The compensation given to slave owners after emancipation in 1833 was the biggest bailout by the state until banking crisis – and David Cameron’s family benefited.

David Cameron, whose family benfitted from compensation paid to slave owners after abolition

David Cameron, whose family benfitted from compensation paid to slave owners after abolition

Ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron’s first-ever visit to Jamaica, the British government is facing growing demands to apologize and pay reparations for the country’s “haunting” legacies of slavery, colonialism, and native genocide.

In an open letter published Monday in the Jamaica Observer, chairperson of the Caricom Reparations Commission Hilary Beckles declared: “We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint program of rehabilitation and renewal.”

Hilary Beckles

Hilary Beckles

“You owe it to us as you return here to communicate a commitment to reparatory justice that will enable your nation to play its part in cleaning up this monumental mess of Empire,” the letter states.

Those legacies continue to “haunt our best efforts at sustainable economic development and the psychological and cultural rehabilitation of our people from the ravishes of the crimes against humanity,” the letter continues.

Beckles made the case that Cameron has directly profited from the transatlantic slave trade via his cousin six times removed Sir James Duff, who inherited a Jamaican sugar plantation in 1785.

“You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors,” wrote Beckles. “You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather.”

The missive echoes growing demands, including from National Commission on Reparations and the Jamaican Parliament officials. Jamaican MP Mike Henry recently told the Observerthat if the issue of reparations is not on the agenda during Cameron’s visit, “I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in Parliament.”

This is not the first time such calls have been issued. In 2013, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller urged diplomatic discussions on the issue of reparations. The same year, 14 Caribbean nations sued Britain, Holland, and France demanding reparations for slavery, and the International Criminal Court is expected to hear the cases at an undetermined date.

Cameron, who is slated to appear before the Jamaican parliament on Wednesday, has not directly responded to Monday’s letter. But an unidentified Downing Street officialreportedly told the Guardian that neither an apology nor reparations will be forthcoming.

“This is a longstanding concern of theirs and there is a longstanding UK position, true of successive governments in the UK, that we don’t think reparations are the right approach,” said the individual, described as a “number 10 official.”

Meanwhile, the letter from Beckles warns: “In the four corners of Kingston there are already whispers that your strategy will be to seek a way to weaken Jamaica’s commitment to Caribbean reparations in a singular act of gift-granting designed to divide and rule and to subvert the regional discourse and movement.”

But there are also growing signs that Cameron cannot hide from the demands for reparations—which are also emanating from within Britain.

Last month, Brixton’s large African-Carribean community marched and rallied behind reparations.

And Fernne Brennan, author and lecturer at the Essex University Law School, declared: “There is going to be more and more pressure on the state to apologize and engage in discussion for reparations because we are in the [UN] international decade for people of African descent.”


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Sarah Lazare

staff writer for Common Dreams. organizer for global justice.

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