Barbados decolonized its politics in 1966 with independence from Britain and its jurisprudence 14 years ago when it signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice as the region’s final appellate court, replacing the British Privy Council.
With its 50th independence anniversary just over a year away, Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said the time has come to decolonize the governance structure by removing Queen Elizabeth II as the titular head of state and replacing the monarch with a ceremonial president from the Caribbean island.
Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica and Guyana are the only CARICOM countries with republican status.
Barbados needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament to authorize the constitutional change. Stuart’s government currently has that majority in the Senate, but not in the lower house.
“Since we are going to be 50 years very shortly, it’s time for us to address this issue,” Stuart said at a media conference while in Toronto last weekend for the annual Errol Barrow Memorial dinner organized by the Canadian arm of the Democratic Labour Party. “The republican ethic says that holders of public office should come by those offices as a result of the will of the people and should only hold those offices for so long as the people desire to have them. In every facet of Barbadian life, except at the level of the head of state, that obtains.
“We don’t have anything against the Head of State of the United Kingdom. What Barbados believes and Guyana believes it too and all of the others who have remained in the Commonwealth is that Her Majesty the Queen is head of the Commonwealth and there is nothing wrong with that. But in terms of being the Head of State of the country, it’s time to remove that anomaly.”
The 34-kilometre island became an independent state on November 30, 1966.
Barbadians at home and in the Diaspora, including Canada, are overwhelmingly in favour of Barbados decolonizing its governance structure.
The Monarch has made five official visits to Barbados, including in 1977 when she left by Concorde on her first supersonic flight. In 1989, she returned to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Barbados parliament.
The other Commonwealth countries that still embrace the Queen as head of state are Canada, Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Stuart, who is in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, visited Dominica three weeks ago to assess the damage created by Tropical Storm Erika that wreaked havoc on the 750 square kilometre-island, triggering massive flooding and landslides.
The island’s worst natural disaster in Dominica since Hurricane David in 1979 left 35 people missing and presumed dead. Only 11 bodies have been recovered so far.
“What Dominica needs very badly is money, engineers and other skilled individuals and the psychological support of CARICOM people,” said Stuart. “I saw the devastation and the country needs all the help it can get. We need to get the international community involved like the financial institutions and the G7 countries to make the distinction between GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita and vulnerability. We have been waging that battle at the international level and I will do so again this week at the UN. Once we get that distinction recognized, then it means that small island developing states will be treated differently, in special and differential terms.”
Stuart, who is the CARICOM chair, addressed the longstanding Guyana/Venezuela border dispute and made it clear that Guyana has the unwavering support from the Caribbean region.
While Guyana was celebrating its 49th independence anniversary last May, Venezuela promulgated a decree seeking to swallow up a large portion of Guyana’s Atlantic sea front.
The vast area west of the Essequibo River, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana, has been claimed by Venezuela as its own since the 19th century, when Guyana was still a British colony.
“Guyana is essentially at the heart and soul of CARICOM as a founding member, so we support the territorial integrity of that country without compromise,” said Stuart. “We are aware that in 1899, there was an arbitral award of Guyana’s present land area to Venezuela. Guyana was not independent and didn’t have a lot to do with that issue that the British government negotiated with the United States and Venezuela.”
Stuart said border disputes are notoriously difficult to resolve.
“Belize and Guatemala have a longstanding territorial dispute and if you go to the Middle East, it’s worse with Israel and Palestine and so on,” he said. “CARICOM’s role is to ensure that the territorial integrity of Guyana isn’t compromised and that if this matter is to be resolved, it must be done not through any belligerent methods on the part of Venezuela, but by peaceful resolution either by negotiation, inquiry, mediation or by a judicial settlement by the international Court of Justice.”
While acknowledging the remittances and other contributions nationals in Canada and the rest of the Diaspora have made over the years, Stuart is encouraging overseas Barbadians to invest directly in the country.
“For some time now, we have been talking about designing a special kind of bond targeted at the Diaspora so that people can invest directly in the country and could also see the advantage of doing that,” he said.
Since becoming Barbados’ seventh prime minister in 2010, Stuart has attended every Errol Barrow Memorial dinner celebration in Toronto.
The event honours the memory of Barrow, who co-founded the party, trained with the Royal Air Force in the Maritimes and was conferred with an honorary doctorate of Civil Law by McGill University in 1966, the same year he led his country to independence and became his country’s first prime minister. He died in 1987 at age 67.
“Errol Barrow was responsible for so much that Barbados is today that I consider any opportunity to memorialize him, his work and contributions to be deserving of my presence,” said Stuart. “I am now the leader of the party he founded and the PM of Barbados that he transformed.”