Of all the former British colonies in the hemisphere, tourism paradise Barbados has long been widely considered as “Little Britain, Bimshire.” The Caribbean’s most easterly island probably has more remnants of its British past than perhaps any Caribbean, Central or South American nation.
Thousands of Britons who holiday there annually, and many of the wealthy who own posh homes on the trendy west coast and other areas, often make it clear that they feel more at home in Barbados than most other places around the globe. Districts bear names like St. George and St Phillip. As is the case in England, the main sporting facility in Barbados is the Kensington Oval. One of the main city streets is Nelson Street, named after infamous British 19th century warmonger Lord Nelson whose statue was located, not accidentally, in Trafalgar Square, renamed as National Heroes Square about 20 years ago.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and United Kingdom-based charter carriers make daily trips to Barbados. The ‘highbrow’ Concorde flew to Barbados during winter peak seasons in its heyday, allowing the nation to have the distinction of being one of the few in the Americas which could so brag and boast.
Such is the love the British have for the island of just over 300,000 people, a mix of descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, remnants of the white planter class and of recent, Indo Caribbean citizens mostly from Guyana and Trinidad.
So when neighboring Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica decided decades ago to dump Queen Elizabeth as the head of state, became republics, and chose Black and Brown heads of state, many in Barbados frowned on those moves, worrying that it would have spelt doom and gloom. They also argued that cutting the colonial umbilical cord could have left such countries without the implicit military and other protections from the so-called mother country in times of peril.
But the situation is changing fast. The administration of Prime Minister Mia Mottley is picking up the pace on ensuring the island becomes a republic by around November when it would have celebrated 55 years as an independent nation.
For those who dare to think that the cabinet is not serious, they only need to hark back to events of last November. Back then, the cabinet decided once and for all to remove Lord Nelson’s overbearing statue from commercial Bridgetown, the capital, and relocate it largely out of sight to locals and visitors. Nelson was a staunch defender of the slave trade and was widely admired by the then white planter class.
Authorities say the intention is to cut such ties and appoint a local as a head of state, making Barbados the fourth of 13 former colonies in the regional grouping to do so. Suriname and Haiti were respectively Dutch and French ex possessions.
Over the weekend, the government established a republican status transition advisory committee that would walk the country as seamlessly as possible to the next development stage.
“Guided by this, the new committee will be required to discuss rights, responsibilities and aspirations and to specifically include the youth and the diaspora. Over the next few weeks, the public will be given an opportunity to send their ideas to the committee and to attend its public meetings,” a government announcement stated. The report is to be turned in by the end of September.
The announcement noted that the committee should consider “the primacy of identity consciousness of Barbadians, identifying the salient national characteristics and encouraging their positive and constructive display and so seek to enhance national consciousness or the ‘Soul of the Nation’ and to advise on the required reform measures necessary to achieve this status.”
Barbados has also taken the major step to abandon the British Privy Council in London as its final appellate court and switch to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) while most of her neighbors are afraid to do so.
When discussing independence and republican status, many West Indians point to upstart Jamaica as one that would have done so as far back as Guyana in 1970 but no government there has had the political gall to push that button and take a major vote on the issue.