Peoples of the Caribbean Give "Working Royals" a Fitting Reception
Protest in Jamaica against the Royal Visit, March 23, 2022.
The visits in March and April of the so-called working members of the British royal family to Commonwealth "realms" were shocking for their display of racist condescension, extravagant living and wasteful expenditures to host them and provide for their security. Organized to mark Queen Elizabeth II's 70 years on the English throne, these "Platinum Jubilee" tours to the 14 former British colonies that retain the British monarch as their official head of state have taken different members of the "House of Windsor" to six Caribbean countries, Australia and Papua New Guinea. The latest such tour brought "heir to the throne" Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles to Canada from May 17 to 19.
The peoples of the Caribbean were not impressed by attempts to portray the monarchy as young, vibrant and relevant. The visit of Prince William and Kate Middleton to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March was intended to be a charm offensive by two allegedly popular "young royals" to win hearts and minds. William and Kate are also known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for the duchy they claim as theirs in England -- another leftover from medieval days. Their visit came at a time the peoples of the Caribbean are persisting in raising their demand for Britain to pay reparations for the enslavement and trafficking of African peoples, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. It also came at a time when republican sentiment is higher than ever in these former colonies which continue to be saddled with the monarchy and its archaic institutions. The republican movement was given a big boost last year when Barbados cast off the monarchy and exited Britain's "realm."
In fact William and Kate's tour was a cringeworthy display of colonial paternalism and disrespect. Even royal sycophants in Britain, worried about the implications, criticized what one of them called the royal "tour de farce" and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for being "tone deaf" and out of touch with reality.
When they were in Jamaica, photos flashed around the world of William and Kate shaking hands with Black children straining to reach out to them through a chain-link fence. The chair of Antigua and Barbuda's Reparations Support Commission rightly described their tour as a "horrible, horrible exposition of archaic colonial behaviour." Images of them being driven around to inspect troops standing in the back of a vintage Land Rover, both of them wearing white and William in full military dress -- a throwback to how his grandparents did things in the 1960s – drove the point home in spades.
The Cambridges were forced to cancel one of their first outings -- a visit to a cocoa farm in Belize -- after villagers staged a protest to denounce colonialism and a charity of which William is the patron, for disrespecting the local people's rights.
In Jamaica, where they headed next, they were also greeted by protests. Outside the British High Commission in Kingston, one of the signs seen said "Kings, Queens and Princesses and Princes belong in fairytales not in Jamaica!" An organizer of the protest elaborated the demand for an apology and reparations saying the luxurious lifestyle that allows British royals to go traipsing all over the world for free is the result of the blood, sweat and tears of her great, great grandmother and grandfather. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the couple straight out that Jamaica intended to "move on" to become an independent country, meaning it planned to follow the path taken by Barbados.
In Bahamas, the final stop of their "celebratory" tour, that country's National Reparations Committee issued a letter calling for the monarchy to issue a full and formal apology for its crimes against humanity and to pay reparations for its role in slavery. The letter also took issue with the fact that the people of the Bahamas were left holding the bag for much of the cost of "this extravagant trip." "Why are we footing the bill for the benefit of a regime whose rise to 'greatness' was fuelled by the extinction, enslavement, colonization, and degradation of the people of this land? Why are we being made to pay again?" the committee wrote.
Of course no apology was offered.
More of the same characterized the visit in April to three other Caribbean countries by Elizabeth II's son Edward and his wife Sophie, Earl and Countess of Wessex. It got off to an ominous start when the day before a scheduled short first stop in Grenada, the visit was cancelled. No explanation was given publicly.
What is known however is that Grenada's National Reparations Committee had written a letter requesting an audience with the royals during their visit. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with them why Britain should be held accountable for its crimes against humanity committed against the Indigenous and African peoples of the Caribbean and for its "wanton exploitation of the Caribbean islands during colonialism." The Committee said it did not receive a reply to its request.
In a statement on April 21, the Reparations Committee pointed to a fresh revelation that the Bank of England owned two plantations in Grenada in the 1770s where 600 Africans were enslaved. It said that should spur every Grenadian to join the fight for reparations and reparatory justice.
Official National Reparations committees and commissions in Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda were also active in organizing to make sure the same message was delivered to the royals on their visits to those countries.
With Grenada struck from the list, Edward and Sophie's tour began in Saint Lucia. In a statement demanding a full apology from the Crown, Saint Lucia's National Reparations Commission wrote: "Britain, the royal family and the European nations that built empires from off the backs of enslaved Africans are avoiding making full and formal apologies because they still don't want to plead guilty despite the United Nations declaring Slavery a Crime Against Humanity in 2001 and because they are simply not committed to atonement and repair."
During the royals' visit, the host of a popular radio show slammed their "Jubilee Tour." He asked what purpose it served, how it would benefit the people of Saint Lucia, and who was paying for it?
During a meeting at Government House, Saint Lucia's Prime Minister Philip Pierre presented the Wessexes with a beautiful canvas of a sea turtle painted by a local artist. In exchange they gave him a signed, framed photo of themselves and a "Jubilee box" commemorating the 70-year reign of the country's foreign head of state. The British newspaper The Independent ran a story the next day about the reactions of online commentators who used words like "narcissistic," "insulting" and "tone deaf" to describe what the royals' called a token of their appreciation. One person was quoted as saying, "These people are delusional. Why would you give that nonsense to someone outside of your family? What's he meant to do with that? Hope the frame is worth something at least. He can ditch the photo and sell it."
During Edward and Sophie's one-day visit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines on April 23, the motorcade carrying them to Government House was received by protesters shouting slogans, who lined the road beside a large banner that said, Reparation Now. Protesters held signs with messages such as: Up with Compensation for Slavery; End to Colonialism; British Genocide of Indigenous People -- Never Again.
One woman said she was demonstrating to show her disgust and disappointment that for over 400 years there were those who "had to suffer the slave master's whip," and that this wrong done to a sector of the human race by another must be compensated. Another said, "They hunted us down, they kidnapped us, they stole us, they worked us. They owe us and they must now pay us."
The country's prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, meanwhile, had flown to Venezuela for medical attention a few days before the royals' scheduled visit. He remained out of the country while they were there. Shortly after the royals departed, television news from Venezuela showed the prime minister enjoying a friendly exchange with President Nicolás Maduro following a meeting with him and other members of his government.
Antigua and Barbuda was the last stop on the itinerary. The tone for the royals' visit had been set days in advance with a widely publicized open letter from the country's Reparations Support Commission addressed to the junior representatives of the House of Windsor. It did not mince words:
"It has become common for members of the royal family and representatives of the Government of Britain to come to this region and lament that slavery was an 'appalling atrocity,' that it was 'abhorrent,' that 'it should not have happened.' We have heard such from your former Prime Minister David Cameron and most recently from your brother, the Prince of Wales, and your nephew, Prince William. But such sentiments did not convey new knowledge to us. African people and their descendants -- as most of us are -- have known such since the middle of the sixteenth century. We have been on the receiving end of the barbarity. We hear the phony sanctimony of those who came before you that these crimes are a 'stain on your history.' For us, they are the source of genocide and of continuing deep international injury, injustice and racism. We hope you will respect us by not repeating the mantra. We are not simpletons.
"We know that the British Crown -- both as royal family and as institution -- is historically documented as an active participant in the largest crimes against humanity of all time," they wrote. The full text of the letter can be read here.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Wessexes that it was Antigua and Barbuda's wish to eventually remove the Queen as head of state and become a republic, much like Jamaica's prime minister told William and Kate. In the meantime, he asked them to use their "diplomatic influence" to help his nation obtain reparative justice, saying it is bereft of modern institutions such as universities and medical facilities.
Expressed with the utmost civility and politeness characteristic of the Caribbean peoples, famed for their hospitality towards all guests, even those as uncouth as the British royals, those were the main messages delivered to representatives of the House of Windsor, who had intended their tours to be a "celebration" of the monarchy by its "subjects."
One "biographer" attempted to deflect from what the two Caribbean tours actually revealed about the centuries-old colonial institution of the British monarchy, its past and ongoing crimes, and the demand of those descended from the Indigenous and African peoples subjected to genocide and enslavement, that Britain now pay for those crimes. He cast blame on the royals' handlers for not "protecting" them from the humiliations that "cursed" their visits to the Caribbean. He called out British diplomats for being not only incompetent but "dangerously ignorant and insensitive to the countries where they are employed." He also blamed palace officials for failing to check that the diplomats had done their job properly.
Congratulations to the governments and peoples of the Caribbean for the firm anti-colonial stands they took, placing front and centre their demands for a full, official apology and reparations from the British monarchy for its 400 years of "genocide and of continuing deep international injury, injustice and racism." Congratulations too for putting the representatives of the British Crown on notice that they intend to exit the "realm" to become sovereign, independent republics. And they did it right as the royals arrived to celebrate and reinforce the empire's colonial imprint on their lands and institutions.
It is an inspiration to others striving to cast off stifling colonial relations defined by the separation of those who rule from those who are ruled, in favour of entering into new relations fit for a modern world based on equality and upholding the rights of all. In such a world, there is no place for relics of a bygone era intent on holding on to their obscene ill-gotten riches and privileges.
This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 5 - May 21, 2022
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