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British family’s reparations gesture receives mixed reactions

Laura Trevelyan and family members apologised for their ownership of slaves by their ancestors in the Spice Isle in the 19th century and presented a letter of apology to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell on Monday

A wealthy aristocratic British family’s apology and monetary gesture, aimed at repairing the damages caused by their ancestors’ ownership of over 1000 enslaved Africans on the island has generated mixed responses and a lot of debate in the country.

While many converged inside the Grenada Trade Center annex on Monday to witness the Trevelyan family’s historic apology, others were outside the building, placards in hand, singing, beating drums and other instruments as a form of protest.

They chanted slogans against the gesture, which was facilitated by the Grenada National Reparations Commission, in collaboration with the Caribbean Reparations Commission, and the University of the West Indies (UWI).

New York-based BBC Correspondent Laura Trevelyan has condemned her foreparents over their ownership of African slaves across 10 sugar estates on the island in the 19th century, and has rallied over 100 members of her family to sign a letter of apology, which was officially handed over to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who accepted it on behalf of the Grenadian people during Monday’s event.

The Grenadian leader has called on the government of the United Kingdom to “open dialogue (on the issue of reparative justice for CARICOM countries) in an open, transparent, frank and dignified manner, and to also use your good office as the convener to join with your European counterparts to address this issue with the French and Spanish counterparts in particular.”

Reparations is the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.

Laura, along with her husband are planning to donate 100,000 pounds towards a reparations fund for Grenada, when she retires as a BBC correspondent in August.

The monies will be lodged at the University of the West Indies for the setting up of a reparations fund to look into the impact of enslavement with focus on group development in Grenada and Eastern Caribbean countries.

“I came up with that figure because that’s what I, at this moment in time, I can afford to give…when I turn 55 in August that’s the moment when I can give this money because I will actually come into a pension from the BBC, and so I am taking a proportion of that pension as a cash payment to give to the people of Grenada,” she explained when probed after apologising for her ancestors inhumane actions against black people in Grenada in the 19th century.

Commenting on the move being made by the Trevelyans, one student who attends the T.A. Community College (TAMCC) expressed disappointed that she learnt very little about slavery in Grenada during her schooling at the primary and secondary levels.

She believes that “they (those spearheading the fight for reparations) should have at least given the people of the country a voice to say what they wish the money (which will be donated by the Trevelyan’s) to be used for.”

Protestors, who called for “repatriation, and the setting up of institutions, colleges, factories…that can propel the country’s economy,” have described the drop in the bucket figure as “the most embarrassing thing since slavery.”

One Rastafarian had even expressed the view that the Trevelyans were “sent out by the Throne of England to test the waters.”

However, in their apology, the aristocratic British family called on the British government to join the process of reparative justice, and expressed optimism that their gesture will pave the way for other families to also come forward to make amends.

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When slavery was abolished over 400 years ago, the Trevelyan family made claims and were paid compensation by the British government equivalent to three (3) million pounds in today’s money, while slaves got nothing, and were forced to work as apprentices for several years after.

There are those who hold the view that because slave owners were compensated with such huge sums of money when slavery was abolished, reparations should therefore be paid to the country as well as the direct descendants of slaves.

Speaking with THE NEW TODAY after Monday’s ceremony, Laura revealed that she had raised the issue of making individual payments with the Grenada Reparations Committee Chaired by Arley Gill, and Sir Hillary Beckles, the Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, which serves as an advisory body to CARICOM heads on the contentious issue of reparations.

She stated that “He ((Sir Hilary) said the issue is that here in Grenada, we’ve come up with a list of 10 different estates where we had interest over this long period, and so, there are potentially so many descendants, and it’s so many years later that’s a Hillary Beckles advise, and he is obviously the Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission was that it is best to make the donation to a people rather than to individuals and, they felt that this was the appropriate step for us to take, so I was guided by that.”

THE NEW TODAY also spoke with Arley Gill on the decision as he made his way to the Trade Center Annex amid the protest, and he pointed to CARICOM’s “comprehensive economic and social development” 10-point plan.

“Imagine (that) we get 100,000 pounds, and we give every Grenadian one (1) pound, does that make any sense to you? So, we’re saying we want investment in education (and) healthcare.”

“We are calling for debt cancellation, transfer of technology, repatriation of those persons who want to repatriate, African Knowledge programmes, development programmes for indigenous communities like the Kalinagos in Dominica, those are the things…we are not just talking about simply giving us cash.

“The way in which the Germans paid reparations to the Jews for the holocaust… that is the sort of economic programme we want to develop (in) the country. It’s not about putting a dollar in everybody’s pocket. We are talking about development of the country…so, I would simply like to direct people to the CARICOM 10 point plan to see what it is that we are working on.”

When Laura Trevelyan was approached regarding the protest that was being staged just outside, she said: “I completely understand that people think that this is an inadequate amount of money and that it’s not enough.”

“Grenada is a thriving democracy where everybody has a right to protest and the rights to free speech, and I guess I am just pleased to see that there is a debate about what this means, but I don’t pretend to have the answers.”

“I am really excited to be here (and) thrilled to hear from the people of Grenada. This is just a first step and so I hope that we can listen and learn from everybody here.”

When probed about whether she felt any discomfort over the whole ordeal, the BBC Broadcaster quipped: “I would just want to pay tribute to everyone that came here today and was gracious enough to allow us to apologise.”

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