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USVI group seeking reparations from Denmark

Delegation visits Copenhagen to initiate dialogue; retired top U.S. diplomat advising group on strategy


April 21, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Last March 31, the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) observed the 88th anniversary of the transfer of the former Danish West Indies to the U.S., and now a group of U.S. Virgin Islanders is visiting Copenhagen to open discussions on reparations from the nation that owned and occupied the territory from 1672 until 1917.

While the subject of reparations is not new in the U.S., this is believed to be the first initiative originating in the USVI aimed at the former colonial nation of the small Caribbean territory.

The group spearheading the action is called the African-Caribbean Reparations & Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA) headed by Shelley Moorhead of St. Croix. While its initiative is private, it is being observed by Democratic USVI Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who has sent an aide, Carlyle Corbin, his external affairs adviser. The delegation was also accompanied by Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen (VI-D).

Policy adviser to the group is retired U.S. Ambassador Terence Todman, a native Virgin Islander. He served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark and to a number of other countries including Spain and Argentina, as well as former U.S. secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.

"I wasn’t able to go to Denmark, but I promised I would keep in close touch," said Todman, a board member of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which oversees its Latin American programs.

Todman agreed to advise the group after their earlier meeting in Washington with representatives of the V.I. Danish Apprenticeship Initiative. Its director, Ulla Lunn, invited Moorhead and his group to Denmark to meet with human rights and cultural heritage organizations for discussions on reparations.

Todman a graduate of IAU

"I think it is a worthwhile and excellent idea," said Todman, who received his bachelor of arts degree from Inter American University in Puerto Rico, and his master’s in public administration from Syracuse University. "Slavery is nothing anyone can be proud of. That sort of thing leaves a mark that can’t easily be erased."

Recalling he served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark for six years, Todman said, "Many Danes expressed their regrets at the way things happened during the period of slavery." Referring to the sale of the territory by Denmark to the U.S. in 1916 with the formal transfer occurring in 1917, the retired diplomat said, "They felt badly that they weren’t in a position to make demands for the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was just a sale.

"You never make up completely for these things, but at least they are showing it isn’t something they are proud of," he said. "Once you have an open approach like that then you have the basis for discussion on what might be done.

"What I appreciate about the way they are looking at it, is that they are not trying to relive the evils of the past but trying to see where we are today in order to build a better day," he said.

The emancipation of the former slaves (in 1848) was followed by labor revolts and the decline of the sugar industry. "Denmark turned to other things," said Todman. "Many people don’t know. In the process, people will learn something about what it must have been like."

The ACRRA initiative has been embraced by a number of members of the USVI Legislature, and Sen. Ronald Russell of St. Croix has drafted a bill to establish a commission to study reparations to the USVI.

The first bill on reparations in the U.S. Congress was introduced in 1989 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), but it has never been enacted into law.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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