Barbados officially became a republic on Monday night in a ceremony in which Queen Elizabeth II ceased to be the island’s head of state.
Independent from the UK since 1966, Barbados celebrated its transition from monarchy to republic after some four centuries of submission to the British monarchy.
The island known for its paradisiacal beaches, its rum and for being the birthplace of world superstar Rihanna, has as head of state a woman, Sandra Mason, until now the governor general of the country, after her election on October 21.
Mason was sworn in at midnight Monday in the nation’s capital, Bridgetown, in an official ceremony that also replaced the royal banner with the presidential flag.
“I, Sandra Prunella Mason, swear to be faithful and to keep true loyalty to Barbados in accordance with the law, with the help of God.”said the new president.
The ceremony, which was attended by Prince Charles, eldest son of Elizabeth II, and Rihanna, was not open to the public, despite the fact that the curfew had been suspended due to the pandemic so that residents could enjoy the festivities, which included fireworks throughout the island.
“I’m not very excited about Barbados becoming a republic, simply because people really don’t really know that we are becoming a republic.”says Ian Trotman, a 58-year-old textile manufacturer who missed an information campaign for residents.
Barbados remains a member of the Commonwealth organization, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted in a statement on Monday.
“We will continue to be staunch friends and allies, drawing on the enduring affinities and connections between our peoples and the special bond of the Commonwealth.”Johnson wrote.
During his stay in Barbados, the Prince of Wales was the focus of criticism for comments he allegedly made a few years ago about the skin color of the future children of his son Harry and Meghan Markle.
The statements, collected in a book to be published on Tuesday, were denied by the office of Prince Charles: “This is fiction and does not deserve further comment,” said a spokesman for the British crown.
The problems of British influence and racism were two key elements in Barbados’ decision to become a republic, as the legacy of centuries of slavery continues to be burned on the island.
PREJUDICES OF THE PAST
Several voices in Barbados criticized the island’s prime minister, Mia Mottley, inviting Prince Charles – heir to the British crown – to Mason’s inauguration, and granting him the Barbados Order of Freedom, the highest national honor.
“The British royal family is a source of exploitation in this region and, until now, they have not offered a formal apology or any type of reparation for the damages suffered”said Kristina Hinds, professor of international relations at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. “I don’t see how anyone in the family can receive this award.”
For some activists like Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Muslim Association of Barbados, British colonialism and slavery are responsible for the modern inequality of the island.
“Economic inequality, the ability to own land and even access to bank loans have a lot to do with the structures built after British rule”, says 26-year-old Bulbulia.
“The physical chains (of slavery) have been broken and we no longer carry them, but the mental chains remain in our minds”, he assures.
But some residents point to the island’s most urgent problems, including the economic crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the country’s dependence on tourism, especially from the United Kingdom.
Before the virus emerged, more than a million people visited this island of about 287,000 inhabitants each year.
The tranquility of the usually bustling streets of Bridgetown, the tiny number of visitors and a dying nightlife are testimony to the difficulties of this pearl of the Lesser Antilles.
Unemployment is almost 16%, 9 percentage points more than in previous years, despite the increase in government loans to finance public sector works and create jobs.
(With information from AFP)
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