Payback Time

You know how the Law loves precedents. Once something has been decided, whether for the good or the bad, the ruling seems to hang around forever just waiting for some eager lawyer to use it to make a point, and more often than not save a case that was really floundering.

Take Haiti, for example, a country that was more or less forced by the presence of 12 French warships with 528 cannons in its waters to agree to paying reparations to France for property lost during the Haitian Revolution. The payment of an indemnity was originally suggested by Haitian president Petion in 1814 as a way to deter a French attack on his country. So there is a precedent, no matter how unjust, in the matter of reparations; the trouble is that the payment went the wrong way, as it were.

In 2003, President Aristide demanded that France repay Haiti over 21 billion U.S. dollars, the equivalent in today’s money, of the 90 million gold francs that Haiti had been forced to pay Paris after winning its freedom. Following the coup in 2004, provisional prime minister Gerard Latortue rescinded the reparations demand, calling it “foolish” and “illegal”. So there’s another precedent! Once again, in the wrong direction!

President of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide served in 1991, 1994-1996, and 2001-2004. He was ousted twice by a coup d’état. Once a humble priest with $75 on his account, today he has a reported net worth of $800 million. Talk about rags to riches! Which is, of course, the question of the day – if reparations are ever paid out, who will get the cash and what will they do with it?

By the way, even the darling of the Left, Fidel – it is reported on the world wide web, surely incorrectly – amassed an estimated net worth of $900 million during his 50 years in office in Cuba; that’s 18 million a year, or 1.5 million a month, not counting his wages. Not surprisingly, the observant viewer would have noticed that his army fatigues progressed from rough serge to Savile Row Suave through the years.

So here we are with the precedent of a country paying reparations to a former colonial power for the loss of its slaves and lands. Now this could create a bit of a problem for the reparations seekers. Take Britain for example. Presumably, after they had fought 14 skirmishes to defend their right to Saint Lucia, they felt they owned it. As everyone knows, the spoils of war go to the victors – lord knows there are enough precedents for that one! So when the time came for Saint Lucians to be granted independence, they did not only gain their freedom from their erstwhile colonial masters, they also gained an invaluable property in the form of an island with all its infrastructure and potential agricultural and commercial assets – and they did not pay a cent for it! Oh, yeah, I hear the mutterings about the blood of the slaves, etc., wellI am sure there must be some who are muttering likewise about the blood of reluctant, press-ganged English and French soldiers who fought blindly following the orders of their lords and masters, against whom they were powerless.

The fact is that the colonies were essentially assets that were later ceded to newly independent nations at no apparent cost. Perhaps when it comes around to calculating reparations, we should take into account the value of Saint Lucia in today’s currency as a down payment. But hark! “Ah,” they respond gleefully, “but Saint Lucia was never owned by England legally; the English simply stole it from the original inhabitants (actually the English and the French never really agreed which of them were the original ‘thieves’), so it was never theirs to give away!”

So now, we have a very tricky, somewhat messy situation. If, for argument’s sake, the English, or the French, stole the country from the Caribs (or whatever) and were not the legal owners, merely the illegal occupiers, then surely they were not in a position to grant independence to Saint Lucia and donate the island to the new Saint Lucians.

And, even more intriguingly, if the Saint Lucians knowingly accepted and made their own an island that they knew to be stolen goods, is not Saint Lucia obligated to compensate the original owners, the Caribs (or whatever) for the loss of their island? And are not, more ominously, Saint Lucians the unlawful accomplices to the colonialists, the receivers of stolen goods? You know, I’ll happily accept the above as bullshit but any Saint Lucian descendents of Carib, Arawak, Ciboney, Taino, Lucayo, or any other indigenous people interested in a Class Action Claim on the Government of Saint Lucia should please contact the Class Action Reparation Bund (CARIB) for further details.

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