Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 27, November 27, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Republic of Barbados

Well Done, Barbados!

Newly-elected president, Dame Sandra Mason

On November 30, the 55th anniversary of Barbados' independence from Britain, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will cease to be the head of state of Barbados. As reported, the word "royal" will be removed from the names of institutions and they will no longer bear the insignia of the British Queen. This is a tremendous achievement for the people of Barbados in their aspirations for self-determination and settling scores with the 400 years of colonial history. The head of state will be the newly-elected president, Dame Sandra Mason, casting off the colonial legacy of having the Queen of England, who remains head of state of Australia and Canada, as a continuing symbol of the most inhuman form of slavery and colonial ties.

The republic of Barbados will be declared at a ceremony which begins late in the evening on November 29 at the National Heroes Square in Bridgetown.

Vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said, "This is the end of the story of colonial exploitation of the mind and body," adding that this was a historic moment for Barbados, the Caribbean and all post-colonial societies. "The people of this island have struggled, not only for freedom and justice, but to remove themselves from the tyranny of imperial and colonial authority," the Barbadian historian and chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission said. Beckles noted that Barbados was "Britain's colonial site of the first 'black slave society', the most systemically violent, brutal and racially inhumane society of modernity".

Between 1627 and 1833, it is estimated that 600,000 enslaved Africans were brutally and inhumanly transported to Barbados, being put to work in the sugar plantations, and earning fabulous ill-gotten fortunes for the English owners. This is a sizeable proportion of the more than 10 million human beings from Africa who, between the 15th and 19th centuries, if they survived the brutal voyage, ended up beaten and toiling on the plantations. "Barbados under English colonial rules became the laboratory for plantation societies in the Caribbean," said Richard Drayton, a professor of imperial and global history at Kings College, London, who lived in Barbados as a child. "It becomes the laboratory for slave society, which is then exported to Jamaica and the Carolinas and Georgia after that."

Writing in Open Democracy, Kareem Smith, a young journalist with Barbados Today, said: "Many of my fellow young Barbadians view November 30 as the start of a new national journey. In fact, many of us are not content with the simple tokenism of having a Barbadian head of state. Instead, we see the need to move on from a centuries-old order that vested tremendous power in a concept of hereditary sovereignty that was never consistent with our identity. As sovereign, the British monarch owns all state lands, buildings, equipment, state-owned companies, the copyright on government publications and employs all government staff."

The Slave Trade and Sugar

The Emancipation Statue standing in Bridgetown, Barbados, symbolising the breaking of the chains of slavery at the moment of emancipation

Kareem Smith continues: "Most Barbadians between the ages of 18 and 35 are aware of the key details of the transatlantic slave trade. Our ancestors toiled after being kidnapped from their West African homes, stripped of their dignity and forced to work on sugar plantations under backbreaking conditions as the property of Britain's bourgeoisie.

"This barbaric and brutal form of human trafficking, murder, torture, and rape made rich men of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. They amassed huge fortunes, which laid the foundations for multi-generational wealth. Young Barbadians now know that over time, those ill-gotten fortunes were considered so glorious by the slavers that the island was commonly referred to as 'Little England' and regarded as an almost perfect model for the trade.

"That was just the start of a period of unspoken atrocities, which lasted for more than 300 years. It continued well beyond the 1807 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and the formal abolition of slavery by colonial assemblies in the Caribbean in 1838.

"The slave trade was, of course, endorsed by the British royal family. Along with other wealthy British families, British royalty played its part in this most despicable form of capitalism. The Barbadian, a Bridgetown newspaper that was published from 1822 to 1861, reported an 1824 proclamation by King George IV, asserting that the 'Slave Population...will be undeserving of Our Protection if they shall fail to render entire Submission to the Laws, as well as dutiful Obedience to their Masters'.

"Slavery's legacy is underdevelopment and dependency. This dependence ran so deep that when Britain responded to the diminishing returns from its colonial project with the 'gift' of independence, Barbados was compelled to accept the British monarch as their own. We also inherited the Westminster system of governance, the British Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal and many old laws, including the criminalisation of same-sex relationships.

"After gaining independence, Barbados created systems that could help to lift up the average Black citizen, who was invariably descended from slave ancestors. Everyone was given access to education, healthcare and free school meals. A social security scheme was established under the first prime minister, Errol Barrow.

"Even so, Barbados retained some admiration for the British royal family in the years immediately after independence. That has now diminished, as young Barbadians learn about their history and that of the West Indies. In fact, many have even questioned Prime Minister Mia Mottley's decision to invite Prince Charles to be guest of honour at our republic celebrations. A young lawyer tweeted: 'Is he coming with reparations?'

We Barbadians stand up for reparatios fromthe Royal Family.

"What the British royal family represents is uppermost in the minds of Barbados's youth as they think about real self-determination. Fifty years on from independence, a more educated and aware class of Barbadians is able to identify the glaring deficiencies of a society that suffered 400 years of oppression.

"There is an overwhelming acceptance that now is the time to begin a process of deeper social reform, to write a new constitution and enshrine a system of governance and social order that reflects who we are as a people and addresses the historical struggles that define us.

"That is why the ten-point plan outlined by the CARICOM Reparations Commission makes sense. It offers a 'path to reconciliation, truth and justice' for victims of the slave trade, beginning with a full, formal apology from various European governments. It also suggests plans for psychological rehabilitation, debt cancellation, the eradication of illiteracy and the transfer of technology from the Caribbean's former slave masters."

Lalu Hanuman, of the 13th June 1980 Movement, said: "A lot of people don't realise the linkages between the Royal Family and slavery. Their hands are mired in it. And a substantial amount of their wealth came from it. Kensington Palace was directly built off of the slave trade by King William III. Before that Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to Sir John Hawkins and provided him with ships for the slave trade. She also gave him his own coat of arms, which depicted a chained African person." An English ship claimed Barbados for King James I in 1625.

Now, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, its people have finally removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and proclaimed Barbados a republic. Demonstrations will meet Prince Charles as he arrives in Barbados on Monday, demanding an apology and reparations from the royals and the government of the "United Kingdom", which could run into hundreds of millions of pounds. Buckingham Palace has said that the issue of proclaiming a republic is a matter for the people of Barbados...

Well done, Barbados!


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