The British government established colonies in the Caribbean mainly during the 17th and 18th centuries, seizing the land from indigenous people mistakenly called Indians because Columbus incorrectly thought he was in Asia and India when he arrived in the Caribbean in 1492. The name West Indies comes from that Columbus geographical mistake. 

The Caribbean colonies England established, between wars and skirmishes with the French and Spanish, were essentially built up as agricultural plantations to provide sugarcane and other products to a European market. England seized control of Barbados, Dominica, Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands (Tortola, Virgin Corda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke), Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, etc., all together called the British West Indies.

Barbados, the Caribbean Island most responsible for the sugar crop wealth of many of the current British members of the House of Lords, just affirmed its new identity as a fully independent republic. The ceremony was on Nov. 30.

In real terms, what does that mean? Barbados, which had been England’s oldest colony (since 1625), was already an independent country and an accepted member of the United Nations since 1966. Barbados already had a working constitutional government with citizenship rights and popular parliamentary elections. Barbados already had its own legal sovereignty, but therein lies the issue. Barbados had a government under the thumb of a British constitutional monarchy, which meant that while the head of government—the prime minister—was elected by Bajans (local name for Barbadians), the head of the Barbadian state was the reigning British monarch—Queen Elizabeth II. That meant that in terms of international relations, including trade, etc., the decisions were made for Barbados by the Queen and her advisors (called the Privy Council in the past). It also meant that a physical attack against the Barbadian state was to be defended by soldiers sent from England (Barbados has had a small military force—the Barbados Defense Force, now numbering around 1,000 uniformed troops for a 300,000 person population, but in reality could not defend itself well against even a moderately sized enemy.)  

And that is the thing about sovereignty—you can claim independence, land and property, but if you cannot defend them against other claimants it is not yours, and your sovereignty (the real essence of a country’s independence) is only illusory. Before declaring itself a republic, Barbados was, in effect, still a child of England rather than a completely independent, adult nation state.

The Republic of Barbados is now responsible for itself and its own protection. Of course, it has many international relationships and many allies it can call upon if needed. Besides choosing to remain a member of the British Commonwealth of nations—the 54-member group of trading partners—Barbados is also a valued member of CARICOM, the economic partnership of Caribbean nations. Caricom just opened an embassy in Kenya, East Africa and has increased its dialogues and economic discussions with the African Union. This will be greatly beneficial to the African Diaspora population of the new republic, which is the vast majority of Bajan citizens.

We can rejoice at Barbados’ new republican status. It joins Haiti, Cuba, Guyana, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago as Caribbean island republics (Jamaica has still not made that leap yet). The queen’s gambit has been nullified. Before this month, the last time Queen Elizabeth was removed as head of state in this way was in 1992, when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.

Change may be slow, but it is inevitable.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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