Saying `sorry’ -- Church, Pres. Bush and CARICOM By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
April 8, 2007

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THIS Easter weekend, which coincides with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Church's role in slavery will, inevitably, resurface amid rising official suggestions for 'apologies' and 'reparations'.

In Barbados, the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean (EAC), a relatively fledgling Christian movement free from the burden of African enslavement, finds no difficulties in endorsing the decision of CARICOM governments in support of compensation for, as it said, "the brutal enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean prior to 1834..."

The region's Anglican communion, with historical ties to the Church of England, which was deeply involved in the ownership of slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations, has been making gestures of repentance within recent years and publicly apologising for its role in slavery.

Repentance is good for the soul. Saying sorry is not always easy. Particularly for Christian ministers obliged to preach and practice the Biblical doctrine that "we are all God's children" -- red or yellow, black or white, as I recall an old Sunday School chorus.

Now, as very influential leaders of Christendom contemplate how best to help in enabling practical responses for the Church's historical involvement in slavery, the focus remains on wealthy and powerful nations, such as the United States of America and Britain.

Their leaders are under increasing pressures to say "sorry" and, hopefully, to come forward with appropriate forms of reparations to help in fostering socio-economic developments in countries whose nationals comprise the descendants of African slaves.

For sure, there is no consensus even in countries still suffering from the evils of slavery on what constitutes a politically correct official apology. For instance, should it be made a record of parliament and specifically addressed to specific nations? Or, in the case of reparations, determining the context in which it should take place by mutual consent of donor and recipient nations?

Although the bicentenary of official abolition of slavery has been long in coming, there is yet to emerge any cohesive approach by our own CARICOM governments how to go about achieving reparations for slavery.

Following Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent gesture of an apology -- without any known formal request from CARICOM, or the African Union -- for his country's long history in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, our community's leaders are planning to seek an apology from President George W. Bush when they meet with him during the Washington Conference on the Caribbean scheduled for June 19-21.

It is to be hoped that in setting themselves such a challenging task, CARICOM leaders do not embarrass themselves for failing to engage in relevant research on this particular U.S. President's position when it comes to either apologising for, or much less agreeing to any kind of reparation for slavery.

It would be recalled that on the eve of his official 2003 visit to Africa, Bush had made it pellucidly clear that he had no intention of apologising for America's historical role in the slave trade during that journey.

Nor has the President said anything since to suggest a change of attitude. Therefore, good luck to those in CARICOM who feel they could influence Blair's White House soul-mate to also say "sorry" for African slavery.