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Island nation of Sao Tome and Principe to ask Portugal for colonial reparations

THE government of the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe will ask Portugal to repair the moral damages caused by colonialism, the country’s education and cultural minister said on Thursday.

Speaking to Portugal’s Lusa news agency, minister Isabel Abreu said the Sao Tome and Principe government would draw up a plan to negotiate reparations with Portugal, adding the process would take time.

Abreu said the issue was set to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

It comes after Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, questioned by Reuters, said last week his country was responsible for crimes committed during transatlantic slavery and the colonial era, and suggested there was a need for reparations.

His comments sparked a national debate and strong criticism from right-wing parties.

The centre-right Portuguese government, which has executive powers, said it would not initiate any process to pay reparations, contrary to comments from Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative himself. It called for reconciliation instead.

For over four centuries, nearly 6 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported across the Atlantic by Portuguese vessels and sold into slavery, primarily in Brazil.

Portugal’s colonial era saw countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor and some territories in Asia subject to Portuguese rule.

Also reacting to Rebelo de Sousa’s comments, Mozambique’s ambassador to the United Nations welcomed the remarks and said that confronting the past was “already reparatory” but that it “would be even better if we could go beyond that”.

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Cape Verde’s President Jose Maria Neves said on Monday there was a need for discussions to take place in order to “reach an understanding and consensus on these matters”.

Brazil’s Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, told news portal G1 her team was in contact with the Portuguese government to discuss the issue.

Opponents of reparations argue, among other things, that contemporary states and institutions should not be held responsible for historical slavery. Advocates say action is needed to address the legacy of slavery on impoverished communities and contemporary states still benefit from the wealth generated by hundreds of years of unpaid labour.

The idea of paying reparations or making other amends for transatlantic slavery has a long history and remains deeply disputed, but has been gaining momentum worldwide.

The United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said last month reparations were need to overcome “generations of discrimination”.