Caribbean should not expect much from reparations claims says Dutch historian

“Europe is going to entertain the dialogue, but they will not pay,” Professor Gert Oostindie told the Dutch television station, NOS, on Tuesday.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders now winding up their two-day intersessional have adopted a 10-point reparatory justice framework, presented by Professor Sir Hillary Beckles, head of CARICOM’s Reparations Commission.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the host and CARICOM cahirman said the framework comprises “basically issues relating to things which have been talked about all the time like an apology, the question of organising with African countries and those persons who want to have reparations, matters relating to health, education and literacy, building the cultural institutions and matters concerning a special programme for the development of the indigenous people…”

At least 14 CARICOM member states have set up national reparations commission even as some Europeans countries against which claims are being made have said that they will not pay compensation for slavery and native genocide. 

Gonsalves said Caribbean countries are hoping to hold talks with Europe in June on the issue.

But, Oostindie, who is director of the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden and whose primary areas of interest are Caribbean and Dutch colonial history, said he could understand why the Caribbean countries were making the move.

“(At the same time) the countries that experiences slavery know that the European nations will never offer excuses. If those would be expressed, it could lead to financial claims and that is not a risk European countries want to run.

“Nonetheless some of the former slave states feel that they are entitlted to compensation; many of them are poor; some very poor. They blame slavery and are of the opinion that development aid is warranted,” he said.

Oostindie said the Caribbean leaders want Europe to acknowledge its in slavery.

“They want unconditional acknowledgement and a dialogue with the former colonizers. I understand that, because so far the European nations have not wanted to discuss it and stopped short of expressing sorry,” he said.

Ooostindie said that in a recent discussion with a British ambassador to the Caribbean he was told that it was not likely that the United Kingdom would pay any financial compensation.

“The ambassador told me ‘we will not be avoiding the dialogue, but we will not be talking about money. We have to look toward the future.”

As for the Netherlands, he named Suriname as an “important factor” in the pending suit from the Caribbean.

“Among the initiators of this is the Surinamer Armand Zunder who a few years ago wrote a book that says that Suriname is owed at least Euro 50 million (One Euro = US$1.29 cents) by the Netherlands.

“ This shows that it is not just about acknowledgement, but also about money. And as far as the Netherlands is concerned, this is not an option, and Suriname knows that. Even President Bouterse is on record as saying ‘let’s forget this matter,” Ooostindie said.

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