GREAT BAY, St. Martin — A last minute change in the program brought the issues of Reparations and the continuing struggle of West Papua for its independence from Indonesia to the forefront of the Presidents’ Forum at the 12th Annual St. Martin Book Fair, Saturday, June 7. It was a blessing in disguise, and one that remained consistent with the festival’s 2014 theme of “Crime&Punishment.”
Following an introduction of the presenters by president of the University of St. Martin, Annelies van dem Assem, rapporteur/moderator Fabian Badejo welcomed the audience and said the Presidents’ Forum is the “intellectual underpinning” of the Book Fair.
The issue of reparations for the crime against humanity that was Slavery is one that won’t go away easily, he said, invoking the adage that states, “he who does the crime, must do the time.”
However, author, playwright and member of Antigua and Barbuda’s National Reparations Committee, and of the Caribbean Reparations Commission, Dorbrene O’Marde addressed the issue from several angles, stressing that reparations was necessary to bring closure to that evil chapter in human history that still impacts the lives of Caribbean people up till today.
One by one, O’Marde debunked the main arguments against reparations, and drew a clear distinction between slavery in Africa and the chattel Slavery of the Transatlantic Slave Trade adding that he agreed with Badejo’s suggestion that the latter be spelt with a capital “S.”
He also showed that there has been no break in the struggle for reparations, especially in the Caribbean and explained that the CARICOM Reparations Commission had a 10-point plan, which was recently approved unanimously by the member states to “achieve reparatory justice for the victims of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.”
The Forum however, belonged to exiled West Papua independence movement leader, Chief Benny Wenda, an ex-political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his relentless work to drum up international support for the liberation of his people.
In a chilling presentation that began with a freedom song in his native language, Wenda recalled the racial humiliation he suffered at school and the institutionalized oppression of the people of West Papua by the Indonesian military.
A sham referendum in 1962, recognized by the UN, made West Papua part of Indonesia. However, the cry for freedom of the people has beensystematically stifled with the international community either not paying much attention or totally ignoring the plight of the West Papuans. Wenda revealed that since 1962, over 500,000 West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military.
He received an emotional standing ovation and many participants pledged their support for his cause and wanted to know how they could help advance this.
Wenda would later receive the Presidents’ Award at the closing ceremony of the Book Fair held at the Chamber of Commerce building in Concordia, Marigot, on the Saturday evening.
The Presidents’ Award is presented annually to a book fair guest for creating or advancing original or critical works of literature and orature. Chief Wenda, with his wife Maria, is also part of the Lani Singers. The group’s albums, Ninalik Ndawi and Ninalik Arirak, include West Papua songs that might land some in jail if interpreted as subversive folk or protest songs by the Indonesian military in West Papua.