The island-nation of Barbados, which has long prided itself on being the most “English” of Britain’s former colonies in the Caribbean, is saying goodbye to the Queen.
The Caribbean nation announced Tuesday that it will be taking steps to drop Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain as its head of state and to become a republic by next year, when it marks its 55th anniversary of independence from British rule.
The announcement was made by Governor General Dame Sandra Mason during the opening of Parliament. During her speech, Mason told the country’s 287,000 citizens that after more than a century of independence, there can be no doubt about Barbados’ capacity for self-governance.
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” Mason said. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.”
The first country to drop the Queen as head of state since Mauritius did so in 1992, Barbados would join Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana as members of the 15-member Caribbean Community’s “Big Four” nations to have severed ties with the British monarchy. Jamaica, the fourth member, has gone back and forth on the idea of becoming a republic but so far has not done so. The smaller Caribbean nation of Dominica is also a republic, ditching the Queen in 1978 when it got its independence.
Hamid Ghany, director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago, said what Barbados has done may well become the catalyst for another round of changes in the region.
“This is Queen Elizabeth II in her personal capacity as Queen of Barbados; this is not Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of the United Kingdom. She is Queen of many countries around the Commonwealth,” Ghany said. “I think some of this has to do with the person of Queen Elizabeth II. There’s a lot of fondness and so on that has been associated with her, but she is a person who is now getting on in age. So too is the monarchy in the Caribbean. I think that there might be a relationship between the two in trying to make some change.”
If the change does go through, it will mean a number of constitutional changes in Barbados.
For example, the governor general, who is currently the Queen’s representative, would be replaced by a quasi-ceremonial president elected in a manner determined by the people of Barbados. Another practical change would be in membership of a hemispheric grouping like the Organization of American States. Instead of presenting credentials on behalf of “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” the ambassador of Barbados would do so on behalf of the country’s president. Barbados years ago had already decided that the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, not London’s Privy Council, would be its court of last resort.
“It is cutting a large vestige because there would be no more formal links to the UK. … This would be making another fundamental step in the direction of having a head of state who is homegrown,” Ghany said. “It’s part of the natural evolution of constitutions in the Commonwealth Caribbean and I rather suspect that some of the other countries, with the passage of time, will begin to make that change.”
In 2009, St. Vincent and the Grenadines tried to remove Queen Elizabeth, but the matter failed on a referendum. She remains the head of state for nine Caricom member states, including the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda. She also is the head of state for the United Kingdom as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries that were once part of the British Empire.
The idea of ditching the last formal link with the British monarch post-independence was recommended in Barbados back in 1998 during a constitutional review commission. But it has remained a thorny issue for some who, despite the implications of colonialism, pride themselves on the ties to England.
But today, the move to sever ties comes as Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who wrote Mason’s speech, put her country on the global stage and individual Barbadians re-examine their nation’s colonial past.
In June, thousands of Barbadians signed an online petition demanding the removal of a colonial-era statue of British naval commander and slavery sympathizer Horatio Nelson.
The online petition and #NelsonMustGo campaign was launched by Alex Downes, a 30-year-old Barbadian. Downes told the Miami Herald that he has met with several government officials about removing the statue and has been given “assurances by government that the process is still going on. The discussion isn’t whether to move it or not, but where to move it to.”
As for the announcement that the country wants to cut one of its last formal links to the British monarch, Downes said: “I’m ecstatic about that; very happy because it’s something that also has been discussed for some time but there’s been, for one reason or another, a reluctance to move toward it, whether it be the fact that people still have that feeling of familiarity with the old colonial system, England or some other country.
“Barbados has sometimes been called ‘Little England’ or ‘Bimshire’ so there’s that connection with England and Great Britain,” Downes added. “Sometimes I think that is what we tend to hold on to, but it seems now more so than ever people are ready to make a move.”
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