David Cameron just made the first visit to Jamaica by a UK prime minister in 14 years but his reception was far from welcoming. Only one topic was on the minds of the Caribbean people: slavery reparations. And The British prime minister did little to appease their concerns.
Speaking to the country’s parliament, Cameron acknowledged slavery as “abhorrent in all its forms” and recognized that “these wounds run very deep.” But he also took great pride in speaking to Britain’s part in abolishing slavery “off the face of our planet” — a point he said should be remembered before asking that both countries “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.”
In other words, there will be no reparations.
Cameron initially ignored the subject of slavery reparations or the request for an apology, saying the purpose of his trip to Kingston was to discuss the future –and trade. But when campaigners drew attention to a distant relative of Cameron’s who was compensated for losing 202 Jamaican slaves in 1833 when the trade was abolished, he chose to say this:
“While there is indeed much to celebrate about our past, it would be wrong to do so while ignoring the most painful aspects of it – a period which should never be forgotten, and from which history has drawn the bitterest of lessons,” Cameron said.
“Slavery was and is abhorrent in all its forms. It has no place whatsoever in any civilized society, and Britain is proud to have eventually led the way in its abolition.
“That the Caribbean has emerged from the long shadow it cast is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed. But I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.”
For Cameron, moving on means “£25m in British aid for a new Jamaican prison and a £300 million development package for the Caribbean which will provide grants for infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges,” according to the BBC. The Guardian pointed out that “Some Jamaican MPs shook their heads vigorously as Cameron said he hoped the two countries could move on from slavery, although they loudly applauded his commitments on foreign aid.”
Refusing to be defeated by Cameron’s words, Andrew Holness, the Jamaican leader of the opposition, told parliament there “must be ways of repairing what is universally agreed to be the wrongs of the past.”
Image Credit: The Guardian