The event was to celebrate the attachment of the British monarchy to the former colonies, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the reign of Elizabeth II. Prince William’s Caribbean tour has resulted in a bitter showdown, a sign of the difficulties that lie ahead for the royals.
In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, three independent Commonwealth countries of which Elizabeth II is head of state, the 39-year-old prince and his wife Kate have been called to apologize for the UK’s slave-owning past. The demonstrations and wishes to cut the cord have often overshadowed the beautiful images and glossy articles that usually mark the travels of the beloved British couple and their formidable tabloids.
The British royal family benefited from the “blood, sweat and tears” of slaves, said the Bahamas National Reparations Committee, which called for reparations after colonized territories and peoples were “looted” for centuries.
For his part, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, considered the transition of his country to a republican regime “inevitable”, just as Barbados did last November.
According to the Jamaican Rastafarian poet and activist Mutabaruka, independence would change the way people “perceive themselves”. “It’s not going to change the price of food, but it has psychological implications on people’s minds and consciousness,” he told The Jamaican Observer newspaper.
“Queen Elizabeth is the queen of England, not Jamaica. She should stay in England,” says Tameka Thomas, a saleswoman interviewed by AFP on the sidelines of the princely visit.
These statements seem to announce difficult times for the monarchy, especially when Carlos will become king on the death of Elizabeth II, who is about to turn 96, very popular and very attached to the Commonwealth.
The role that the British monarchy played in the slave trade dates back to the 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I financed one of the great slavers of the time, John Hawkins.
In the 17th century, King Charles II had encouraged the slave trade, investing private funds in the Royal African Company, which transported hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from one side of the Atlantic to the other in subhuman conditions.
Subsequently, the future King William IV will try to oppose the abolitionist movement. In vain. The transatlantic slave trade was prohibited in 1807 in the United Kingdom, in 1833 in all British territories.
If it has returned to its slave-owning past in recent years, with Charles describing slavery as a “terrible atrocity” and his son William expressing his “deep sadness” this week, the royal family has not formally issued an apology.
The criticism surrounding the princely visit to the Caribbean illustrates the UK’s recent introspection on its colonial past, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. There, calls have multiplied to remove statues and monuments of historical figures linked to slavery and racism, giving rise to sometimes difficult debates.
For Olivette Otele, professor of the history and memory of slavery at the University of Bristol, the protests in the Caribbean were predictable, especially after the scandal in recent years over the fate of the “Windrush generation” who came to help rebuild United States. Kingdom after World War II.
These tens of thousands of Caribbean immigrants who arrived legally were later disenfranchised, or even expelled for lack of the necessary documents.
“Apologies were never enough,” says Professor Otele. “They are an important step (…) but today people want more. They want changes.”
“If the purpose of the visit is to keep these countries (under the British crown) and to keep the Queen in charge of these states (the royal family) I may not have understood that the debate is broader here,” he says. “It’s about inequality, poverty and the legacy of the past.”
Ahead of the festivities planned for June in the United Kingdom to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the reign of Elizabeth II, he warns: “As magnificent as the Jubilee is (in the United Kingdom), it seems uncomfortable to wait for people to celebrate it without looking at what what’s going on there.”
In any case, Prince William was not left out of the debate on Friday during a reception in Nassau. “I know that next year you all look forward to celebrating 50 years of independence, your golden anniversary. And with Jamaica celebrating 60 years of independence this year, and Belize celebrating 40 years of independence last year, I want to tell you this: We proudly and respectfully support your decisions about your future. Relationships evolve. The friendship remains,” he said.