While colonized citizens of the U.S. in the Caribbean continue their ongoing struggle to determine their future status (yes, I’m talking about Puerto Rico), more former Caribbean colonies of Great Britain are moving toward dumping the queen of England.
The latest is Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, whose prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, proposed on Monday, July 25, that a single-item referendum be held to vote on removing the queen as head of state.
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Gonsalves said he was unwilling to push the referendum forward without support from both sides:
But Gonsalves told Parliament that he would only pursue the referendum if there is bipartisan support. “I will tell you this. I am prepared, if the opposition agrees today, before the end of the year or early next year to put one question in a referendum: to have a home-grown president in the manner in which I’ve just described, a non-executive president, and as was laid out in the proposed constitution, and let us go with that one single issue to the people to complete the national democratic task,” Gonsalves said.
In 2009, Vincentians overwhelmingly rejected the proposed revised constitution with 29,019 “no” votes and 22,493 “yes” votes. “I agree that we are now 12 years away from the referendum,” said Gonsalves, who had previously said that he would leave the question of constitutional reform to future leaders.
There are inevitably people who don’t “get it” about why Caribbean nations are opting to remove the queen, arguing that she is only a “symbolic” figurehead and that Great Britain doesn’t “rule” independent members of the Commonwealth as they do British Overseas Territories, like the British Virgin Islands, which are chafing under recent British moves.
I’d like to suggest that you listen to this 24-minute discussion of decolonization hosted by journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin in the following episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream, released back in May of this year. His guests for the discussion of “Why are some Caribbean nations ditching the Queen?” were Dr. Rosalea Hamilton, trade policy specialist and founding director of the Institute of Law and Economics (ILE); Attorney activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, author of This is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Black Identity; and Dr. Kristina Hinds, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies and member of the Barbados Senate.
They raise the question of both apologies and reparations, including the CARICOM Ten-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice, and the fact that Great Britain was still paying reparations to descendants of slaveowners up until 2015.
In recent months, more former British colonies in the Caribbean have declared their intent to abolish the monarchy and remove Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. Those countries include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis. Last November, Barbados cut ties with the British monarchy and became the world’s newest republic.
The trend towards republicanism isn’t new. Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago all became republics in the 1970s. But the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with an increased interest in reckoning with the colonial past, has influenced Caribbean politicians.
Royal tours aimed at strengthening ties between the Queen and former British colonies have appeared to do the exact opposite. Visits by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Wessex prompted protesters to renew calls for slavery reparations and a more meaningful apology for abuses during the British empire.
Given the current struggles against entrenched racism in Great Britain, it should come as no surprise that its former Caribbean colonies are pushing back. I wonder which country will be next?
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