MISE & Agrave; DAY
On the verge of freeing itself from its subjugation to the British Crown, the young republic of Barbados will have to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic on its tourism and the inequalities inherited from its colonial past.
Known for its heavenly beaches, Barbados will induct President Sandra Mason, elected by indirect universal suffrage, as Head of State on Tuesday, replacing British Queen Elizabeth II.
The celebrations of this historic transition to republican rule, which include festivals and military parades, will begin Monday evening in the presence of Prince Charles, heir to the British crown.
The advent of a republic in this microphone -Independent Caribbean state since 1966 followed years of local campaigning and rekindled debates over centuries of British influence, marked by 200 years of slavery.
“As a young girl, when I heard about the Queen, I was very excited,” recalls Sharon Bellamy-Thompson, 50, who saw as a child Elizabeth II visiting the island. .
“Growing up, I started to wonder what this queen really meant to me and my country. It didn't make any sense, ”says the fish seller in the capital Bridgetown. “Having a Barbadian woman president will be great,” she continues.
For some activists, like Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, British colonization and slavery are directly responsible for inequalities on the island.
“Wealth gaps, capacity to owning, even access to bank loans, all this is linked to the structures created under British rule, “argues the 26-year-old.
” The physical chains (of slavery) have been broken and we no longer wear them, but mental chains persist in our minds, ”she says.
Barbados held its first ever presidential election in October, 13 months after the announcement of the constitutional divorce from the British Crown.
But some residents point to more pressing issues, including the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed the country's dependence on tourism, particularly from the United Kingdom.
Before the virus emerged, the he crystal-clear island was visited by more than a million people every year.
The calm of the usually busy streets of Bridgetown, the paltry number of visitors and a moribund nightlife today testify to the difficulties of this pearl of the Lesser Antilles, which has a population of around 287,000.
Unemployment has reached nearly by 16%, up 9% from previous years, despite the increase in government borrowing to finance public sector works and create jobs.
The country has just relaxed some anti-COVID health measures, such as the curfew in force, which went from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“The rise in the number of COVID infections, and the rise a sense of anxiety and fear – I don't think this is the right time, ”to organize celebrations, laments Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley.
< strong> “Cope on our own”
Critics also target the invitation of Prince Charles by the Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who is to award him the highest honor on the island, the Order of Freedom.
“The British royal family is guilty of exploitation in this area, and yet they have offered no official apology or form of compensation for past wrongs,” said Kristina Hinds, professor of international relations at the University of the Indies Western countries in Barbados.
“So I don't understand how any of the royal family can receive this award. It is beyond me, ”she adds.
The end of Elizabeth II's sovereignty over Barbados is thus seen by some as a crucial step towards financial reparations for the historical consequences of the slave trade slaves, brought from Africa to work on the sugar plantations.
For others, it is simply a way of being in tune with what the locals have wanted for many years.
A number of countries have since their independence chosen to withdraw the position of head of state from the Queen of England, such as Guyana (1970), Trinidad and Tobago (1976) and Dominica (1978). But she remains the sovereign of Canada or Australia.
“It is a very good thing that we are becoming a republic, because we have been independent for 55 years now and it is time to show that the 'we can do it on our own,' points out Derry Bailey, 33, owner of a watersports equipment rental business.