Sign of things to come? British royal family’s Caribbean tour hit by protests

London: Prince William’s trip to the Caribbean was to help Commonwealth countries where his 95-year-old grandmother is also head of state celebrate his record 70 years on the throne.

But what were designed to be carefully choreographed photocalls and public appearances for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee didn’t quite go to plan.

Instead, William, 39, and his wife Catherine, 40, have been called to apologize for the slave trade that helped make his ancestors rich and atone for past sins.

The Bahamas National Reparations Committee said the British royal family had benefited from the “blood, sweat and tears” of slaves and called for reparations.

Settled lands and peoples have been “plundered and plundered” by the British monarchy over the centuries, leaving them undeveloped in the modern era, he added.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visit the community of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, March 22, 2022

In Jamaica, meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Duke of Cambridge – as he is officially known – in front of television cameras that the nation was “moving forward” as an independent country.

In doing so, he gave William’s father, Prince Charles, another indication of what he might face when he is king, after Barbados became a republic last year.

On the streets of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, Rastafarian Dub poet Mutabaruka said abandoning the Queen would make little difference to ordinary people.

“Making Jamaica a republic will not change the price of food, but it does have a psychological implication on people’s minds and consciences,” he told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

“It has an internal meaning in how we perceive ourselves.”

Tameka Thomas, owner of the store, put it more bluntly. “It is time to change now. Queen Elizabeth is Queen of England, not Jamaica. She should stay in England,” she told AFP.

No excuses

The central role of the British royal family in the slave trade dates back to the 16th century, when the first Queen Elizabeth sponsored one of her first major supporters, John Hawkins.

King Charles II in the 1600s encouraged the expansion of trade and together with his brother, the future King James II, invested private funds in the Royal African Company.

The company transported hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from the continent across the Atlantic. Many bore the company’s initials.

King George III’s son, who became King William IV, opposed slavery abolitionists but was unsuccessful. Britain banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and in all of its territories in 1833.

The modern royal family has addressed slavery in the past, most recently in Barbados, when Charles called it “an appalling atrocity… which forever stains our history”.

In Jamaica, William echoed his father’s words, expressing his “deep sadness” and calling the practice “abhorrent”. “It should never have happened,” he said.

But so far, no formal apology has been made.

The visit came as Britain increasingly confronts its colonial past, particularly its memorials to historical figures.

Last December, four people were cleared after a statue of a 17th century slave trader was toppled during a Black Lives Matter anti-racism protest in Bristol.

Just this week, a college at the University of Cambridge learned that its attempt to remove a memorial to a donor linked to the Royal African Company had failed.

‘Read part’

For Olivette Otele, professor of the history of slavery and memory of slavery at the University of Bristol, the protests were “not unexpected”.

She noted that various claims foreshadowed the visit, including the global Black Lives Matter movement, debate at home and anger over the treatment of Caribbean migrants who moved to Britain after World War II.

Thousands of the so-called “Windrush Generation” were then unjustly detained or deported, despite arriving legally.

“Apologies were never enough. They are an important step,” Otele said.

“Today people want to see more. They want to see change. They know there is a relationship between the past and the present.

But the royal family and the British government had not made that connection and were not part of any meaningful conversation about how to make amends, she added.

One of many critics writing in The Washington Post called the visit a “colonial tour” and an outdated charm offensive that was “more offensive than charming.”

Otele, vice-president of the Royal Historical Society, said the royal family “must read the play”.

“Things are changing. If it (the visit) is about keeping these countries and the Queen as head of state, they may not have understood that there is a wider debate there- down,” she noted.

“It’s about inequality, poverty and the legacies of the past.

“As wonderful as the jubilee here is, it seems odd to expect people to celebrate without looking at what’s going on.”

About Walter J. Leslie

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