As with the visit of her grandson, Prince William, and granddaughter-in-law Kate to the region earlier this year amid strident calls for apologies and reparations, the death last week of long-serving British monarch Queen Elizabeth has evoked mixed emotions in the Caribbean, with more calls for justice for the genocidal slave trade and plans by some countries to become republics in the near future.
The Bahamian and Antiguan governments at the weekend both said they would soon organize referendums to allow locals to determine whether those nations should dump King Charles as their head of state, choose a local as president, and become republics, completing what both governments say would be “the full circle” of true independence.
“I will have a referendum and the Bahamian people will have to say to me, yes. The only challenge with us moving to a republic is that I can’t, as much as I would wish to do it, I cannot do it without your consent,” Prime Minister Phillip Davis told reporters at the weekend.
Antigua in the Eastern Caribbean is also planning to vote on the issue in the next prime ministerial term, as regional member states line up to become republics alongside Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and Barbados—the last to do so just last November. Elections in Antigua are due early next year.
“That ambition remains, and early in our next term we should be in a position to put a constitutional question to the people of Antigua and Barbuda to determine whether or not we should transition from the monarch as our head of state, King Charles, or whether we should have our own president as a local Antiguan and Barbudan,” PM Gaston Browne said on a weekend radio program. “Becoming a republic doesn’t mean that this represents any form of disrespect to the monarchy. It’s just about completing that circle of independence to ensure we are truly a sovereign nation,” he added
As Caribbean leaders prepare to travel to London for the late monarch’s funeral next week, regional activists are reminding Caribbean citizens not to mourn for a queen who had represented a country which had not only colonized many nations in the region but had also helped to fund the brutal and genocidal slave trade.
“Look at how old she was when she died. She was kept alive that long because of the plunder of countries like ours. It was that plunder that allowed them to live the lives of luxury that they did. Their history is one of tyranny,” said Khafra Kambon, the head of Trinidad’s emancipation committee and Black Power activist.
An indication of the mood of the region, Bahamian Social Services Minister Obie Wilchcombe says the fight for reparations for the slave trade must be maintained and the issue will be a major agenda item when The Bahamas hosts the mid-year leaders conference early next year.
“The argument is reasonable and the argument should be considered. I think that we’ve made progress. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
“When you think about it, many [Caribbean people] contributed. Many were a part of and were defending the Union Jack and they gave their lives. Many have lived in the UK since and still have not been given the recognition they deserve,” the minister said, swiping at British authorities. The Bahamas will celebrate 50 years as an independent nation next July.
Nearby Jamaica, meanwhile, missed its chance to switch to a republic in time for its 60th independence anniversary last month because of outstanding legislative work to make the transition. Authorities say the parliamentary work, which might also include a referendum, could be completed next year.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has already told London that the time has come to make the move during the visit of William and Kate earlier this year.
Those which still allow a British monarch to rule as their head of state include Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines
According to Antigua’s ambassador to the U.S., Sir Ronald Sanders, writing on the subject of transitioning to a republic: “The time has simply come to manifestly end the Caribbean’s long history of association with Britain as a colonial power, transforming the relationship to a partnership of cooperation with a Commonwealth sister-nation.”