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Barbados to become a republic, replacing British queen

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Barbados to become a republic, replacing British queen

Barbados is on the verge of severing ties with the British monarchy, but the legacy of a sometimes brutal colonial past and the impact of the pandemic on tourism pose great challenges for the Caribbean island, which becomes the world’s newest republic. .

Barbados, famous for its beaches and its love of cricket, will replace its head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, this week with her current representative, Governor General Sandra Mason.

The ceremonies from Monday night to Tuesday will include military parades and celebrations, as Mason takes office as president, with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, watching.

In a speech to be delivered at the transition ceremony, Charles will focus on the continuing ties between the two countries.

“As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I join you in reaffirming those things that do not change. For example, the close and trustworthy association between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth, ”reads an excerpt from his speech, published by the prince’s office.

The dawn of a new era has fueled debate among the population of 285,000 about Britain’s centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery through 1834, and Barbados finally became independent in 1966.

“When I was a child, when I found out about the queen, I would be very excited,” said Sharon Bellamy-Thompson, 50, a fish seller in the capital Bridgetown, who remembers being about eight years old and seeing the monarch at a visit.

“As I get older, I began to wonder what this queen really means to me and my nation. It didn’t make any sense, ”he said. “Having a female president from Barbados will be great.”

Colonialism and slavery
For young activists like Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, British colonialism and slavery are behind the island’s modern inequalities.

“The wealth gap, the ability to own land and even access to loans from banks have a lot to do with the structures built under the British government,” said 26-year-old Bulbulia.

“The actual chains (of slavery) were broken and we no longer use them, but the mental chains continue to persist in our way of thinking.”

In October, Barbados elected Mason as its first president, a year after Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared that the country would “completely” give up its colonial past.

But some Barbadians argue that there are more pressing national problems, including the economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has revealed over-reliance on tourism, which ironically depends on British visitors.

The eerily calm in usually bustling Bridgetown, negligible number of popular tourist spots, and a dead nightlife scene all point to a struggling country after years of relative prosperity.

Unemployment is nearly 16 percent, up from 9 percent in recent years, despite a sharp increase in government loans to finance public sector projects and create jobs.

The country just eased a long-standing Covid-19 curfew, delaying it from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Opposition leader Bishop Joseph Atherley said this week’s celebrations between dignitaries would not be accessible to ordinary people.

“I just don’t think we’re doing ourselves a fair credit and service by having this when people are admonished to sit in the comfort of their home and watch on a screen,” Atherley said.

“A growing number of Covid cases, a growing sense of stress and fear, I just don’t think the time is right.”

‘Stand on our own two feet’
Some criticism has also centered on Mottley inviting Prince Charles to be the guest of honor and awarding him the Barbados Order of Freedom, the highest national honor.

“The British royal family is a source of exploitation in this region and so far they have not offered a formal apology or any kind of reparation for past damage,” said Kristina Hinds, professor of international relations at the University of the West Indies. in Barbados.

“So I don’t see how anyone in the family can receive this award. That is beyond me. “

Encouraged by Black Lives Matter movements around the world, local activists last year successfully advocated for the removal of a statue of British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson that stood in National Heroes Square for two centuries.

And some see the end of the queen’s reign as a necessary step towards financial reparations to address the historical consequences of using slaves brought from Africa to work on sugar plantations.

For many Barbadians, replacing the British queen is simply catching up on how the nation has felt for many years.

“I think it’s a very good thing that we are doing, becoming a republic, because we have been independent for 55 years and it is about time we stood up for ourselves,” said Derry Bailey, 33, owner of a beach chair. and water. sports rental business.

“I hope things improve with this system. There is no point in being independent and answering to the crown. So I really believe that being a republic is the way to go. “

Source Credit: TheGuardian

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