Barbados PM says country owed $4.9tn in reparations

Mia Mottley denounces ‘conspiracy of silence’ that has diminished horrors faced during colonial slavery

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 07 December 2023 04:48 GMT
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Barbados is owed $4.9tn (£3.9tn) in reparatory damages by slave-owning countries, prime minister Mia Mottley said, as she called for global conversation on payment of debt for colonial slavery.

Ms Mottley praised King Charles during her lecture at the London School of Economics for his comments that the “time has come” to acknowledge the impact of slavery while on a trip to Rwanda last year.

“We’re not expecting that the reparatory damages will be paid in a year, or two, or five because the extraction of wealth and the damages took place over centuries. But we are demanding that we be seen and that we are heard,” she said on Wednesday.

Ms Mottley had a meeting with new British foreign minister David Cameron while she was in London but said she would not disclose the details when asked if Barbados asked him about the UK making reparations payment.

She had previously cited an estimate of $24tn (£19tn) based on a "standard definition" of damage.

“I’m not going to get into the details of our conversation but suffice to say I think the foreign secretary will take his lead from his majesty,” she said.

She referred to the King’s speech during his June 2022 Rwanda trip at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when he was still the Prince of Wales.

During the speech, the king spoke of his “personal sorrow at the suffering of so many” and that he continues to “deepen [his] understanding of slavery’s enduring impact”.

“To forge a common future, that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past … This is a conversation whose time has come,” he had said.

"I want to salute the King for having the courage to recognise this is a conversation that the time has come to have," Ms Mottley said.

She said the “conspiracy of silence” for years “has diminished the horror of what our people faced” but said the conversation on repatriations, though difficult and time-taking, should begin.

Ms Mottley has been pushing the issue of reparations into mainstream political discussion since becoming the prime minister in 2018.

She made the comments amidst a collection of poems by Barbados’ inaugural poet laureate addressing themes of slavery and injustices. These verses also touched on significant events, including the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“For the first time the world recognised that we could no longer ignore the trauma of four centuries of enslavement and barbarism and of denying people their humanity,” she added. “I want to salute the king for having the courage to understand that this is a conversation whose time has come.”

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has rejected calls demanding reparations by the UK or apologise, saying "trying to unpick our history is not the right way forward".

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