Barbados hedging on breaking away from Britain

Bert Wilkinson | 12/15/2016, 10:33 a.m.
Almost two years ago, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados vowed that his tiny but well organized Caribbean island would ...
Barbados Image by Michael Christen from Pixabay

Almost two years ago, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados vowed that his tiny but well organized Caribbean island would ditch Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as the country’s head of state and make the Barbados a republic like neighbors Trinidad and Guyana, but now there is every indication that nothing will happen in the very near future.

At the time, the country was in the early planning stages for its 50th independence celebrations from Britain. So many in the most easterly of the chain of Caribbean islands believed him and thought it would happen during his current five-year term.

But jubilee celebrations passed at the end of November with all the pomp and ceremony anyone could imagine. Native daughter and global pop star Rihanna sang the national anthem, and thousands came in from the cold to participate in the festivities, coming just six months after similar observances in nearby Guyana.

As the days came closer to Nov. 30, the 50th year of Barbados as an independent nation, Stuart remained mum, focusing more on the island’s current but debilitating economic troubles, fending off calls by critics for a devaluation of the Barbados dollar and stoutly resisting efforts for an austerity package from the IMF.

Now, even as the days have drifted beyond the jubilee celebrations and as general elections are just over two years away, some of the island’s big hitters are putting pressure on Stuart to keep his word.

People such as Sir Hilary Beckles, the head of the University of the West Indies multicampus system and the chair of the Caribbean Reparations Commission, are now throwing egg on the prime minister’s face as the months tick away.

Observers point to the fact that the Stuart administration is heading down the same failed road as that of the Owen Arthur administration that Stuart’s government replaced two elections ago. Arthur had made a similar announcement back in 2005 but went silent, like Stuart, as the months rolled by.

“My expectations are that Barbados will probably become the last country in this region to become a republic,” said a clearly frustrated Beckles. “I cannot see it. You imagine that we cannot even get government to move Lord Nelson’s statue out of Parliament Square. A slave owner has a monument in our parliament square, and each time there is a conversation to move it, there’s a public revolt.”

Pinpointing a quirk in local culture relating to things English and British, Beckles asked, “So how do you become a republic if you cannot remove an imperial warmonger slave owner out of your parliament square?”

Beckles noted that captured ISIS fighters who kill and mutilate hundreds of people at any given time are treated far better than slaves who worked plantations in the colonial era.

“When we watch on television at night and we see what ISIS is doing to the people,” he said, “What ISIS is doing to people is chicken feed, namby-pamby stuff compared to what the English did to the Africans in the Caribbean. It is child’s play compared to what the English did to the Africans in all of these islands. When you read stuff like people being put in a cage and burnt alive, burning people in cages is a standard Caribbean practice.”

There is no indication that the island known as “Little Britain” or “Bimshire” will be making any move to ditch Her Majesty anytime soon and have a brown or dark-skinned head of state rather than an old white woman in faraway England.