LONDON — The Caribbean island nation of Barbados announced this week that it is time to remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and become a republic.
Barbados, a former colony of Britain, achieved independence in 1966 and is today a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the queen as its mostly symbolic head of state.
In a speech Tuesday before the Barbadian Parliament, Dame Sandra Mason, the governor-general of Barbados, revealed her government’s intent for the nation to become a sovereign republic, saying, “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind.”
The vast majority of Barbados’s 286,000 people are Black, with ancestry traced to enslaved Africans brought to the West Indies by the British in the 17th century to plant and harvest sugar cane. A smaller number of White laborers were indentured servants and prisoners shipped from Ireland.
“Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state,” Mason said in her speech. “This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”
This “next logical step toward full sovereignty” will be taken next year as the island celebrates the 55th anniversary of its independence in November 2021, Mason said.
Randy Bennett, a reporter for Barbados Today, wrote that the announcement caught many by surprise, as the idea has been debated on the island since the 1970s.
Mason said Barbados is ready to cut the cord with the monarchy and stressed that now is the time to do so. “The peril and uncertainty of the times compel us to reinforce our foundation,” she said.
Activists on the island have staged demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and, earlier this year, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, said Britain should reflect on the wrongs done during its long colonial past.
“When you look across the Commonwealth, there is no way that we can move forward unless we acknowledge the past,” the prince said via video link in July. “So many people have done such an incredible job of acknowledging the past and trying to right those wrongs, but I think we all acknowledge there is so much more still to do.”
Harry said, “It’s not going to be easy, and, in some cases, it’s not going to be comfortable, but it needs to be done, because, guess what, everybody benefits.”
Barbados can remain a member of the Commonwealth, a voluntary union of 54 countries that were mostly former British territories, even without the queen as the head of state. Commonwealth nations include Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Most former British colonies in the Caribbean have kept their ties with the monarchy after gaining their independence. If Barbados does decide to retire the queen as head of state, it will join Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica. Eight other Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, states in the Caribbean would still have the queen as head of state, the largest being Jamaica and the Bahamas.