Barbados Faces Backlash, Cancels Purchase of £3M Plantation Once Owned by Tory MP & Linked to Slavery

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The government of Barbados has suspended plans to purchase a £3 million former plantation from a British Conservative MP whose family profited from slavery. Richard Drax, the MP for South Dorset, owns a 617-acre tract of land in Barbados that was once a sugar plantation run by his ancestors in the 17th century. Thousands of enslaved Africans were forced to work there.

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The government initially planned to acquire the land at market value to build housing for Barbadians while pursuing reparations from Mr. Drax for his family’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. However, the plan faced significant backlash, prompting Prime Minister Mia Mottley to announce a pause in the acquisition and a public consultation to address the concerns of Barbadians.

“I understand the concerns of many Barbadians who may feel that they have been robbed of the opportunity for appropriate settlement for the reparations that ought to be made,” Ms. Mottley said in a video statement on Wednesday.

“As a result of the blood, sweat, and tears of Barbadians over centuries, I want to make it clear that this is not a matter we take lightly. Given the conversation, I believe it is appropriate for us to pause the acquisition to allow for greater dialogue and to assess where we stand with Mr. Drax in terms of reaching a reasonable settlement.”

Ms. Mottley has committed to building 10,000 homes to meet the nation’s housing demand, with 20,000 applications currently on record. The government’s plan to acquire Drax Hall, which has been described as a “killing field” for enslaved Africans, sparked swift condemnation.

Trevor Prescod, chair of the Barbados National Taskforce on Reparations and a Member of Parliament, criticized the move: “What a bad example this is? Reparations and Drax Hall are now top of the global agenda. How do we explain this to the world?”

Ms. Mottley, in her statement, emphasized that Barbados is a country governed by the rule of law and has no history of expropriating land without compensation. She noted that while the government might acquire land, it is obligated by law to pay for it. However, this does not preclude them from pursuing reparations for historical injustices.

She also expressed frustration at the slow pace of discussions with Mr. Drax regarding reparations, a conversation the government has been urging him to engage in since 2022.

Between the plantation’s establishment in the 1620s and the abolition of slavery in 1833, historians estimate that 30,000 enslaved Africans lived and died on the Drax estate. The Drax family generated significant wealth from this brutal legacy. Following the abolition of slavery, the British government compensated former slave owners, including the Drax family, with substantial sums of money.

Richard Drax, now 66, is reportedly worth £150 million and is the seventh member of his family to serve in the House of Commons. Despite calls for reparations, he has maintained that while his family’s past is “deeply, deeply regrettable,” individuals cannot be held accountable for events that happened “many hundreds of years ago.” However, he still benefits from the wealth and privilege accrued through the exploitation of enslaved people.

In 2021, Barbados became a republic, removing the British monarch as head of state. The pause in the acquisition of Drax Hall suggests that the country is taking public sentiment and the legacy of slavery seriously as it moves forward in its new era.

Mr. Drax has been approached for comment on the government’s latest decision to halt the acquisition of his plantation.

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