As though it is a slow learner, British royalty has again sent out a team to the Caribbean on a so-called charm tour but instead of workers taking a break from offices to wave local flags to welcome the party, the royals have been met with strident calls for slave era reparations from governments and rights groups.
Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, on Monday wrapped up a three-nation Caribbean tour that had included St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Antigua and Grenada but Grenada was scrubbed on the advice of the Governor General Cecile La Grenade who had feared that planned protests by rights groups would have embarrassed and humiliated the touring party. The tour was also planned to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70th year in office.
Last month, Buckingham Palace had sent out Prince William and Wife Kate to Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, again on an alleged charm offensive in the wake of several Caribbean islands planning to ditch the queen as their head of state. That visit had backfired badly with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness ambushing the delegation during a formal ceremony, telling them bluntly that “we are moving on” to become a republic and will appoint a black or brown head of state. The party had also faced protests and demands from right groups for reparation payments for slave trade atrocities even as the prince had acknowledged the brutality of slavery. In Belize, some aspects of the visit to various areas were scrubbed for security reasons as plans to upstage the royals with pickets leaked out.
On this tour, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne was on Monday frank about reparations telling the Wessexes that “open and objective” talks on slavery and reparations are what’s needed in this era.
“We understand the nature of your job is not to get involved in any contentious issue but it’s important for you to understand these issues so you can use your diplomatic influence to help us achieve the reparatory justice we are seeking here in the Caribbean. The reality is we have been left bereft of important institutions and left behind because of the legacy of slavery. We continue to have the Queen as our head of state, even though I should say we aspire at some point to become a republic. But that is not currently on the cards so she will remain as head of state for some time to follow. We’re not trying to embarrass you, we’re just trying to build awareness,” Browne said during the meeting with cabinet ministers.
One feature of the tour had to do with local reparations commissions-branches of the regional body — all put out statements demanding compensation for the transAtlantic trade. Some even wondered why local officials had even bothered to agree to such a visit.
“The British were responsible for the hunting down, kidnapping and transshipment of 60 percent of all of the Africans who were taken from the African continent. They hunted us down, they kidnapped us. They stole us. They worked us. They owe us and they must now pay us,” I Witness news quoted former Vincentian reparations chair Jomo Thomas as saying.
Like the visit of William and Kate, a review of the latest parley by the royals to the Caribbean will likely be undertaken as officials say that bureaucrats who had helped to plan these tours are not doing a good job of advising Buckingham Palace about the post slavery and post independence mood in the region.
After last month’s visit, several regional leaders including Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Mia Mottley of Barbados had openly demanded reparation payments from England as they criticized London for compensating slave owners after abolition instead of the victims and or descendants of slavery.
And as if to rub salt in the wound before the royals had even arrived, Antigua’s reparations body lashed out at their presence saying the British are still enjoying the good life from slavery.
“We know that the British Crown, both as a royal family and as an institution, is historically documented as an active participant in the largest crimes against humanity of all time. Why is it so hard for you to sincerely apologize for your nation’s role in slavery, like decent human beings do when they offend? We know that “acknowledging and accounting for wrongs are deeply enshrined within both British law and society,” the body said.
It contended that Africans and their descendants have been on the receiving end of barbaric policies from London while noting that the royal family continues “to “live in splendor, pomp and wealth attained through the proceeds of the crimes. We know that the British Crown, both as royal family and as institution, is historically documented as an active participant in the largest crimes against humanity of all time,” it said, calling for reparations payments to be made to descendants.