Barbados officially became a republic on Monday (30) night, in a ceremony in which Queen Elizabeth II was no longer the island’s head of state.
Independent from the United Kingdom since 1966, Barbados celebrated its transition from monarchy to republican government after nearly four centuries of monarchy.
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The island will be headed by another woman, Sandra Mason, until now the country’s governor general, after her election on 21 October.
Mason was sworn in at midnight on Monday in the nation’s capital, Bridgetown, in an official ceremony in which the royal standard was also replaced by the presidential flag.
“I, Sandra Prunella Mason, swear to be faithful and maintain true loyalty to Barbados according to the law, with God’s help,” declared the new president.
Prince Charles speaks at a ceremony for the Republic of Barbados, November 29, 2021 — Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
The ceremony, attended by Prince Charles, eldest son of Elizabeth II, and singer Rihanna, was not open to the public, despite the temporary suspension of the curfew imposed due to the coronavirus to allow the population to enjoy the festivities, which included fireworks across the island.
Barbados remains a member of the Commonwealth organization, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted in a statement on Monday.
“We will follow unconditional friends and allies, drawing on the enduring affinities and connections between our peoples and the special bond of the Commonwealth,” Johnson wrote.
Countries that Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State — Photo: Art G1
Prince Charles criticized
During his stay in Barbados, the Prince of Wales was the target of criticism for comments he reportedly made a few years ago about the skin color of the future children of his son Harry and Meghan Markle.
The statements, included in a book to be published on Tuesday, were denied by Prince Charles’s office: “This is fiction and deserves no further comment,” a British crown spokesman said.
The legacy of centuries of slavery is still very present on the island. Problems of British influence and racism were two key elements in Barbados’ decision to become a republic.
Sandra Mason. aged 72, she was the first woman admitted to the Barbados Bar. She began her career as a teacher, secretary and then a lawyer, until finally becoming Governor General, Representative to the Queen, in 2018.
As president, Mason will have the highest office in the country and his powers will no longer be in the monarch’s hands. Her duties, however, will be largely ceremonial, in most cases requiring the joint signature of the Prime Minister.
Born in the working-class district of St. Philip, Mason credits Barbados’ public education system with her stellar achievements.
“Education in Barbados is free, you can get what you want and so I felt it was my responsibility to give something back,” she said.
In 1973, she received a law degree from the University of the West Indies (UWI), the only public university in the country, and was admitted to the bar in 1975 as a practicing lawyer. In 1997, she became secretary of the Supreme Court.
In 2020, Mason delivered the annual “Throne Speech”, written by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, declaring that the time had come to “completely leave our colonial past behind”.
“Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate declaration of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving,” said the text by Mia Mottley.
Among his political passions is the dream of a Caribbean version of the European Union. “I’m a fan of the Caribbean. I believe in regional integration, I think it’s something that needs to happen,” said Mason.
Prime Minister Mottley has been criticized for calling Prince Charles into Mason’s inauguration as an honored guest and for bestowing on him the Order of the Liberty of Barbados, the highest national honor.
“The British royal family is a source of exploitation in this region and so far they have not offered a formal apology or any kind of reparation for the damage suffered, I don’t see how anyone in the family can receive this award,” said Kristina Hinds, teacher of UWI International Relations.
For some activists, such as Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Muslim Association of Barbados, British colonialism and slavery are responsible for the inequality that exists today on the island.
“Economic inequality, the ability to own land and even access to bank loans have a lot to do with the structures built after British rule,” said 26-year-old Bulbulia.
Some residents point to the island’s most pressing problems, including the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which highlighted how much the country depends on tourism, particularly from the United Kingdom.
Before the virus emerged, more than one million people visited the island of 287,000 people each year.
Unemployment is almost 16%, 9% more than in previous years, despite the increase in government loans to finance public sector works and create jobs.