Caribbean Nations Sue Over Slave Trade

 Caribbean Nations Sue Over Slave Trade

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for the fourteen Caribbean countries filing suit against nations that made them the victims of slave trade.

The film Twelve Years a Slave was released this past week at a pivotal time – the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Though the movie focuses on slavery in America, it was made by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, whose parents are from the West Indies by way of the slave trade. A quiet coincidence could be found in latter pages of the news: this weekend, fourteen Caribbean countries damaged by the slave trade announced they will demand apologies, and reparations, from Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

The case is based on the past’s lingering effect on the present, according to the nations. “Our constant search and struggle for development resources is linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our peoples during slavery and colonialism,” said Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. The list of damages they bring to Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing them, ranges from underdeveloped economies to health issues.

With crimes over two centuries old and, in fact, not legal crimes when they were committed, reparations seem unlikely. However, settlements may be reached, bringing the Caribbean nations some of what they wanted: money, and acknowledgment.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for the fourteen Caribbean countries filing suit against nations that made them the victims of slave trade.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: There are strings attached to every endeavor. History has a way of being forgotten unless brought up in ways that can make a weary world take note, as with Twelve Years a Slave‘s release on an historically significant anniversary. While the Caribbean countries may have wanted more than mere acknowledgment of barbarity, asking for reparations may be a stretch. Should modern-day nations pay for injustices committed centuries ago? Whether the courts decide may be beside the point. What was desired was acknowledgment and money, and the nations still suffering may get some of both – along with discussion as to whether these kinds of wrongs can ever be righted.


Depardieu: From French to Russian Dressing

 Depardieu: From French to Russian Dressing

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Gerard Depardieu (left, with Vladimir Putin).

Who’s playing who in the great French tax debate? Heavyweight French actor Gerard Depardieu has raised eyebrows after threatening to take up a Russian passport to avoid what he sees as onerous tax rates in his native France. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Depardieu claimed, “I love your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers. I like to make films here . . . I adore your culture, your way of thinking . . .”

President Putin has said the passport is there for Depardieu “if he wants it.” Depardieu has said he wants to take up the offer even before the new higher tax rates are law in France. For smiling President Putin, what better way to encourage off-shore Russians that Moscow is safe and friendly to high net-worth investors?

Before playing his part in this PR love-fest, Depardieu might want to ponder why, despite having a flat tax rate of only  13 per cent, wealthy Russians continue to ship their money to offshore centers. Parking money offshore has been a consistent concern of both Russian tax authorities and millionaires alike. Could it be that Putin needs an endorsement to show his wealth-friendly credentials?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Gerard Depardieu and his partnership with President Putin. The actor might want to read the fine print.

THE PR TAKEWAY: In PR, it’s easy to be played. Gerard Depardieu seems to be happily ignoring the acres of press coverage concerning Russian government corruption, its politicized bureaucracy, and it’s notorious vindictiveness – not to mention clamp downs on artisitic freedom (ever heard of Pussy Riot, Gerard?). As wealthy Russians continue to seek safer havens, Depardieu might want to wonder why Putin’s PR people are happy to have him so publicly running in the opposite direction of Russia’s oligarchs. It’s easy to understand what Putin sees in this PR opportunity, but for Depardieu, it’s not so clear. Before jumping on the endorsement bandwagon, it might have been more sensible to look around for alternative tax jurisdictions. Singapore, anyone?

Full Steam Ahead for DSK!

DSKcrosssue 300x187 Full Steam Ahead for DSK!

The PR Verdict: “C” for DSK and his team.

Full steam ahead for Dominique Strauss-Kahn who is now countersuing Nafissatou Diallo, the housekeeper at the Manhattan hotel who last year accused him of rape.   He says her statements about him damaged his political career and cost him his job as managing director of the International Monetary Fund and “other professional opportunities”.  How much is that worth? DSK says a cool $1 million plus punitive damages.

His lawyers said Diallo was “directly responsible for his being arrested, imprisoned and subjected to extraordinary pain, anguish and expense.”  Batting back, a lawyer for Diallo countered, “Strauss-Kahn’s lawsuit is yet another publicity stunt, smacks of desperation and will be easily defeated.”

All of this against a backdrop of DSK being charged on separate matters, including a French allegation of involvement in a prostitution ring and an accusation of assaulting of a woman at a hotel in Washington in 2010.  He has denied wrongdoing on both counts.

The PR Verdict: “C” for DSK and his team.  Given unrelated allegations have surfaced after Diallo’s, demanding punitive damages from a hotel housekeeper seems heavy handed.

PR Takeaway: Outrage and fury work best when not mitigated by complicating facts.  DSK’s decision to sue might be for all the right reasons but with a prostitution charge hanging over his head, demanding a million dollar settlement from a hotel housekeeper is unlikely to rescue his reputation.  To make the same point go ahead and file, but in deference to the financial situation of Diallo, unsympathetic public opinion and some very compromising ongoing legal issues, sue for a nominal sum only.

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