Published on November 30, 2021 07:54
BRIDGETOWN (AFP) – Barbados, a Caribbean island nation, will sever its centuries-old ties to the British monarchy on Monday evening, abandoning Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and declaring itself the world’s newest republic.
The Royal Standard flag which represents the Queen will be lowered in the capital Bridgetown and – at midnight (0400 GMT) – the current Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, will be inaugurated as the first president.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, will attend the “Pride of Nationhood” ceremony, which will feature military parades, a mounted honor guard, salutes of arms, dances and fireworks.
Barbados’ new era fueled debate among the population of 285,000 over colonialism and Britain’s centuries of influence, including over 200 years of slavery until 1834.
And Prince Charles’ visit was clouded at the last minute by another racial row over alleged comments about his grandson.
Charles’ youngest son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan – who has a black mother and a white father – said an anonymous royal had asked how dark the skin of their first unborn child would be.
After a new book allegedly claimed Charles was responsible, his spokesperson said that “this is fiction and not worth commenting further.”
– Colonialism and slavery –
Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches, love of cricket and the birthplace of singer Rihanna – who will attend the evening’s marching band – gained independence from Britain in 1966.
In October, he elected Mason to become its first president, a year after Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the country would “completely” abandon its colonial past.
“I remember in the old days we would be really excited about the weddings of the Queen, Prince Charles and Princess Diana,” Anastasia Smith, a 61-year-old nurse, told AFP.
“But I don’t know if we’ve ever seen them as our royal family. Now everyone’s talking about a republic. I’m not sure anything in my life is going to change. But I think we do. the right thing and it’s a proud moment for Barbados. “
British officials said Charles would use his speech in Barbados to highlight the continued ties between the two countries, including through the Commonwealth Group of Nations.
But local critics have focused on Mottley calling on Charles to be the guest of honor and award him the Order of the Freedom of Barbados, the highest national honor.
For young activists like Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, British colonialism and slavery are at the root of modern inequalities on the island.
“The wealth gap, the ability to own land and even access to bank loans all have a lot to do with structures built to be ruled by Britain,” Bulbulia, 26, said.
– Focus on tourism –
Some Barbadians argue there are national issues more pressing than replacing the Queen, including the economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which has revealed over-reliance on tourism – which, ironically, relies on British visitors .
“I know this is something that we have been going towards for a very long time, but I think it happened at a time which is not necessarily the best time given our economic situation and the Covid situation”, a said the 27-year-old office manager. Nikita Stuart.
An eerie calm in generally bustling Bridgetown, a paltry number in popular tourist spots, and dead nightlife all point to a struggling country after years of relative prosperity.
Unemployment has reached nearly 16%, up from 9% in recent years, and the country has just eased a long-standing curfew against Covid-19, pushing it back from 9:00 p.m. to midnight.
For the occasion, however, it was temporarily suspended to allow Barbadians to enjoy the festivities, which will include screenings at various locations across the country and large fireworks when the transition becomes official.
Supported by Black Lives Matter movements across the world, local activists successfully advocated last year for the removal of a statue of British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson that stood in National Heroes’ Square for two centuries .
And the end of the Queen’s reign is seen by some as a necessary step towards financial reparations to deal with the historic consequences of using slaves brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations.
For many Barbadians, replacing the British Queen only catches up with what the nation has felt for many years.
“The symbolism of being able to aspire to be head of state is so powerful,” Mottley said last week.
“Our elected president, who will be sworn in on Monday evening (…) is the person who will bring immense pride to every boy and girl in Barbados.”