IN HIS SPEECH TO THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY on 27 September this year, Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of the Caribbean island country Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, did not shy away from controversial subjects. He discussed the global failure to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, criticised the United States’ economic blockade against Cuba, addressed international failures in Syria and Haiti, and expressed hope about negotiations over the Israel–Palestine situation. He then turned his attention to a particularly thorny issue: that of former colonising countries in Europe paying reparations for their past involvement in slave ownership. “The historic wrongs of African slavery, and their continuing consequences, must be righted, must be repaired, in the interest of our people’s humanisation,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves first raised the issue of reparations in 2011, the UN’s “International Year for People of African Descent”. In 2014, he will take over the leadership of Caricom, an alliance of 15 Caribbean nations, and his speech in New York this year signalled his intention to ramp up efforts to claim compensation for slavery for the people of his region.
Caricom was established in 1973 as an economic and political alliance to promote development and cooperation among its members. It has been criticised over the years for failing to achieve this; in 2010, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper said the organisation had “failed to plan, contrive, or achieve an economic breakthrough”, and this year it published an article by Ronald Mason, a Jamaican lawyer, titled ‘Kick Caricom to the kerb’. Gonsalves himself criticised the body in 2010 for having “a serious lack of leadership”.