In mid-October the Belize Commission: Initiative for Justice and Reparations (BCIJR), called on Belizeans of all oppressed backgrounds to gather at the Belmopan Convention Center for the Second Annual Popular Justice and Reparations Convention. Belizeans across racial and ethnic groups have constituted the only popular reparations initiative in the Caribbean in support of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Reparations Commission created in 2013.
At this year’s convention, approximately 150 African Kriol, Garifuna, Mopan, Yucatec and Q’eqchi Mayan as well as East Indian peoples discussed the historical wrongs carried out against them by European colonial powers and what reparations means to and for their communities.
For two consecutive years, women, youth, elders, farmers, fisher folks, cultural workers, academics and union leaders among others have gathered to discuss an action plan for reparations. These distinct communities share interwoven histories of how Britain, France, Spain, and other colonial empires exploited, enslaved, raped and carried out genocide against their peoples. Not unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Belizeans’ ancestors were kidnapped, forced to migrate and exploited from a variety of places such as India, St. Vincent, the Venezuelan Orinoco Basin, the African continent as well as within Belize itself.
While the process to repair the damage that European colonialism has caused often seem endless, overwhelming and out of reach, Belize’s people led process serves as a unique organizing experience in the Caribbean, uniting so many different peoples.
Belizeans Fight for Justice and Reparations
The consequences of Europe’s criminal and unjust acts are evident throughout Caribbean societies today. “We continue to live with that damage to this day. Our health is below standard, poverty is widespread, our education system fails to prepare us as confident people who speak our distinct languages, are knowledgeable about our vibrant histories and the more than 500 years of suppression we have endured and are still enduring,” expressed the BCIJR.
This year’s gathering lasted one day, with delegates from all over the country taking advantage of each moment to move forward their strategies for reparations. People in attendance at the convention were asked to identify their ancestors and were charged with recovering histories about the damage done to their peoples during European colonization of the Americas as well as the invasions across Africa and Asia. Testimonies reflected on centuries’ long trauma, documenting how ancestors were kidnapped and endured treacherous voyages, forced labor exploitation and rape, and forever distanced from their homelands.
“Wat a ting dehn European governments did to us. They were the owners and traders of enslaved Africans. They were the ones who instructed that. That the indigenous communities be wiped out. They were the ones who made it a law. That our African ancestors can be enslaved. Wat a ting fi we ancestors gaan troo, Because dehn neva white,” recited Garifuna youth Alexis Casimiro from “Reparations Deh Ya” a poem by Myrna Manzanares and African Kriol delegate from the maroon community of Gales Point Manatee. The piece contributed to opening the day’s events and brought together the voices of women from Garifuna and African Kriol heritages unifying the African Diasporic experience.
Garifuna delegate Felix Miranda Jr. also led a collective prayer inviting ancestors to accompany and join their communities. [. . .]