The Killeen/Texas Garifuna, Belizeans Newsletter: Issue No. 003-2001 – December 2001
Racism Meeting Produces Compromise on Reparations
By: Joseph R. Flores
Durban, South Africa - African leaders at the World Conference on Racism in September of this year asked for Western countries to apologize for the destruction caused by colonialism and slavery but were divided on calls for reparations.
An apology would recognize the wrong that was committed against Africans and constitute a promise that such an atrocity would never happen again, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said.
With an apology, “the issue of reparations cease to be a rational option,” he said during his formal address to the conference
The conference was marked by controversy over how to deal with the legacy of slavery and colonialism as well as efforts to condemn Israel.
As Arab leaders met separately, several African heads of state addressed the conference on the issue of slavery and reparations.
And in a rousing speech frequently interrupted by applause, Fidel Castro called directly on the United States to pay reparations for slavery.
“After the purely formal slavery emancipation, African-Americans were subjected during 100 more years to the harshest racial discrimination, and many of its features still persist,” Castro said. “Cuba speaks of reparations, and supports this idea as an unavoidable moral duty to the victims of racism.”
Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Rodrigues Peres called for voluntary reparations and financial support for Africa.
But Obasanjo said reparations could split Africa from black people living in “the Diaspora,” and an apology would suffice.
“Apology is intrinsic in the healing process,” he said.
On September 3, the United States and Israel pulled out of the conference, denouncing efforts to condemn Israel in the meeting’s proposed declaration. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had remained in Washington and was not part of the U.S. delegation, denounced the draft declaration’s “hateful language.”
The World Conference Against Racism ended as tumultuously as it began, with a declaration and program of action that was immediately cited as groundbreaking and momentous, hurtful and disastrous, and everything in between.
The eight-day U.N. meeting went into a ninth day when compromises on the two dominant issues – the Middle East conflict and the legacy of slavery – failed to materialize.
In the end, the Conference delegates did rewrite the conference program’s language on slavery, dropping items that called for a formal apology from former slave-holding nations and opting for a collective statement of regret and aid for Africa.
symposia in connection with the
second gathering of indigenous peoples
of the Caribbean
august 29 to september 5, 1993
Dr. joseph palacio
resident tutor, u.w.i., belize
held at the invitation of the ministry of culture of the republic of trinidad and tobago to commemorate 1993, the united nations declared year of indigenous poples.
First I express my own heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for staging this Second Gathering of the Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean as aftermath to CARIFESTA V and in commemoration of 1993, the United Nations declared Year of Indigenous Peoples. I am also grateful to the Santa Rosa Carib community for their hospitality and wish them all success as they celebrate the 234th Annual Santa Rosa de Arima Festival.
The Garifuna – Truly indigenous to the Caribbean
Today I speak to you as representative of the proud Garifuna Nation. That nation numbers about 200,000 and is found in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as in the Diaspora throughout North America. The Garifuna are unique in being both Amerindian and African, and being equally proud of these two distinct roots. We are happy to use the occasion of this Second Gathering to demonstrate to you some traits of our culture, which we share with our brothers and sisters throughout this subregion.
The ancestors of the Garifuna were here before Columbus came. By being able to trace our blood ties to the Arawaks and Caribs of the Lesser Antilles, the Garifuna are truly indigenous to the Caribbean. Being indigenous to the Caribbean means having lived here, mixed with the other races who subsequently arrived, and contributing to the cultural blending which makes this one of the richest areas in the world. One cannot talk about the indigenous in the Caribbean without referring to the beginning, as well as to continuity.
The Amerindian peoples that are today found in our countries are the result of such mixtures either among the Amerindians themselves and/or with other races. It certainly does not mean being ‘pure’, as we are all mixed biologically as well as culturally. It does not mean that we have taken a conscious decision to portray the Amerindian part of us, a part that remains pervasive among thousands of the people of the Caribbean, but has deliberately been laid to rest over the years as something insignificant.
The Garifuna also demonstrate the values of survival, recognition, and reparation that together form the theme for this Gathering. We survived the wicked genocide that the Europeans inflicted upon the aboriginal peoples of the New World. We escaped from the slavery to which both the Amerindians and Africans we brutally subjected. We did so by living out culture – eating the roots of the cassava plant whose leaves adorn the logo of this Gathering. Cassava bread or ‘ereba’, as we call it in our language, is still a main staple in our diet, and we brought some to share with you from Belize.
Our determination to earn the recognition of the British as the first true inhabitants of the abundantly fertile island of St. Vincent led to the bitter Carib Wars, and our eventual exile to Central America in 1797. The struggle for recognition as a people lasted throughout the colonial period in Belize, and today remains a problem during the post-independence era.
It is however; on reparation, the third item on the theme of this Gathering, that I would like to place some emphasis in this address. The dictionary meaning of reparation is the act of making amends, offering expiation, of giving satisfaction for the wrong or injury, sometimes done or given as amends or satisfaction.
Reparation assumes several things - that the people claiming amends are proactive; that they work collectively; that they have a plan of action; and that they are determined to enter into no go negotiations with the powers that be to acquire their just objectives. In short, it is a political process, where there is flexing of muscles; engaging in give and take; and being vigilant to secure what is yours.
Through the National Garifuna Council of Belize, the Garifuna brothers and sisters who are here with us for this Second Gathering engaged in a sort of reparation to be able to come. Firstly, the National Garifuna Council of Belize was determined to be represented here, because we did not share sufficiently with aboriginal peoples in the First Gathering during CARIFESTA last year. To show how determined we were, each member offered to pay most of the airfare from Belize to Miami and return. In other words, we put our money where our mouth is, and it made it easier for those with the resources – the airlines and the Government of Belize – to facilitate us. We had a plan of action; we did our negotiations; and we were able to reach here.
The example that I have just given is no doubt repeated constantly in other parts of the Caribbean as aboriginal people reclaim what is rightfully theirs – to get a well here; a health post there; secondary school scholarships; a football field for the village; and a passport and foreign exchange to attend a conference overseas; etc, etc. Many of these cases are, however, episodic. The effort comes to an end when the specific objective is achieved.
But reparation means this and much more. It means being proactive, forming a powerful collectivity, and being strong enough to engage the powers that be in negotiations to acquire what is rightly yours. If you will allow me, I will describe what I have found to be obstacles for reparation. Here I bring to bear my years of experience in helping with the mobilization of aboriginal peoples at both the practical and academic levels in Belize, as well as the Caribbean subregion
The first obstacle is we – the very aboriginal people themselves. We lack a positive appreciation of our own culture. We are quick to place it in opposition to western culture. Our language is now good enough; so we do not use it in speaking to our children. Our religious rituals are not good enough; so we allow them to fall by the wayside in favor of Christianity. We allow our oral history, folklores, herbal cures to wither and die. Most of us are truly trying to downplay our roots, to be able to pass for what we really are not. The biggest challenge facing those of us who want to revive the culture is the inability to generate a strong collective action among our own people. The massive inertia among the region’s aboriginal peoples for the protection and conservation of their own culture is totally scandalous!
So, who else can we turn to for direction? It is certainly not the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). I do not know of an NGO working in our countries whose main objective is to generate our comprehensive community development on a sustained basis. On the other hand, I know of several NGOs who will use the cause of aboriginal peoples to further their own programs. By and large, the NGOs are the latter day Columbuses, seeking to discover new Indians for their own selfish aims.
What about the umbrella organizations that the aboriginal peoples themselves have formed? There are examples in Dominica, Guyana and Belize. The genuine leaders of these organizations are martyrs. They preside over groups with lots of in-fighting, an inability to penetrate large parts of the aboriginal community, no funding, and a tendency to splinter into even smaller factions. The regional umbrella organization the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples (COIP), which the National Garifuna Council of Belize, among others helped form in St. Vincent in 1987, has fallen into the same pattern. Apart from a handful of individuals, nobody knows what is happening to the COIP at this time.
If the people themselves are not organized (and do not seem organizable), what is the Government going to do about it? As you would expect, the governments of today has become adept in playing politics among the aboriginal peoples. Leaders are played one against the other; the same thing is done for communities and even districts. Quite simply, to the politicians, aboriginal peoples are first and foremost voters, who can be bought for a cheap price.
All of our governments have not extended to the aboriginal peoples the right to full self-expression, as peoples in their own right. When we exert such demands, the governments is quick to say that they will not tolerate apartheid. They do not stop to analyze what are the limits of their obligations to people who have had primordial rights to these islands, and the surrounding mainland, centuries before the Europeans came. In their own narrow-minded intransigence, our governments have fallen behind internationally accepted conventions, in dealing with aboriginal peoples. This has happened like pouring water on duck’s backs – with no second thought whatsoever.
Our governments have not agreed to the culturally pluralist framework with policies allowing, for example, the teaching of aboriginal languages in schools. Mexico, Costa Rica, and even Guatemala – as repressive as that country has been – have adopted such conventions. Among Central American countries, Panama has probably gone furthest in honoring the autonomy of it aboriginal peoples. The English speaking Caribbean countries – if they could come to terms with their own chauvinism – could learn a great deal from Panama on aboriginal issues.
Who then are our friends in the struggle for reparation? We have friend and sympathizers in the United Nations and the OAS. We have support from the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), of which we are members. We have established lasting bonds with international NGOs, like Cultural Survival, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Inter-American Federation (IAF) in Washington DC. We have strong fellowship with aboriginal brothers and sisters throughout Canada, the United States of America, Latin America, Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. We can receive a great deal of international support through the powerful environmental movements, which has recognized the wisdom of peoples who have lived in harmony with their ecology for centuries.
Closer to home, the UWI (University of the West Indians), through its School of Continuing Studies, has been a veritable mother to us. The strongest endorsement we have received through the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) came from the West Indian Commission Report. Laureen Pierre and myself had the honor of collaborating to do background work for the West Indian Commission. It was probably the first time that aboriginal persons were involved in studying their own people for a major regional report. Most of all, we have strong and powerful support from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Culture, especially Efebo Wilkenson, Eintou Springer, Robin Cross and several others. There are other CARICIM countries with larger proportions of aboriginal populations, but only Trinidad and Tobago has had the vision and empathy, to convoke such a Gathering as this. I am told that the reason why Hurricane Brett did not touch Trinidad and Tobago is that God was born here. The spirits of our ancestors will make sure that Trinidad and Tobago get even more blessings for having staged this Second Gathering.
At the end of the day, only we can take charge of the momentum that this Gathering has generated. My objective in this address has been to outline what I regard as major impediments that obstruct our tasks of reparation. I doing so, I have left no holes barred, and may have even taken our dirty linen out for public view. I have done this because I am convinced that we are at a moment of major crisis. Besides, as First Nations, the extent to which we handle this crisis will provide inspiration to others in the region, who look to us for leadership in their own struggle to reclaim peoplehood.
Thank you very much.
This article was initially in the website GARIFUNA-WORLD.COM, which no longer exist. It was retyped from a hardcopy in my possession and included in this final Newsletter from Killeen/Texas, for continued availability to the Garifuna…Joseph R. Flores
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