Kambon to Government: ‘Days for asking over…We must demand reparation’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the Emancipation Support Committee, the Government and the Caribbean Freedom Project lead the way for the Kambule Procession on Independence Square, Port of Spain, in celebration of Emancipation Day on Monday. Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

The Caribbean Freedom Project’s director Shabaka Kambon made it clear to National Security minister Fitzgerald Hinds on Monday, that the Caribbean should not be asking for reparations for slavery from the British government but rather demanding it.

Kambon, speaking at the formal ceremony before the start Kambule Procession at Treasury Building, Treasury Street, Port of Spain, was responding Hinds’ earlier revelation that the Prime Minister had written to the UK’s Prince Charles and to Prince William to “call and contemplate” for a system of reparations for African people.

The procession, hosted by the Emancipation Support Committee of TT (ESCTT), was the first held to celebrate Emancipation Day in TT since the start of the covid19 pandemic in 2020.

Kambon said, “We are at the point where the powers that be are already beginning to pay reparations. So we want to thank our honourable Prime Minister but the days for asking for reparations are over.

“We are demanding reparations and we are going to get reparations!”

Dr Rowley’s letter, dated April 24, was posted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Caricom’s website on June 25 and its opening lines said, “I write to you on a matter that is both sensitive and of great importance to Trinidad and Tobago and the countries of the Caribbean and of which you are aware, that is, reparation for slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, the negative impact of which remains to this day in the societies of the region.

“While I am cognizant of your acknowledgement of what you referred to as the ‘appalling atrocity of slavery’ during the ceremony for the transition of Barbados to a Republic in November 2021, there lingers an outstanding debt to the descendants of those who laboured for the enrichment of the British Empire, the current population of which enjoy the benefits of such labour to this day.”

Also at Monday’s ceremony, Hinds announced the establishment of an interministerial committee to look at TT’s national spaces and roads with a view to “to transforming the names to one that we would better appreciate and recognise.”

Hinds said, “I am able to tell you truthfully, Brother Shabaka Kambon, that several months ago, the honourable Prime Minister put an interministerial and other people from the national community and he put a committee together.

“And they are now looking around at our national spaces and our roads with a view The Cross Rhodes Caribbean Freedom Project along with the Emancipation Support Committee of TT has been leading the call for years for statues and streets bearing the names of some colonial figures be changed in TT.”

The Caribbean Freedom Project is known for its work towards removing the name of Viscount Alfred Milner from a hall of residence at UWI’s St Augustine Campus; removing the Christopher Columbus statue from Independence Square, Port of Spain; and changes to signage at Lopinot Estate.

Kambon said the Government’s move was in accordance with best practice across the world and with a resolution made by Caricom’s Reparations Commission in 2017. That resolution says all statues and memorials dedicated to people who directed genocide against the natives of the Caribbean, or those who defended and practised the crime of enslaving others, and all those who helped them should be removed from public places.

In May this year, Kambon repeated a call for Government to set up a committee “to identify, destroy, repurpose or reconstitute any monuments, memorials, emblems, signs or symbols or the like that celebrate, commemorate and glorify racism and white supremacy.” He first made the call was first made in 2020.

On Monday, as Hinds made the walk with members of the public to the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village at the Queen’s Park Savannah, he said the Government took the decision to establish the committee.

“We, as a Government, listen to public sentiment. We follow social media. We have open ears and open minds. It is not new. Since 1970 brothers like Khafra Kambon and others have been raising these issues.

“You would have seen a long time ago that the Nelson Mandela Park is now that, as opposed to King George V. And we have been doing that but there is a call that we step up the pace. And in response to that, the Prime Minister established a ministerial team along with other technical support.

“And we are well into work.”

Asked further by Newsday about his reaction to the announcement, Kambon said he was surprised.

“Because, as I told you in our interview, we were preparing a campaign in August to increase and augment our activism in the country.

He said his group also felt joy as it was two years since it petitioned the Government and Parliament and it was read in the house without a dissenting voice.

He added that he was happy to hear that there was some movement forward on the part of the authorities but details were now needed.

He said Hinds assured him the Caribbean Freedom Project and the ESCTT would be invited to participate in the commission

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Amery Browne, Minister of Planning and Development Pennelope Beckles and Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly were there also present at the celebrations. Former Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs Joan Yuille-Williams under the Manning administration was also present.