Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Catherine, are on their first official overseas visit together since the start of the pandemic: a week-long trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, William’s grandmother, to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee this year, marking 70 years on the throne.
But the tour — widely billed a “charm offensive” in the British press as some Caribbean countries ponder whether to follow Barbados in casting off the queen as its head of state — has hit some turbulence, with anti-colonial protests and demands for an apology and reparations for slavery.
Ahead of the royal couple’s arrival Tuesday in Jamaica, where their itinerary included a celebration of the “seminal legacy of Bob Marley and other groundbreaking Jamaican musicians,” 100 people — including leading human rights advocates, professors and lawyers — released an open letter with a not-so-celebratory tone.
“During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to redress and atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and/or during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement, indentureship and colonization,” the Advocates Network wrote.
They called on William, 39, who is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, to “redefine” the relationship between the monarchy and Jamaicans, including with “a recognition of the need for atonement and reparations.”
“We encourage you to act accordingly and just ‘sey yuh sorry!’ ” said the letter, which was signed by Jamaicans on the island and in the diaspora community.
In Belize on Sunday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were forced to ditch the first stop on the tour, a planned visit to the Akte‘il Ha cacao farm, amid protests in the village of Indian Creek, where locals said they weren’t consulted about the visit and took aim at William’s patronage of a conservation charity with which they’re in a land rights dispute.
“We have no comment,” said a spokeswoman for Kensington Palace.
The trip comes at a difficult time for the queen and the royal family — in the region and at home.
In November, Barbados, known as “Little England” for its affinity for the big one, celebrated 55 years of independence by becoming the first Commonwealth realm in three decades to declare itself a republic — the culmination of a debate dating to the 1970s, when several Caribbean nations drew inspiration from the Black Power movement and abolished the monarchy.
That left Elizabeth with 15 Commonwealth realms, including the United Kingdom.
Republican sentiment has long brewed in the Commonwealth’s Caribbean realms, but it has recently gained momentum amid worldwide protests against racism and police violence against Black people and calls for Britain to atone for the ugly legacy of colonialism, including by paying reparations for the slave trade.
Oprah Winfrey’s interview last year with the queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan, further inflamed those debates. In the interview, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex alleged that an unnamed member of the royal family — not the queen — had asked questions about their unborn child’s skin color.
After the interview, William insisted that the royals were “very much not a racist family.” Harry and Meghan have given up their royal roles and are living in California with their two children, Archie and Lilibet, the latter of whom is named after her great-grandmother.
In 2018, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May apologized to leaders of 12 Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean for its treatment of members of the so-called Windrush generation — named for the first ship that brought them to Britain in 1948, when the government sought workers to rebuild after World War II.
Thousands of people from former British colonies arrived from 1948 to 1971. But in recent years, they and their descendants — including people who came as children — saw their lives upended because they didn’t have the paperwork to prove their status. Many had been denied health care, lost jobs or were threatened with deportation.
Elizabeth, 95, has been kept mostly away from public engagements in recent months due to health issues and pandemic restrictions. Her first in-person meeting since recovering from covid-19 took place this month, when she met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He said she was as “perspicacious as ever.”
Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, died last April after a short illness.
Her second son, Prince Andrew, settled a sexual abuse lawsuit last month that was brought by a woman who alleges that she was trafficked to him by financier Jeffrey Epstein and forced to have sex with the prince in New York, in London and on Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean two decades ago, when she was 17.
As William and Kate arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday, dozens gathered at a protest outside the British High Commission in the capital of Kingston. Some held signs reading, “Kings, Queens and Princesses and Princes belong in fairytales, not in Jamaica!” and “Who voted for the Queen? Not me.”
Republicanism and demands for reparations for slavery have long simmered in the Caribbean’s largest English-speaking nation. Rosalea Hamilton, a professor and member of the Advocates Network, said they’ve gained steam recently as Barbados became a republic and Jamaica charts an economic recovery from the pandemic, which exacerbated existing inequities, including some that are rooted in its colonial past.
The group released 60 reasons for apologies and reparations from Britain and the royal family — one for each year of Jamaica’s independence.
“We have a whole history of advocating for reparations and repatriation,” said Hamilton, who participated in Tuesday’s protests. “What happened in the past are crimes against humanity that must at least be recognized … and at a minimum, an apology should be made.”
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.