David Cameron said that the agreement would mean “Jamaican criminals are sent back home to serve their sentences, saving the British taxpayer millions of pounds but still ensuring justice is done.”
But what kind of justice is this? The whole deal is weighted in Britain’s favour. Even the £25 million on offer will be taken out of Britain’s aid budget which is supposed to be used for alleviating poverty and distress. But this is typical of Britain’s cavalier attitude to justice in the Caribbean for more than 400 years. It was back in 1562 that Sir John Hawkins began the British slave trade, taking the first 300 captive Africans across to the Americas. The Spanish had been involved in this trade for many years but the British soon overtook them as the leading European slaving nation some of whom were brought to Britain which prompted the first Race Relations Act in British history. The first Act was not in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II in 1962, but during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1596. It was worded thus,
“Her Majesty understanding that there are of late divers blackamoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are alreadie too manie, consideringe howe God hath blessed this land with great increase of people of our owne nation… These kinde of people should be sent forth of the lande.” (Acts of the Privy Council, 11 August 1596)
It was said that the stench of an approaching a slave ship could be smelt in Kingston Jamaica two days before its arrival. The monstrous inhumanity of the Atlantic crossing that could take up to 3 months when facing contrary winds was followed by the unspeakable cruelty facing the Africans on the slave plantations of the Caribbean islands – all to feed the insatiable appetite for sugar in Britain. By 1800 some two thirds of the British economy was in some way dependent upon slavery and most Members of both Houses of Parliament were involved in the trade or plantation ownership.
Even the Act of Emancipation in 1833 was laced with grotesque injustice for the Africans. The British Government paid £20 million to the 46,000 owners of slaves in Britain for the loss of their ‘property’– that is £17 billion in today’s money – but not a single penny to the Africans themselves who had suffered centuries of cruelty, oppression, loss of freedom, identity, culture, language and personal dignity. Even their African names were taken from them, which is why Caribbeans all have the names of their former British owners today: part of the legacy of slavery they still bear.
But our Prime Minister refuses even to discuss reparations. I have lived and worked among African Caribbeans for much of my life and I know that what most of them would like is not the distribution of a pot of money but for Britain to lead the way in investing in the future of the Caribbean Islands by stimulating the economy; helping small businesses; promoting education; founding a University with educational grants for bright students. This is the way we could help to compensate for the gross injustice the islands have suffered for hundreds of years. This would be the most effective way of expressing our remorse for the way our forebears built the cities of London, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham as well as the great country houses of the rich on the proceeds of slavery. But to offer to help build a prison is to rub salt in the wounds of those whose lives we destroyed: it is adding insult to injury.
Dr Clifford Hill