Barbados cut ties with the British monarchy on Tuesday, severing its colonial bonds to form a new republic. In honour of the historic handover, the royal standard flag representing the queen was lowered during Dame Sandra Mason’s inauguration as the first president of Barbados. Mason was inaugurated as president on Monday evening and Barbados was declared at the strike of midnight, with Prince Charles – heir to the British throne – in attendance.
Prince Charles spoke about the importance of cordial ties between the two countries at the transition ceremony. “As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change. For example, the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth,” reads an excerpt of his speech, as released by his office. He also acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery” suffered by the Caribbean island.
Barbados attained independence from Britain in 1966. Mason was elected as the first president of the country with a two-thirds majority vote in October 2021, one year after Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared that the country would “fully” leave behind its colonial past. The British government said that Prince Charles would use his speech to emphasise the importance of the ties between the two countries, as part of the commonwealth group. The decision to invite him as a guest of honour and to bestow the Order of Freedom of Barbados on him has been criticised by locals. Another race row clouded the British royal family member’s visit over alleged remarks about his grandson at the last minute.
It has been argued that there are more pressing issues that Barbados faces than removing the queen such as the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the country’s overreliance on tourism. It also has an unemployment rate of 16 percent, up from 9 percent in recent years.
Firhaana Bulbulia, the founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, said that British colonialism and slavery are at the root of Barbados’ modern inequities. In her opinion, “The wealth gap, the ability to own land, and even access to bank loans are all a result of the structures built when the country was ruled by Britain.”
Recently, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movements around the world, local activists successfully lobbied for the removal of a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson that had stood in the National Heroes Square for two centuries.
Some people view the end of the queen’s reign as a necessary step towards financial reparations to address the brutal consequences of the use of African slaves on sugar plantations.