Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge flew home to London over the weekend after one of the more awkward royal tours of the Caribbean. Public debate across the region in recent times has been dominated by talk of “decolonisation” – in practice this means cutting ties with the British monarchy and electing their own ceremonial heads of state. This is what Barbados did last year and the region’s major anglophone economies including Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas look set to follow suit.
A former British diplomat who worked in the Caribbean region explained, “Jamaica has now formally signalled its intention to begin the process to become a republic – this is a move the country’s politicians have toyed with for some time now. Debate in other areas of the region remains more polarised where Republican sentiment is balanced against strong sentiment towards Britain.”
“Jamaica has now formally signalled its intention to begin the process to become a republic.”
Former British diplomat in the Caribbean region
Reparations has become an increasingly contentious issue in UK-Caribbean relations. “It’s now become a persuasive influence in the Republican debate,” says the diplomat, “but I don’t think those arguments should dissuade a visit to the region by the Royal family. Ideological leanings aside, the region has a special historic relationship with the UK and important commercial relations – these will persist whether countries transition to becoming republics or not.”
A Caribbean academic said, “The University of the West Indies – one the region’s leading academic institutions – through its Centre for Reparations Research, is educating the younger generation of Caribbean nationals, and like all academic institutions this is where young people go to challenge the ideas and concepts of nationhood. The reparation movement has also been growing in support over the last few years.”
“The reparation movement has also been growing in support over the last few years.”
For its part, Belize in Central America, signalled its intention to remove the Queen as head of state following the royal visit. “The decolonisation process is enveloping the Caribbean region – perhaps it is time for Belize to take the next step in truly owning our independence” remarked a Belizean minister. Protests had taken place across the country during the visit with debates over the colonial legacy and tensions between local indigenous communities and the work of Flora and Fauna International, the conservation charity that Prince William supports as patron.
The former diplomat added, “Even if Belize does become a republic, the country along with much of the region, will remain a member of the Commonwealth. I think the institution will remain politically and culturally important to the Caribbean.”
Nonetheless, across the region maintaining the Queen as head of state is still closely linked to colonialism, and slavery and for many it’s the last vestiture to be removed before achieving true independence. The Windrush scandal has also damaged the reputation of the UK in the Caribbean. True, at a time when several countries across the Caribbean are struggling with sluggish economies and uninspired political leadership, the UK is regarded – especially by older generations – as a model of governance to be admired and emulated.
“In my view, the timing of the tour was wrong, coming so close to Barbados’ new Republican status,” remarked the academic. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, famously said Victor Hugo – the Royal visit is unlikely to make much of a dent in the region’s republican zeal.