At the end of March, Britain’s Prince William and his wife visited the three Commonwealth countries of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in the Caribbean. Unexpectedly, Prince William and his wife encountered varying degrees of public protests and official “cold words” in the three countries, all of which pointed to the goal of getting rid of the British monarchy and achieving a republic. After Barbados successfully “sacked” the Queen last November, this “Brexit” trend has swept across the Commonwealth of Nations in the Caribbean, adding new variables to the future of British global diplomacy and even wider North-South cooperation.
“Glamour trip” ends awkwardly
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, this year the British royal family has planned a series of celebrations throughout the year, the highlight of which includes the trip of Prince William and his wife to the Caribbean. The British royal family hopes that through the visit of the prince and his wife, the rising tension between the United Kingdom and the Caribbean countries after the reform of Barbados can be resolved. But it backfired, this originally planned “charm trip” ended in embarrassment.
In Belize, the prince and his wife were scheduled to visit a farm at the foot of the Maya Mountains, but this arrangement had to be adjusted due to protests from local villagers. There has long been an unresolved dispute between the Belizean Indian community and royal-backed British businesses over issues involving colonial land ownership. After learning about the visit of the prince and his wife, local villagers even put up signs saying “Prince William leaves our land”, saying that it “can land anywhere, but not on our land”. Shortly after the prince and his wife left Belize, the Minister of Constitutional and Political Reform of Belize said: “Maybe it’s time for Belize to take the next step and truly own our independence.”
In Jamaica, the prince and his wife suffered even more The “smell of gunpowder”. The day before the two arrived, Jamaicans gathered in front of the British High Commission, chanting “Princes and princesses belong only to fairy tales”, demanding an apology and compensation from Britain for the colonial rule. On the same day, 100 Jamaican scholars, officials and cultural figures signed an open letter condemning British colonial rule. At the welcome dinner hosted by the Governor of Jamaica for the prince and his wife, the Prime Minister of Jamaica was even more blunt, saying that Jamaica is “moving on” and intends to “realize its true ambition and destiny as an independent, developed and prosperous country.”
In the Bahamas, opposition remains high. The Bahamas’ National Compensation Commission released an open letter a day before the prince and his wife’s arrival, saying: “The British Royal Family and Government must acknowledge that their diverse economy was built on the backs of our ancestors, and they must pay for it.”
For this encounter, Prince William does not seem to hold a grudge, but take it lightly. Before leaving the Caribbean to return to the UK, Prince William gave this “parting speech” at a reception hosted by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas: “We support the decisions you make about the future. The (UK-Caribbean) relationship will grow, but friendship Longevity.” In the eyes of many senior royal reporters, the prince’s statement is basically equivalent to accepting the demands of the Three Kingdoms.
Drivers of “Brexit”
The British Commonwealth was established after the collapse of the British colonial system under the impact of the National Liberation Movement in the 1930s. The British King is the nominal monarch of the British Commonwealth and the nominal head of state of the kingdoms of the British Commonwealth. It should be noted that the Commonwealth of Nations is not the same as the Commonwealth of Nations. In addition to the 15 Commonwealth kingdoms, there are 39 fully independent and sovereign member states within the Commonwealth. Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas all belong to the Commonwealth of Nations.
There are complex driving factors behind the three countries’ unanimous voice of “restructuring from the UK” this time.
From the perspective of daily perception, the people of the Caribbean Commonwealth countries are generally “not cold” or even disgusted with the existence of the British royal family. Some scholars in the field pointed out: “The Queen is far away in the UK and has basically nothing to do with the Caribbean. I can’t find any reason to keep her as the head of state.” In recent years, the scandals exposed by the British royal family have also caused the people in the region to understand the royal family. “Alienation” was downgraded to “bad feeling”, and one could not help but begin to question the legitimacy of the royal family’s existence.
From the perspective of emotional ethics, the surging republic wave highlights the decolonization demands of Caribbean countries in the construction of national identity. Although the Caribbean Commonwealth countries have been de facto independent for decades, in the eyes of the local people, as long as the Queen’s title remains, the country has not achieved true freedom. The anti-colonizing and decolonizing national identity narrative of Caribbean countries has been strengthened again after the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States in 2020, especially in Jamaica, where African ethnicity accounts for more than 90%. This trend It is even more obvious, which is why the largest protest this time took place in Jamaica. In the eyes of the governments and peoples of Caribbean countries, the most direct way for former sovereign countries such as the United Kingdom to settle the “colonial debt” left by them is to make an official apology and pay compensation. In order to solve this problem, many countries in the region cooperated to set up the “Caribbean Community Compensation Commission” in 2013, committed to launching a “compensation justice movement” on a global scale, jointly filing claims against the former sovereign country represented by the United Kingdom, and asking its Apologies for the slave trade, etc. that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2021, the Jamaican government asked the United Kingdom to pay $10 billion for the forced transfer of about 600,000 Africans to Jamaica that year. In recent years, the movement’s momentum and influence have gradually expanded. With the strengthening of cooperation between Caribbean countries and African countries, the two sides have jointly enhanced their contacts and work with the former European sovereign countries.
However, for a country that was once a British colony, it is not so simple to “remove” the Queen of England. In 1999, Australia’s republican referendum ended in failure. In 2009, the same thing played out in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In Canada, although most Canadians consider the monarchy to be outdated, the Canadian government has always lacked interest in it because of the cumbersome procedures required to amend the constitution to abolish the system. The same is true for Belize, Jamaica, Bahamas. To achieve national restructuring, the constitution must be amended and a referendum held. This process is likely to take years and carries a high risk of failure. In comparison, the procedure in Barbados is much simpler, requiring only the parliament to make laws. But even so, it still took more than 20 years for Barbados to start the negotiations and finally realize the restructuring.
Reflecting the thirst for development justice in the countries of the South
Regardless of whether these countries can ultimately push for restructuring, the wave of calls for restructuring in the Commonwealth of Nations in the Caribbean will have a certain degree of negative impact on Britain’s global diplomacy. The centrifugal tendencies shown by the three Caribbean countries this time may become the trigger for the abolition of the monarchy in other Commonwealth kingdoms, continue to weaken the legitimacy of the Commonwealth kingdom system, and even support the “Global Britain” plan that is committed to strengthening British Commonwealth relations ( Global Britain) strikes. In the future, the three countries of Belize, Jamaica and Bahamas are very likely to follow the Barbados path, that is, to break away from the Commonwealth of Nations but still retain the membership of the Commonwealth.
From a global perspective, the demands of the Caribbean countries and the “compensation justice movement” they launched essentially reflect the southern countries’ desire for development justice. The CARICOM Compensation Commission has pointedly pointed out that the main reason for the failure of the development of Caribbean countries is the colonial rule of European countries, and they must pay the price to correct this injustice. However, Western developed countries have always turned a deaf ear to this, and adopted an attitude of indifference to the development justice demands of southern countries. The wave of “towards a republic” that broke out in the Caribbean is also a warning to Western countries that they should face up to the just demands of developing countries, including the Caribbean countries, and effectively help these countries solve the problem of backward development caused by colonialism.