckoning that places an apology and an acknowledgment that wrong was done and the extraction of centuries of wealth and the destruction of people in a way that must never happen again.
She said after the first phase which is an apology, the second phase has to be development.
“The scale that would lead to transformation depends on an international compact for the Caribbean,” she said, noting that COVID-19 has led to a doubling and quadrupling of expenditure.
“We have to recognise that what this Caribbean is going through over the course of this pandemic threatens to undermine the viability of our States for the medium term. Why? Because if we have to borrow money now to stabilise our condition, when the pandemic goes you are already hearing that the region is already highly indebted so therefore any borrowing that comes is only to preclude our ability to remain focused do any development post-pandemic,” she said.
Calling for a Caribbean Marshall Plan, Mottley said we do not have the stability to easily move to the next level carrying the debt.
“I believe that the combination of the validity of the reparations argument, the evidence that clearly shows that there was no bank account left with us at the point of independence, there was no development compact and far from that, there was the legitimate expectation by our people that independent governments would right the wrongs of the past and would do so quickly by giving people opportunity.
“When we understand all of that, we understand that the combination of the appropriateness of reparations argument as well as the reality of the economic implosion that taking place due to the pandemic requires that we have urgent, different conversations to understand a world rooted in immorality or people profiting from crimes against humanity runs counter to the democratic level that we ask small and large states to reflect in an appropriate democracy.”