KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 26 (Reuters) – While Britain prepares to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, its former colony Jamaica is distinctly cool on having a new head of state from a distant land.
The process to sever ties with the British monarchy is underway, following in the footsteps of another former Caribbean possession, Barbados.
With a bitter history of slavery and a plantation economy that made some Britons wealthy but left many Jamaicans impoverished, the relationship with Britain is not always seen as having been happy and glorious.
So there is little excitement about the lavish coronation ceremony taking place in London on May 6.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me because I don’t see what they are doing for us here in Jamaica,” said Claudeth Brown, 68, who sells peanuts and cold drinks in the capital Kingston.
Carpenter David Brown, 65, had similar feelings.
“If we have independence, why would we need another head of state from abroad?” he said as he caught sardines in Kingston Harbour during a day off work.
Maziki Thame, a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, agreed the coronation was of little significance.
“It’s not a part of my imagination around the future of Jamaica, and I suspect that that’s where the majority of people are presently,” she told Reuters.
Jamaica first came into England’s hands in 1655 when it was seized from Spain, which had brought over the first Africans as slaves. It gained independence in 1962 but retained the British monarch as head of state and stayed in the Commonwealth. In the years since it has often been racked by political and criminal violence.
Waves of immigration to Britain kept the links alive as did an affection for Queen Elizabeth, who was on the throne at the time of independence.
But even before Elizabeth’s death last September, republican sentiment was increasingly gripping the Caribbean region.
Barbados ditched the monarchy in 2021. Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and the Bahamas have all expressed an interest in cutting ties with the British crown, while Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica are already republics.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said his country is “moving on”. In March he announced a constitutional reform committee that will assist in the transition.
“We will be one step further in redefining who we are as a country and as a sovereign people,” he said.
Breaking ties with the monarchy is essential for Jamaica, said Steven Golding, president of the UNIIA-ACL, a Black nationalist organization founded in Jamaica by activist Marcus Garvey.
“Given the atrocities that we suffered through the period of enslavement, through the colonial period, I think it is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to our sovereignty as an independent nation,” he said.
[1/4] Steven Golding, president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, a black nationalist fraternal organization founded in Jamaica by Marcus Garvey, admires a bust of Garvey in Kingston, Jamaica, March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Cox
When he assumed the crown on his mother’s death, Charles became head of state not only of Britain but 14 other realms, including Canada, Australia and Jamaica.
In order to become a republic Jamaica’s Constitution requires a 2/3 majority in both the elected and nominated Houses of Parliament and a simple majority in a general referendum, said constitutional expert Lloyd Barnett.
However, if it obtains a 2/3 majority in the elected House but only a simple majority in the nominated House it will require a 2/3 majority of the electorate in a referendum.
A 2022 survey by pollster Don Anderson found that 56% of Jamaicans want to remove the monarch as head of state.
“Jamaicans are more attuned to the situation now and probably more inclined to wish for and to support the separation from the monarchy,” Anderson told Reuters.
The emotional ties to the queen that lingered among older Jamaicans have likely evaporated now, he said.
The Windrush scandal that emerged in 2017, in which hundreds of immigrants to Britain were detained or deported after living there for years, added a sense of betrayal to the list of grievances.
Indeed, the monarchy is irrelevant to Jamaicans’ daily life, said lawyer Danielle Archer, a spokesperson for the Advocates Network, a group that planned protests during Prince William and his wife Catherine’s visit in 2022.
Protesters held signs during the visit demanding the pair apologise for slavery. At a formal state dinner, Prince William expressed “profound sorrow”.
But he stopped short of a formal apology, as did his father, Charles, who spoke of his “personal sorrow at the suffering of so many” in an address to Commonwealth leaders later that year.
Charles also acknowledged growing republican sentiment in some Commonwealth nations and said it was for them to decide their constitutional arrangements.
About 600,000 Africans were brought to Jamaica as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries to work on sugar, cotton and banana plantations, the National Library of Jamaica says.
The British government was involved in the Atlantic slave trade and reimbursed plantation owners for the loss of labour that occurred when slavery was outlawed in 1834.
In recent years, some governments, individuals, institutions and private companies have apologized for their involvement. But the ravages of slavery are obvious, Archer of the Advocates Network said.
“Take a trip to any Caribbean island, any country that was under the grip of colonialism. You will see poverty. You will see where the resources have been taken from the land and placed in the wealthy,” she said.
Archer plans to watch the coronation, albeit reluctantly.
“I’d like to hear what Charles has to say about the subjects in the Isle of Jamaica,” she said.
“Will we be specially mentioned? And if so, would you consider doing more than telling us to move on from slavery, but to realistically look at the situation and make a reasonable assessment?”
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