Barbados transitioned from a Commonwealth realm to a republic as of midnight local time today, marking the 55th anniversary of the Caribbean island’s independence from Britain.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley described the move as a “seminal moment” that will see the nation of 300,000 people leave its colonial past behind.
An overnight ceremony in Bridgetown, the capital, was attended by notable figures including Mottley, Barbadian singer Rihanna, Prince Charles and inaugural president Sandra Mason, who has replaced the Queen as the country’s head of state.
“Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state,” Mason argued back in September 2020, when the government first announced its intention to cease being a constitutional monarchy, The Guardian reported
In a statement published today, the Queen said that she was “very pleased” that her son was there to mark the historic occasion. “The people of Barbados have held a special place in my heart,” she said. “It is a country rightfully proud of its vibrant culture, its sporting prowess, and its natural beauty, that attracts visitors from all over the world.”
Barbados is the first Commonwealth realm in nearly three decades to declare itself a republic. In 1992, 24 years after gaining independence, the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius was proclaimed a republic but remained in the Commonwealth, which will be the case for Barbados too.
Demands for slavery reparations
Today’s transition had been debated for years, but “gained momentum amid the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and growing demands for reparations for slavery on the island”, said The Washington Post.
According to The Independent’s race correspondent Nadine White, who has been reporting from Bridgetown, campaigners had planned to stage a protest demanding slavery reparations during Prince Charles’s speech, but had been forced to cancel it by the country’s government.
“A lot of us don’t understand why the prince is here if we’re really pulling away from the colonial power,” co-organiser Marcia Weekes told White. “Why haven’t we heard any talk about reparations despite the PM creating a whole arm in the government to deal with that issue?”
Given Barbados’s history, it is “no surprise” that the island “has been at the centre of the debate about reparations”, wrote Zeinab Badawi in the Financial Times. The legacy of slave owners on the island is apparent, she continued, adding that “white Barbadians account for about 2.5% of the 280,000 population but they own most of the island’s productive land”.
Calls for an apology
Alongside demands for reparations, some campaigners have been calling on the Royal Family to apologise for the role of its ancestors in the slave trade.
In his speech at the official ceremony, Prince Charles stopped short of an apology but formally acknowledged “the appalling atrocity of slavery” in the Caribbean, remarking that “it forever stains our history”.
Many had criticised Mottley’s decision to include the Prince of Wales in the ceremony, with some protesters describing it as an “insult” to Barbadians because of the Royal Family’s links to colonialism, said The Telegraph.
Will other countries follow suit?
Barbados is not the first former British colony in the Caribbean to forsake the Queen. Guyana took that step in 1970, Trinidad and Tobago followed suit in 1976 and Dominica did the same two years later.
It’s also unlikely to be the last. Over the years, there has been a “long-running debate” in Jamaica over whether it should also turn away from the monarchy, said The Guardian.
On Monday, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the island’s constitution would undergo a major review next year. Both of Jamaica’s main political parties support cutting ties with the monarchy completely.
Referring to Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica, The Independent’s White tweeted: “Of the ‘big four’ countries in the Caribbean community, this week Jamaica will be the only one that isn’t a republic.”
And outside the Caribbean, a movement to drop the Queen as head of state has been growing in Australia too. Speaking on CNN from Bridgetown on Monday, reporter Max Foster said he thought that “Australia is probably top of the list”, along with Jamaica, as the next country to become a republic.
According to the i news site’s chief foreign commentator Michael Day, Australians have “a love-hate relationship with the British”, with 45% of them voting to become a republic, and 55% against the idea, in the most recent referendum, in 1999. “Who says results won’t be reversed in a future poll?” Day concluded.