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Shepherd: Jamaica has grounds to press wealthy UK MP for reparations

Local slavery reparation campaigners believe Jamaica should demand compensatory justice from wealthy English politician Richard Drax and support Barbados in its push for such payments and ownership of the Drax Hall Estate, a former sugar plantation in the eastern Caribbean country.

On the weekend, British newspaper The Guardian reported that the Mia Mottley-led government is pursuing reparation payments from Drax, a direct descendant of Sir James Drax, a plantation and slave ship owner who was one of the first Englishmen to colonise Barbados.

The politician, who reportedly met with Mottley recently, inherited the plantation from his father five years ago, and his family is the first that is being singled out by CARICOM countries for reparation payments.

In addition to the payments. Barbados, which last year severed ties with the English Monarch, also wants Drax to hand over the estate for a section to be used for the construction of an Afrocentric museum, and for a portion to be developed for social housing for low-income families, with the Drax family paying for some of the work.

Weighing in on the issue, Professor Verene Shepherd, director of the Centre for Reparation Research at The University of the West Indies, told The Gleaner that she not only supports the move, but is appealing to all those who have benefited from slavery to start a reparation conversation.

“The Drax family sold their Jamaican plantation in the 19 century. Insofar as they benefited from the proceeds of compensation, I think Jamaica reparation campaigners also have a case, because the Drax family got over £4.2 million when they sold the plantation,” Shepherd said, referencing the similarly named Drax Hall in St Ann, Jamaica.

“But the Barbados case is even more horrible because Richard Drax still personally oversees that plantation in Barbados, so I feel the Jamaican reparation campaigners stand with the people of Jamaica in demanding reparation payment and the turning over of the plantation to the people of Barbados. This is a very rich man, and his riches have come from the horrible chattelisation [by] his ancestors and he should take some responsibility for that,” she said.

Shepherd said that while the Conservative member of parliament has “issued some statement for regret, that does not cut it” as while he may not be personally responsible, his ancestors were and he continues to profit from the plantation.

“He keeps saying that he is not responsible, but we know responsibility can be passed down,” the professor emphasised, noting that there is also a connection between the Drax and the Royal Family.

While noting that she will await the outcome of the negotiations between Drax and Barbados, Shepherd said the lawmaker has inherited the burden of the past and he has to do better than to say that he regrets it.

“I want to call on those who have inherited wealth from the period of slavery, and who have been enriched by the proceeds of slavery, to come out and own it and to begin a reparation conversation with the people of CARICOM,” she appealed.

In the meantime, the social historian disclosed that the Centre for Reparation Research is currently examining the Jamaican situation to determine whether there are similar situations of uninterrupted ownership of plantations still in the possession of the same family.

Another reparation advocate, Professor Clinton Hutton, in expressing solidarity with Barbados’ demands, said that while there is a general case to be made for reparations for slavery, there are specific institutional claims that should be pursued by CARICOM.

Jamaica, the Caribbean political philosophy expert suggested, should revisit the reparation claim for the destruction of thousands of houses and the theft of monies, coffee, and horses in Morant Bay, St Thomas, by British soldiers and their allies with the suppression of the 1865 uprising.

“In fact, that was brought up in the British Parliament and there was the general agreement that people should be paid for the things that were destroyed, but it never happened,” Hutton told The Gleaner.

“There is a specific case to be made with respect to that particular issue, but the necessary research would have to be done.

“Stony Gut was wiped off the face of the map. In fact, burnt off the face of the map. In my research, there were 72 communities in which houses were burned, leaving 20 per cent of the black [population] of the parish homeless,” Hutton said, adding that many people were also innocently executed.

In the meantime, he said it must be clear that Barbados’ current claim is a subset of the main reparation push by CARICOM.

And while encouraging the pursuit of those specific claims, if they exist, Hutton said they must not detract from the main position of the struggle for reparation, which each Caribbean country should continue to fight for individually and collectively.

“It is the art of the struggle for justice in the 21 century for countries like ours,” he added.