UWI Vice Chancellor Says Caribbean in need of special and urgent attention

Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) wants a multi-billion-dollar fund established by countries that milked the Caribbean for centuries and then abandoned the region in a state of under-development.

UWI Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said the region’s underdevelopment, caused in no small part by the impact of colonialism, has made tackling the triple crises of COVID-19, the effects of climate change and the ravages of non-communicable diseases, even more difficult.

Sir Hilary made the comments Thursday during the virtual 28th session of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Describing the current situation as a “cocktail of disasters”, the UWI chief insisted ECLAC had a moral and ethical duty to promote the Caribbean’s well-articulated case for reparations through a $50 billion-dollar development fund. He contended that this would represent only a fraction of the wealth that had been taken from the Caribbean, but whose populations have never been compensated by their colonial masters.

He called for an “international development fund into which countries that have extracted wealth from this Caribbean for the last 300 to 400 years will be invited to participate, if not lead, in the creation of an international development . . . fund of at least $50 billion”.

According to the Barbadian academic and historian: “The Caribbean is in need of urgent and special attention . . . . There is no arrogance around the Caribbean’s special claim for special intervention and treatment . . . Our case is not a case of division. Our case is a case of calling for the strengthening of a multilateral approach.”

“We know that the Caribbean was the place where the business model for all the crimes against humanity were committed. It was the Caribbean that suffered the fundamental genocide of the native people. It was the Caribbean that became the model of African enslavement . . . . It was the Caribbean that had the longest journey with colonialism. . . . The Caribbean is still a place where there are colonies in significant numbers,” he added.

To this end, Sir Hilary said it was not a surprise that the region was among the oldest and the poorest in the hemisphere.

“When the Western powers, in deciding they were going to help the East Indies to exit colonialism and enter nation building, provided them with a massive amount of grant and development support and the East Indian colonies emerged as nation states with a massive investment which was called the Colombo Plan, the West Indies never received that.

“It has had to fund its own development from debt. Hence the long journey into debt entrapment,” Sir Hilary told participants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

He said while the region might accept the strategy of borrowing for development, it did so reluctantly.

Sir Hilary insisted that given the Caribbean’s history of colonial exploitation, it was “deserving of a capital investment approach to its development”.

He noted that the world was coming to grips with the need for equality and social justice and it should also extend that to the former colonies of the Caribbean.

According to Sir Hilary, no one imagined that major corporations and institutions that benefited from slavery would be offering apologies for their roles in those crimes against humanity.