Barbados declared a republic, returning Queen Elizabeth II as head of state

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The new era for the nation of 285,000 brings an end to centuries of British influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.

Barbados President Dame Sandra Mason rises after taking the oath during the presidential inauguration ceremony at Heroes Square on November 30, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Pool / Getty Images / AFP

BRIDGETOWN – Barbados officially declared itself the world’s newest republic at the stroke of midnight, as the Caribbean island nation deposed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state on Tuesday in a solemn ceremony in presence of his son, Prince Charles.

Symbolizing the historic handover, the Royal Standard flag depicting the Queen was lowered in a ceremony inaugurating the current Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, as the first President of Barbados.

“I, Sandra Prunella Mason, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Barbados according to the law, so help me God,” the new president said as he took the oath.

The new era for the nation of 285,000 brings an end to centuries of British influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.

A long-lasting pandemic curfew has been suspended to allow Barbadians to enjoy the festivities, including screenings at various locations across the country and large fireworks scheduled to mark the historic transition.

“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. “

The ‘Pride of the Nation’ ceremony itself was closed to the general public, but Barbados’ most famous citizen, singer Rihanna, was held alongside senior officials for the event, with parades soldiers, a guard of honor on horseback and salutes of weapons.

COLONIALISM AND SLAVERY

Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket, gained independence from Great Britain in 1966.

In October, he elected Mason his first president, a year after Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the country would “completely” abandon its colonial past.

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 there has been local criticism of the decision to invite Charles as a guest of honor and award him the Order of the Freedom of Barbados, the highest national honor.

And Charles’s visit was clouded at the last minute by another racial argument over alleged comments about his grandson.

His 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.

A new book allegedly claimed Charles was responsible, which its spokesperson called “fiction and not worthy of further comment.”

BETTING ON TOURISM

Some Barbadians argue that there are national issues more pressing than replacing the Queen, including economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which has exposed an over-reliance on tourism – which, ironically, relies on British visitors .

The unemployment rate is almost 16%, compared to 9% in recent years.

“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.

In generally bustling Bridgetown, the paltry number of popular tourist spots and dead nightlife all point to a struggling country after years of relative prosperity.

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.

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 Queen only makes up for 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.”

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