At the stroke of midnight (local time), the Caribbean island of Barbados has become a republic. This marks the end of 400 years for a British monarch as head of state. In other words, Governor-General Sandra Mason replaces the Queen. She becomes the first president of Barbados.
British Crown Prince Charles, like pop singer Rihanna, attended the swearing-in ceremony of Sandra Mason in the capital Bridgetown. The festivities symbolically took place on Barbados’ Independence Day. As a republic, the island remains part of the British Commonwealth.
The British Queen Elizabeth II has always accepted that former colonies determine their own form of government. In addition to the United Kingdom, Elizabeth is also Queen of Australia, Canada and New Zealand and many former British colonies in the Caribbean.
Prince Charles emphasized in a speech that ties between Barbados and the United Kingdom continue, and he acknowledged the “atrocities of slavery that Barbados endured”.
Barbados was occupied by English settlers in the 17th century. Thousands were forced into slave labor on lucrative sugar plantations. Slavery was not banned until 1834. Barbados – also known as Little England – became independent in 1966. Last year, the progressive island opted for a different form of government.
Why? That is the question in the UK. Some note the strong influence of China. That superpower has invested several millions in Barbados. Caribbean islands are strategically attractive to China given their location: in the US backyard.
Rising nationalism and the Black Lives Matter movement are also said to have played a role in the transition to a republic. Last year, the statue of British Admiral – and “naval hero” – Horatio Nelson was removed from National Heroes Square in Bridgetown. Nelson led the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and thus ensured “British supremacy over the waves”.
Barbados is not a first, with the departure of the Queen as head of state. In 1992, Mauritius also exchanged the Queen for a president in East Africa.