It was meant to be a visit to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – a chance to showcase the modern face of the British monarchy in a region where republican sentiment is on the rise.
But it really didn’t happen that way.
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wrap up their week-long Caribbean tour on Saturday, they will report that the tour may have accelerated moves to ditch the Queen as head of state.
Calls for slavery reparations and the lingering fury of the Windrush scandal followed them through Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas – overshadowing a journey aimed at strengthening the Commonwealth and discouraging other countries from following the example of the Barbados on becoming a republic.
Upon arriving in Belize, the couple were met with protests from villagers over a land dispute involving a charity of which William is a patron. In Jamaica, the prime minister told them in an awkward meeting that the country would “move on” to become a republic, and a Bahamian government committee urged the royal family to offer “full and formal apologies for their crimes against humanity”. .
Photos of Will and Kate shaking hands with Jamaican children through wire fences, at the military parade in which the couple stood, dressed in white, in an open-top Land Rover, the optics of the visit was described by local activists as a return to colonialism.
“It was another photo opportunity, and rather presumptuous to assume that Jamaicans were suddenly going to welcome William and his wife with open arms,” said five-year-old Jamaican-born writer and former Caribbean studies scholar Velma McClymont. years. country gained independence.
“My grandparents could trace generations back to slavery, but they died believing Jamaica was fully independent. Imagine, 60 years later and it’s still an extension of the British Empire. is a fledgling colony, not isolated.
UK travel enthusiasts may have had a different impression. The Sun booked its front page for the tour on Friday, gushing that “Kate dazzles on Jamaican tour” and suggesting the couple had “touched hearts”. On Wednesday, the Daily Mail splashed a photo of Kate, the ‘Diving Duchess’, snorkeling with nurse sharks in Belize.
The same cannot be said for Jamaican media coverage. “It was dubbed in [the UK] media as a charm offensive, but I’m not quite sure it happened that way. It wasn’t a royal failure, but I wouldn’t call it a royal success either,” said Tyrone Reid, deputy editor of the national newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner.
Reid added that local publications had devoted considerable columns to the views “of a growing number of Jamaicans calling on the British monarch and the British state to apologize and accept their role in the odious trade in slaves of years ago”.
Royal family experts, including a former palace PR, said a huge amount of planning went into the visits, often starting years in advance. They are run by the government in accordance with the diplomatic, cultural and commercial priorities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Philip Murphy, a University of London professor and former director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said that although the palace had “taken a relaxed view” of countries returning the Queen as head of state, “the British government has been less consistent. about it” – ministers are thought to be keen to preserve the benefits of Commonwealth soft power post-Brexit.
“I think that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sometimes a little naive and that it does not have much institutional memory anymore. There are deep sensitivities around the legacies of colonialism and slavery and around the royal presence in the Caribbean, and sometimes it feels like the Foreign Office doesn’t quite understand,” he said. he declares.
Murphy pointed to the growing focus on the relationship between colonialism and racial oppression after the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as reputational damage to the royal family after accusations of racism from Meghan Markle and the UK government in through the Windrush scandal. “All of these things make it politically very difficult to organize this visit at this time. You have the makings of a perfect storm,” he said.
A better approach to the trip, said Professor Trevor Burnard, director of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, would have been for the royal family to prepare for direct recognition and to apologize for the family’s role in the slave trade, including through memorial tours of slavery-related sites, such as the Port of Kingston, to express their grief in lieu of photo ops optimists.
“They should recognize that members of the royal family from Charles II to William IV were involved in and supported slavery and the slave trade, and that it is part of their past.”
Although a ‘quiet minority’ in Jamaica supported the Queen as head of state, there was ‘a lot of antipathy and resentment towards the monarchy’, said Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor at the University of the West Indies which did research. the British monarchy in the Caribbean. “[The visit] smacks of political expediency and is disturbingly selfish,” she said.
Many members of Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean are increasingly questioning its purpose, especially as they have received little support during the pandemic, which has devastated Jamaica’s economy and left 120,000 children out of school. , and point to the unequal access to vaccines, which has killed nearly 3,000 people on an island of 3 million inhabitants.
Jennifer Housen, a lawyer in Jamaica, said the fact that the UK revoked visa-free access for Jamaicans in 2003, with applications routinely refused, led people to think “the relationship is pointless”.
“These are discussions we need to have with them – not pretty flags and smiling black kids pushing their hand through fences to say, ‘Oh, you know, I hit the royals’; it’s rubbish, it promotes something that is completely commendable.
The reparations movement has grown significantly in the Caribbean in recent years, led by the 15-country strong intergovernmental Caricom Reparations Commission.
Rosalea Hamilton, one of the Advocates Network activists who organized protests for reparations for slavery in Jamaica, said there is currently an “increased awareness of history”, including “an understanding of the legacy of colonialism today, economic, sociological, psychological”. There was, she said, an increased awareness that this had led to trauma in the population which affected levels of trust, as well as sections of the population living in “unhealthy, unsanitary and dangerous”.
Reid said the reparations movement had “gained momentum” in part because of increased access to information about Jamaica’s history that went beyond textbooks that had traditionally taught an interpretation British history.
“The man in the street also asks for reparations, not only at the intellectual level. That’s when you know something is really gaining momentum, when it’s spreading across a wide swath of society. More and more people are acknowledging the horror of slavery and the atrocities that were committed, and realizing the impact this has on modern life.