Barbados, the easternmost island in the Caribbean, with a census of less than 300,000 inhabitants, became a republic on November 30. Independent since 1966, Barbados had hitherto had Elizabeth II as head of state. Who was Governor General, Sandra Mason, went on to become president of this country basically Afro-descendant population. Will some of the other eight Caribbean countries that have Elizabeth II as queen follow Barbados? The new geopolitics in the Caribbean, with China as a growing investment sponsor, may be changing political calculations in the region, although institutional processes of this type are usually slow and, beyond the debate on some island, there is no short-term forecast of new republics.
In the 1960s, various Caribbean territories that had been under British rule gained independence, but kept Elizabeth II at the top of their hierarchy (they made up what the English know as the “Commonwealth Realm”). There were three defections in the 1970s –Guyana (1970), Trinidad and Tobago (1976) and Dominica (1978) -, although the three republics continued to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations forum.
Since then there had been no change. After the passage taken by Barbados it is worth wondering if there will be a second wave, in which some of the countries that continue to honor the Queen of England participate: seven islands or groups of islands (Bahamas, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Grenada) and a state in Central America (Belize).
Of all of them, Jamaica is where there is most debate in this regard, but so far there has been no official movement in that direction. In the case of Barbados, as early as 1998 a constitutional review commission recommended the adoption of the republican system. Given the political consensus and the necessary processing times for constitutional reforms, nothing indicates an immediate domino effect for now.
Influence of China
Still, the truth is that China’s increased presence in the Caribbean is upsetting loyalties. Perhaps the Bahamas, so close to the United States, may be interested in keeping the English monarchy at the forefront of the country because with a lower institutional profile it could be very much at the expense of its immense neighbor. And something similar can happen to Belize, which preserving its current formulation further marks its distinction with respect to a Spanish-speaking Central American environment and with features as specific as migration, drug trafficking and corruption. But the other territories may come to think that they would get more out of their break with Windsor, especially if so suggested by Beijing.
Precisely the Chinese influence has been pointed out by the British Parliament in reference to Barbados. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Westminster, has even affirmed that China has played “a big role” in the decision taken by Barbados and in wanting to influence the small states of the Caribbean. “Some islands seem to be close to exchanging a symbolic queen in Windsor for a true and demanding emperor in Beijing,” warned the Conservative Party deputy, who is a lieutenant colonel.
In fact, Chinese investments in the region, such as the construction of ports, have been increasing. In the case of Barbados, in recent years there has been a Chinese investment of 490 million dollars, directed especially to the tourism sector, according to the “Daily Mail”, which has indicated the interest of Barbados to become on financial arrival gate for Chinese investments in South America, by granting tax advantages. In 2019, the year in which it signed an agreement of understanding with the Chinese government to join the Silk Road, the island installed in Beijing a permanent office of Barbados Invest, its body for attracting investment.
On the other hand, given the interest shown by China to drown Taiwan even more, reducing the already scarce diplomatic recognition that it has in the world, it would not be surprising that in the medium term there could be news regarding the ties that still have with Taiwan the microstates of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis and the island of Saint Lucia, as well as Belize. Following the recent decline announced by Nicaragua, only Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti are recognized diplomatically by Taiwan, all of them on the shores of the Caribbean, as well as Paraguay and several small Polynesian islands.
Reparation for slavery
Although the breaking of the nexus with Europe does not seem a priority in the Caribbean – neither is it observed a desire for independence of the territories that continue to belong to the United Kingdom (such as the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands) or the Netherlands (the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curasao, among others), which is the next European country in possessions, the truth is that the influence of the movement « Black Lives Matter ”is leading to demands for reparations for the slavery that ancient metropolises fostered.
Jamaica has addressed Elizabeth II directly asking for reparation for that past of slave trafficking and its use in forced labor on sugar cane, tobacco and other labor-intensive plantations. For its part, the main Caribbean regional integration organization, Caricom, has approached the European Union proposing that economic compensation. The Caribbean Commission for Reparation, set up by Caricom, proposes a “path of reconciliation, truth and justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants.”