With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking a spirited reform movement throughout the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, some Caribbean Community governments and prominent citizens are leading a growing call to rid the region of colonial-era statues that glorify slavery and symbolize oppression.
In Barbados, the administration of Prime Minister Mia Mottley says that she favors the removal of British naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson from the island’s most important square in downtown Bridgetown, but the decision would only be made after nationwide consultations.
This is not the first time that today’s generation of mostly young and rebellious Afro Barbadians have made a push to rid the 166-square mile island of offensive colonial-era relics that symbolize and remind them of the abhorrent transatlantic slave trade. Similar calls have reverberated throughout the island nation more than a decade ago when debate had raged about the island becoming a republic like neighboring Trinidad and Guyana, abolishing Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and replacing her with a local Black or Brown local.
This time, Mottley is giving more than a tacit signal that the local movement has the cabinet’s support, by not only noting that she favors such but also suggesting that it is just a matter of time before a decision is taken.
“I would strongly encourage Barbados to follow me on this issue when we have the conversation because I, like you, believe National Heroes Square should be the home of a national hero of Barbados. I, like you, believe we will be in a better position, but the government is not going to definitively state a position without a consultation,” she said at the weekend.
The Nelson statue was erected by British slave owners in the 19th century after a brief visit to Barbados. Vice Admiral Nelson had played a key role in some of Britain’s most famous maritime battles. A previous administration had renamed the square where his statue sits as National Heroes rather than Trafalgar Square as is the case in London. Most locals say his visit to the island during the peak of slavery was his only link to the island and has nothing to do with them.
Meanwhile, Professor Hilary Beckles, the head of the Caribbean Reparations Commission and vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, is also stepping up pressure on authorities to act.
“The 85,000 enslaved Blacks entrapped in Barbados only knew of Nelson as leader of the naval power dedicated to keeping them in slavery. The 15,000 slave owners in Barbados who welcomed Nelson in the Caribbean and celebrated his presence, did so because their greatest fear was Black freedom.” Beckles argues that Nelson was the sworn enemy of Barbadian Blacks. “The enslaved Black community was not invited, therefore, to be a part of the decision made by enslavers to erect the Nelson monument in Bridgetown in 1813.”
In neighboring Trinidad, a row is raging about the need to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus and replace him with the island’s first and well respected prime minister, Eric Williams, at Independence Square in downtown Port of Spain.
Local newspapers reported on the annoyance of residents in nearby apartments complaining about having to see the statue as they wake daily, calling for its removal even as Spanish Ambassador Javier Carbajosa had the gall to say that he would be saddened to see its removal. The statue was recently defaced by angry protestors.
Said Carbajosa, “The image of the admiral’s defaced statue is particularly unsettling. Really? At a time in which COVID-19 is still among us and the consequences on the economy of Trinidad and Tobago seem uncertain. Really? Is this an urgent problem for Trinidad and Tobago now?”