USVI reparations movement leader on hunger strike

Published by Caribbean Net News

By Susan Mann

ST THOMAS, USVI: US Virgin Islands reparations movement leader Shelley Moorhead began a hunger strike earlier this week, refusing to leave the steps of Government House on St Croix until USVI Governor John deJongh allows the monies appropriated by the Territory Legislature to be accessed by his organisation. Friday was the fourth day of Moorhead’s politically motivated fast.

The Board of Directors of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance ( ACRRA) organization released the following statement: “Having considered all things, the members, supporters, and Directors of ACRRA have decided to take a course of public action. It is a form of public protest reserved for use in the most serious situations and at very critical times. It is what people and groups of people do when they can no longer bear, withstand, or accept a present condition. It is a demand for attention to the issues. It is a people petition for the addressing of matters. It is the effort to convert the benign neglect of a thing into common concern; the uprooting of complacency and the replacing of it with activism.”

Moorhead is the President of the St Croix-based organization.

The reparations leader says the governor met with him briefly at which time the Territory head requested a list of the Danish Government Officials he had met with, to date. He says deJongh also asked about the definition of reparations co-coined by ACRRA and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR).

Moorhead says the Governor also made a promise to release the funding appropriated by the Legislature to ACRRA, and to respond to the organization’s concerns with in the following two weeks. The ACRRA Board stated that they did not hear from deJongh in the promised timeframe, but after again contacting the governor by phone on July 15, 2008, remained hopeful that they would hear from him by or before the end of that week.

Moorhead says the governor has also not yet replied to a July 24 correspondence written to Government House by the ACRRA Board of Directors. The last official documentation sent to the ACRRA organization was a May 30th, 2008 letter under the governor’s signature expressing that “nothing has changed since the November 15, 2007 Memorandum, issued by OMB Director Debra Gottlieb”.

On June 30th, ACRRA received an invitation from Hans Fässler in Switzerland to travel to Zurich to meet with the Swiss government and banking officials regarding a legislated release of historical documents that pertain to slavery in the Danish West Indies and a loan procured by the Danish Crown in the 18th century for the purchase of plantations on St Croix.

Last week the US Congress issued a formal apology for the country’s participation in the slave trade.

Moorhead said that on July 3, 2008, the marking of the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies, Denmark – without having input from USVI officials or the African descendants who have been impaired – issued a statement “closing a dark chapter in Denmark’s role as colonial power on the Islands”.

The statement was not released or published in the territory where the legacy of the Danish institution of slavery is still prominent. “Closing this dark chapter all by themselves, Denmark once again has conveyed to the people of the Virgin Islands arrogance, ignorance of the issues, and a gross insensitivity which we must address,” said Moorhead.

ACRRA said it received via post on July 9 a copy of an article written in the April 22, 2008 edition of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere. The article has acclaimed ACRRA’s Memorandum of Understanding with DIHR to be a model for repair in the region. Published by the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, the article issues an endorsement of the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement.

Moorhead says that the continued withholding of ACRRA’s funding (by the USVI government) has made it impossible to respond to these developments in an appropriate and timely manner.

On July 6, 2007, David Edgecombe, Special Assistant to the Governor de Jongh for External Affairs, reportedly expressed to Moorhead that, “Government House policy regarding reparations in the territory will be forthcoming in a few weeks.”

An invitation by then Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados issued to ACRRA inviting the Virgin Islands to participate in the August/September 2007 Global Dialogue and to discuss slavery and plans for reparations in the region was unfulfilled due to funding issues.

A planned visit to Denmark by a Virgin Islands delegation to be spearheaded by ACRRA scheduled for January 2008, has now officially been cancelled.

Moorhead said his organization has met a test of its efforts and a challenge to the accomplishing its goals by the local government that has aroused community concern. Strategic planning and local community events and initiatives have come to a halt. Partnerships and relationships in Denmark will face further erosion without a visit to Copenhagen in the near future by ACRRA and an immediate infusion of cash to the organization in order to revive the ongoing dialogue.

In a written statement, ACRRA says it has few alternatives then, and has begun “protesting the irresponsibility and the neglect of the reparations issue by the USVI Government.”

The ACRRA Board says it has chosen to fast instead of to fight and to pray rather than to provoke. This course of public action will require our president during this time to fast from eating and the consumption of food.

Moorhead says he will not leave Government House until Virgin Islands reparations concerns are adequately addressed.