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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
has not set a date.
That Barbados should take the lead among Caribbean nations in questioning
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
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
last visited in 1985 and was warmly received.
But in a sign of changing times, the government has changed the name of
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
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
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.