The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has called for Jamaica to “move on” from the “painful legacy” of slavery as he defied calls to apologise for Britain’s role in the slave trade.
The Prime Minister said that slavery was “abhorrent” during an address to the Jamaican Parliament on Wednesday but failed to directly discuss reparations despite demands from politicians on the island.
It comes after campaigners called on the Prime Minister to “personally atone” for his family’s historic ties to slavery during the two-day Caribbean visit. The row over compensation for slavery overshadowed Mr Cameron’s trip to Jamaica, where he became the first UK prime minister to visit the country for 14 years.
Speaking to Jamaican MPs on Wednesday morning, Mr Cameron spoke out over slavery but fell short of apologising for Britain’s role or discussing reparations. “Slavery was and is abhorrent in all its forms. It has no place whatsoever in any civilised society, and Britain is proud to have eventually led the way in its abolition,” Mr Cameron said.
“That the Caribbean has emerged from the long shadow it cast is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed.
“But I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.”
There remains anger in Jamaica that while the UK government compensated slave owners when the practice was abolished in 1833, those enslaved were not given any money for their suffering.
Jamaican politicians from across the aisle referred to the issue of reparations in their speeches to Mr Cameron. Portia Simpson Miller, the Jamaican Prime Minister, said she had raised the “difficult” issue of financial compensation for slavery with Mr Cameron and pledged to continue discussion with a “spirit of openness and understanding”.
Andrew Holness, the Jamaican leader of the opposition, spoke out against what is “universally agreed to be the wrongs of the past”.
There was banging of desks from MPs when Mr Cameron mentioned slavery but the opposition benches in the parliament chamber were far from full.
Links between Mr Cameron’s family and slavery had resurfaced ahead of the visit. General Sir James Duff, an army officer and Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed, according to records, was compensated when slavery was abolished. Sir James, who the Prime Minister is related to on his father’s side, was awarded £4,101 when he forfeited 202 slaves on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica – equal to more than £3 million today.
Bert Samuels, a member of the National Commission on Reparations which is demanding billions of pounds be paid in compensation, had said Mr Cameron must apologise over slavery during his visit. “His lineage has been traced and his forefathers were slave-owners and benefited from slavery,” Mr Samuels told Television Jamaica. He added: “Therefore he needs to atone, to apologise personally and on behalf of his country.” Mr Samuels said that British slave owners had won compensation from the government after abolition thanks to lobbying but that slaves themselves never got any money. “We were left behind because of racism,” he added.
– – Reprinted from