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Article

Abstract

This article proposes that the concept of “odious debt” provides an especially fruitful legal framework for the Haitian and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) demands for reparations and debt severance. The concept renders visible different dimensions of the background economic order that have been constitutive of postcolonial sovereignty, and the histories of trade and aid that have engendered debt. In analyzing the work of different regimes of visibility, I have found it useful to think with Abderrahmane Sissako’s 2006 film Bamako, and the world of Wakanda in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018)—two films that work through the stakes of visibility, recognition, and refusal in the society of nations. Visibility—both as a metaphor for what is explicit and an account of what is before our eyes—is central to the politics of reparations. In this context, the doctrine of “odious debt” and the cinematic considerations that frame, advance, and interrupt the narrative worlds of Bamako and Wakanda provide an interpretive lens through which to make visible the background structural arrangements linking globalisation’s winners and losers, and concomitantly, to contribute to situating reparations in a politics of refusal. The reparation claims of Haiti and CARICOM can be understood as stories entailing law and economics, visibility, and witnessing of the world—stories with a performative function where the telling itself seeks to interrupt how the world functions.

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