October 1, 2000

Barbados, Caribbean's Little England, debates dumping the queen

                  BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) -- In prosperous Barbados, an island whose politics
                  are usually as placid as the turquoise Caribbean bays, a grandmother living 4,200 miles away is
                  at the heart of a heated debate.

                  She is Queen Elizabeth II, titular monarch of the otherwise wholly independent nation, but
                  not for much longer if younger islanders like Julian Noel get their way.

                  "I think all the islands that still have her should dump her as quickly as possible," says Noel, a
                  38-year-old dive master. "She has done nothing for the country. She is just there, just sitting
                  there doing nothing."

                  It's a battle between older islanders and younger nationalists -- between those
                  who see in the queen a symbol of stability, and those who call her an
                  anachronism. It echoes similar debates that have raged in many of the countries
                  that were once part of the British empire, kept her on as their monarch after
                  becoming independent, and now are divided over whether to continue the

                  No opinion polls have been done among the 265,000 Bajans, as the islanders are
                  known, but all three main political parties support a plan to turn Barbados into a
                  republic and replace the queen with a president who shares the majority's African

                  Traditionalists warn that without the monarchy to steady it, Barbados could fall
                  prey to dictatorship.

                  No way, Edmund G. Hinkson, an attorney, said at a town meeting on the subject.
                  Barbados, he said, has a history of "stability, parliamentary democracy and
                  changes of government without military intervention or bloodshed."

                  He urged people to "get rid of this alien system."

                  Simeon McIntosh, a law professor at the University of the West Indies, says
                  Bajans like to believe that their British link distinguishes them from "those failed
                  societies that go by the name of republics in South America, to say nothing of

                  But he notes that having Queen Elizabeth at its head didn't save Grenada from a
                  communist revolution in the 1980s, or Jamaica from economic and social decay.

                  The proposal to dump the queen is part of a two-year constitutional review that is
                  being considered by parliament. The review also envisions reforming the
                  legislature and allowing women, like men, to share their citizenship with foreign

                  Prime Minister Owen Arthur has promised a referendum on the queen soon, but
                  has not set a date.

                  That Barbados should take the lead among Caribbean nations in questioning the
                  royal tie is surprising, considering that the island 21 miles by 14 is known as
                  "Little England" for its many colonial trappings.

                  Barbados was one of the few uninhabited islands settled in 1605 by Britons who
                  imported slaves from Africa. While other islands were swapped as war booty
                  among Spanish, British, Dutch and French colonizers, Barbados was always
                  British, and Bajans (pronounced BAY'-zhuhns) are still known in the Caribbean
                  for their restrained manner and refined accent.

                  Law enforcers belong to the Royal Barbados Police Force and corrections
                  officers work for Her Majesty's Prison Service. The speaker of Parliament and
                  the judges still wear wigs of white curls and black robes despite the tropical heat.
                  The queen's face graces coins and stamps, and everyone follows cricket.

                  Most of the million-plus tourists who visit each year are British. Elizabeth herself
                  last visited in 1985 and was warmly received.

                  But in a sign of changing times, the government has changed the name of the
                  plaza dominated by Admiral Nelson's statue from Trafalgar Square to National
                  Heroes Square, and plans to replace his statue with one of Errol Barrow, who led
                  the country to independence in 1966.

                  "We should end that thing of 'God save the Queen.' Why not now 'God save our
                  president?"' asked Michael Murray, 47, who works for the sewage company.

                  The economy is increasingly linked to the United States, and the British
                  connection makes little practical difference except in one important respect: the
                  island's highest court is the Privy Council in London. Some see that as a
                  humiliating holdover and want it replaced by a Caribbean supreme court. Others
                  welcome the Privy Council's role as a guarantee of the rule of law and a
                  confidence boost for foreign investors.

                  Last year Australia voted in a referendum to keep the royal tie, and Bajans will do
                  the same in the promised referendum. Wilfred Nichols, for one, will be voting to
                  hang on to her majesty.

                  "I have nothing against the queen of England or the monarchy," says the
                  50-year-old public health worker. "I grew up knowing the queen as our head of
                  state. She has not done anything to offend me."

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.