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Barbados bids goodbye to Britain’s queen and becomes a republic

Britain's Prince Charles with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley
Britain’s Prince Charles stands with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, right, at the presidential inauguration ceremony for Sandra Mason on Tuesday.
(Jeff J Mitchell / Associated Press)
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Barbados stopped pledging allegiance to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday as it shed another vestige of its colonial past and became a republic for the first time in history.

Several leaders and dignitaries — including Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and singer Rihanna — attended the ceremony that began late Monday in a popular square where the statue of a well-known British nobleman was removed last year amid a worldwide push to erase symbols of oppression.

Fireworks peppered the sky at midnight as Barbados officially became a republic, with screens set up across the island so that people could watch the event, which featured an orchestra with more than 100 steel pan players and numerous artists. It was also broadcast online, prompting a flurry of excited messages from Bajans (Barbadians) living in the U.S., Canada and beyond.

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“Happy Independence Day and freedom to all,” wrote one viewer.

Pop star Rihanna in Barbados
Pop star Rihanna is honored in Barbados by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, left, and new President Sandra Mason, right.
(Jeff J. Mitchell / Press Assn.)

The drive to become a republic began more than two decades ago and culminated with the island’s Parliament electing Barbados’ first president last month in a two-thirds majority vote. Barbados Gov. General Sandra Mason was scheduled to be sworn in as president before dawn Tuesday as the island marked its 55th year of independence from Britain.

“As cautioned by our first prime minister ... we ought no longer to be found loitering on colonial premises,” she said. “We must seek to redefine our definition of self, of state and the Barbados brand in a more complex, fractured and turbulent world. ... Our country and people must dream big dreams and fight to realize them.”

Royal rebel Prince Harry is working on a memoir, due in 2022, about life in the public eye and his growth inside and outside of palace walls.

Mason, 72, is an attorney and judge who also has served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. She will help Prime Minister Mia Mottley lead the wealthy Caribbean island of about 300,000 people, which depends on tourism, manufacturing and finance.

Barbados did not need permission from Britain to become a republic, although the island will remain a member of the Commonwealth. The change is one that the Caribbean has not experienced since the 1970s, when Guyana, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago became republics.

Barbados became independent from Britain in November 1966, more than three centuries after English settlers arrived and turned the island into a wealthy sugar colony based on the work of hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans. But the island — like Canada, Australia and a handful of other nations — continued to recognize the British monarch as its head of state.

In recent decades, Barbados has begun distancing itself from its colonial past. In 2005, the island dropped the London-based Privy Council and chose the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal. Then, in 2008, it proposed a referendum on the issue of becoming a republic, but the vote was pushed back indefinitely.

Queen Elizabeth II missed out on the Remembrance Sunday service in London to pay tribute to Britain’s war dead because she sprained her back.

Last year, Barbados announced plans to stop being a constitutional monarchy and removed a statue of British Vice Adm. Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square, the site of the republic celebrations. (A statue of Nelson stands atop a column in London’s Trafalgar Square.)

“From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” said Prince Charles, who thanked Barbadian officials for inviting him.

The prince, who will reign over fewer nations than his mother, said he greatly admired what Barbadians have achieved. “Freedom, justice, and self determination have been your guides,” he said.

During the ceremony, the prime minister awarded pop star Rihanna the honor of National Hero of Barbados, telling her, “May you continue to shine like a diamond,” as they both laughed.

Barbados’ flag, coat of arms and national anthem will remain the same, but certain references will change, according to Suleiman Bulbulia, a columnist for the Barbados Today newspaper. He wrote that the terms “royal” and “crown” will no longer be used, meaning that the Royal Barbados Police Force will become the Barbados Police Service and “crown lands” will become “state lands.”

“It is the beginning of a new era,” he wrote. “Any Barbadian can aspire now to be our head of state.”


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