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Caribbean countries seek retribution for Atlantic slave drive

| Thursday, July 25, 2013, 6:57 p.m.

MIAMI — Leaders of more than a dozen Caribbean countries are undertaking a united effort to seek compensation from three European nations for what they say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Caribbean Community, a regional organization that typically focuses on rather dry issues such as economic integration, has taken up the cause of compensation for slavery and the genocide of native peoples, and is preparing for what would likely be a drawn-out battle with the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands.

Caricom, as the organization is known, has enlisted the help of a prominent British human rights law firm and is beginning a reparations commission to press the issue, said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who has been leading the effort.

The legacy of slavery includes widespread poverty and the lack of development that characterizes most of the region, Gonsalves said, adding that any settlement should include a formal apology, but contrition alone would not be sufficient.

The notion of forcing the countries that benefited from slavery to pay reparations has been a decades-long quest. Individual countries including Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda had national commissions. Earlier this month, leaders from the 14 Caricom nations voted unanimously at a meeting in Trinidad to wage a joint campaign that those involved say would be more ambitious than any previous effort.

They brought on the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

Caribbean officials have not mentioned a specific monetary figure, but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, mentioned the fact that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today.

“Our ancestors got nothing,” Shepherd said. “They got their freedom, and they were told, ‘Go develop yourselves.' ”

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