14 January 2014

Reparations Reloaded - Danish West Indies / U.S. Virgin Islands

By Shelley Moorhead

In the words of Vaughn Benjamin of the St. Croix based Midnite Band, “Well, I and I now get I time fi come in. Reparation is a realistic ting. Weap not, rejoice for Conqueror and conquering.” I want to very publicly thank US Virgin Islands Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis for providing the impetus and platform for what has become, to date, the most significant Virgin Islands political statement ever made in Denmark. That “LT” at the very last minute tip-toed and backpedaled his way out of a delegation to Copenhagen he in fact initiated and offered to fund is of no consequence to Virgin Islanders.

Was it a campaign ploy gone wrong? Did LT bite off more than he thought he could chew? Or, did Mr. Francis simply lack the political strength requisite to accomplish such an internationally and historically important feat? Be that which it may, in the face of a two month long Danish national debate on an official government apology by Denmark to the people of the US Virgin Islands we have succeeded in moving the reparations football further downfield to where the end zone is now in sight; 1st down, 10 yards to goal, clock running, and our ball.

In the short span of a month, generated by the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement in Denmark have been: a number of important apologies for slavery – 2 from elected members of the Danish parliament, 1 from a significant political party, and 1 from a family member of the Danish Royal House who has direct ties to the Virgin Islands; invitations to meetings at the Danish parliament to strategize on apology and future cooperation; invitations to Roskilde University and the University of Copenhagen for scholarly debates and forums on apology; over one hundred (100) mainstream news articles, editorials, and debate entries regarding US Virgin Islands reparations, apology, and slavery; 2 pre-recorded and 1 live national television news interview broadcast to DR studios in Copenhagen from the Legislature building in Frederiksted; and 3 national radio interviews.

When all was said and done, despite the fact that Lt. Governor Francis removed himself from his own delegation causing it to be cancelled, many millions of Danes, more than ever before, had from November 6th to December 5th 2013, been directly engaged by the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA) on the matter of reparations and an apology to US Virgin Islanders for slavery. So, brushing off ACRRA’s shoulders, I again thank Mr. Francis for both his initiative and his lack thereof.

Sparked no doubted by the publicized ACRRA hunger action planned to take place at the St. Thomas Legislature building on October 23rd, and fueled by the averting of the same when subsequently planned was a legislative hearing on reparations scheduled for October 30th 2013, news that an official Virgin Islands delegation was being planned to arrive in Denmark right smack in the middle of their national apology debate was a happening watched closely by world governments and welcomed both by Danes in public and private sectors.

Let’s face it. Reparations represent conflict. It is a contest of political wills. Although reparations present confrontation, the associated initiatives do not represent armed conflict with the consequences being the decimation of populations and national economies and infrastructures. The battle rather is one of ideas, concepts, policies, and principles and whether the theatre be the International Court of Justice at the Hague or the international court of public opinion, reparations is an idea whose time has come and it is a contest that the US Virgin Islands can win should we muster the wherewithal to espouse our political maturity. Reparations do, however, require that attendant to its pursuit are men and women who possess no less measure of diplomacy, political fortitude, intelligence, and organization than would be requisite if the conflict was actual.

For example, when Mr. Søren Espersen who is an elected member of the Danish parliament and who represents a far right political party in the country, on November 17th 2013, in a session of the parliament asked the Acting Danish Foreign Minister Mr. Nick Hækkerup to place on the record the Government of Denmark’s position regarding slavery and apology and in doing so recorded was that Denmark will not apologize to the US Virgin Islands; only the weak among Virgin Islands politicians, those who are deficient of courage and steel in their spinal columns are accepting of this affront to our human dignity and have retreated, packed up the reparations shop and run home. However, His Excellency, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who now heads CARICOM, is cut from no such cloth and understands the political, economic and humanitarian stakes at hand for the entire Caribbean. In the US Virgin Islands ACRRA alone maintains the Territory’s international voice and presence with respect to reparations.

When Mr. Hækkerup on November 17th placed Denmark’s outdated 2008 policy regarding slavery and US Virgin Islands relations on the parliamentary record, Prime Minister Gonsalves responded on December 12th 2013, by directing CARICOM to publicly announce that it was expanding its Caribbean reparations initiative to now include Denmark and Norway and in one bold political move directly implicated both the Kingdom of Denmark and the US Virgin Islands. To date, no statement has been issued by any Virgin Islands official, whether in gratitude for, or in condemnation of CARICOM’s December 12th action. Was it coincidence that this CARICOM announcement came on the exact same day that the intended US Virgin Islands delegation was to be hosted at the Danish parliament for apology talks and future cooperation? I think not. These are the type of bold political actions which are required to achieve and realize our reparations. Denmark must know that the US Virgin Islands means business.

It is as a result of such daring initiatives that the Virgin Islands today have a reparations movement it can boast of. When in the year 2005 it was against the policy of the Danish Government to even mention the word slavery in the context of the US Virgin Islands, ACRRA organized and led a delegation of Virgin Islands leaders and officials to Copenhagen to open talks on slavery reparations. In April of the same year ACRRA negotiated, signed, and entered into an historic agreement with the Danish Institute for Human Rights which became the first accord of its kind whereby Danes established a reparations task force and acknowledged their cruelty and brutality and their role and responsibility for the dehumanization of Virgin Islanders. In July of 2008, ACRRA’s efforts resulted in a “statement of regret” being issued by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of Emancipation from chattel slavery in the Danish West Indies. Late last year ACRRA dared to demand that Denmark apologize to Virgin Islanders for slavery and as a result we are today where we are with respect to Danish relations. While there will remain some closed doors in Denmark (and Norway), the record will show that we have met many more doors that were open and even succeeded in opening some that were before closed. Those who champion this cause expect that we will see further political concessions in the years that follow.

You see, while the current Virgin Islands Government has left much to be desired with respect to reparations, there are those of us at the helm of this international initiative who understand that at the core of the law governing reparative justice is the principle that the perpetrators of Crimes Against Humanity are not afforded the right to dictate the outcome of the judgment. In other words, Mr. Espersen, the Danish People’s Party, and Denmark’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs can cry “we won’t apologize” all they want, but, truth is they don’t get to determine or control the terms of repair. This power rests even beyond the Kingdom of Denmark. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask “Bodil” who on December 5th 2013 had the final word in the Danish national debate on apology for slavery. This particular fat lady, the blonde, Danish, warrior princess Ms. Bodil has yet to sing, so, far are things from being over.

Mr. Shelley Moorhead is the founder of the ACRRA initiative, president of the Caribbean Institute for a New Humanity, Inc. based in the US Virgin Islands and Chairman of Carida – the Danish Movement for Virgin Islands Reconciliation which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.