At the end of November last year, tiny Barbados celebrated its last year as an independent nation from Britain, switching instead to a full-fledged republic with its own native head of state instead of Queen Elizabeth as had been the case for decades.
Watched by millions around the world, including many in the United Kingdom, that glitzy move by the 166-square mile Eastern Caribbean nation has sparked a major and simmering debate among the independent former British colonies in the region, not the least being Jamaica, Antigua and The Bahamas.
As Prince Williams and his wife left the Caribbean late Saturday after paying official visits to Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas in the past week and a half, demands on London to both apologize for and to pay reparations for its part in the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade reached a crescendo with the most outright statements emanating from upstart Jamaica, as expected. The visit has also reignited aspirations by several regional countries to ditch the Queen and become republics.
During an official function with the royals for example, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made it flippantly clear that Jamaica has every intention of spending its last year simply as a nation which gained independence from Britain back in August of 1962 as it will soon join Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica as a republic.
Swept up by such pronouncements, similar echoes flowed from Antigua, The Bahamas and Belize where the royals were perhaps subjected to the most protests and ridicule. Authorities were forced to cancel a visit to an indigenous village for security reasons as organizers signaled their disagreement with their presence.
“We are moving on,” Holness told the royals. “Jamaica is, as you would see, a country that is very proud of our history, very proud of what we have achieved. We intend to attain, in short order, our development goals and fulfill our true ambitions as an independent, developed, prosperous country,” he said.
A few days before, Belizean Prime Minister John Brecino announced the establishment of a constitutional commission that will pave the way for the switch to a republic.
Clearly getting the message from the three-nation visit, Prince Williams suggested that the tour had provided “an opportunity to reflect” on Britain’s links to the 15-nation Caribbean Community. Thirteen of the members are former colonies. He said the visit had brought “into sharper focus questions about the past and the future,” perhaps hinting to its role in the holocaustic slave trade, its refusal to apologize for its role and to pay compensation to descendants of slavery. These remarks were made on a Twitter account linked to the couple.
The future, he said, “is for the people to decide. I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future. In Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon,” he said, clearly stung by demands for reparations and for the Queen to disappear as head of state of several countries.
Meanwhile, Professor Verne Shepherd, a leading reparations activist in the Caribbean, said she was not surprised by the prince’s refusal to apologize on behalf of Britain, noting that “I am sure he got instructions—‘Please don’t say ‘apology,’ don’t use that word, because you’re going to commit the British state to reparations,’” she said. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron had similarly refused to deal with the subject while on a state visit in 2015.
As a clear indication that this was the worst welcome any royal has got in the Anglo Caribbean in recent decades, The Bahamian reparations committee attacked the government for hosting the visit, suggesting that taxpayers should not have been made to fund the visit.
“This visit commemorates 70 years since Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne of imperialism—more years than The Bahamas has been a sovereign nation. The committee asserts that we as Bahamians must have a clear understanding of what this trip truly means. We are not beholden to the British monarchy in any way and we do not owe them a debt of gratitude for anything—not for our culture, religion, or system of governance. Instead, the monarchy has looted and pillaged our land and our people for centuries, leaving us struggling with under-development, left to pick up the pieces,” the committee said.