In a move that had been debated for years, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced in 2020 that Barbados, a former colony of Britain, would become a republic by November 2021 on the 55th anniversary of its independence, retiring the Queen as head of state.
A 21-gun salute fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played.
Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’s first president. In a message to Mason, the Queen said she extended her “congratulations to you and all Barbadians” as she sent her “good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and emphasised the importance of the “continuation of the friendship” with the UK.
Mason had been elected to the post last month by a joint session of the country’s House of Assembly and Senate.
Last year, Mason had announced that the nation of around 300,000, where a majority are Black people with ancestry traced to enslaved Africans brought to the West Indies by the British in the 17th century to plant and harvest sugar cane, would become a republic by the 55th anniversary of its independence.
Speaking during the annual Throne Speech, delivered on behalf of Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the-then governor-general had said:
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.”
The Monday night ceremony, hailed as the “next logical step toward full sovereignty,” was also steered by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Barbados had achieved independence in 1966 becoming a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen as a chiefly symbolic head of state.
It was the fourth British dependency in the Caribbean to become independent, following Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), and Guyana (1966).
Elizabeth II remains Queen of 15 Commonwealth realms: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom. Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth.
The last time that Queen Elizabeth II was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.
The current ceremony, allowing Barbados to shed the remaining bonds of its colonial past since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625, comes amid a strong echo of voices calling for compensation from Britain.
In the years between 1627 and 1833, Barbados received 600,000 enslaved Africans who toiled on the sugar plantations.
Barbados negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with Britain in June 1966. The UK Parliament recognised this by passing the Barbados Independence Act 1966, which gave Barbados “fully responsible status” (independence) within the Commonwealth.
A government commission in the 1970s examined the question of becoming a republic and advised against it, conscious that similar experiments in Caribbean states such as Suriname and Guyana had led to authoritarianism and instability.
In 1996, a Constitution Review Commission explored the appropriateness of maintaining Barbados’ link with the Crown, and in 1998 it recommended that Barbados become a parliamentary republic.
As the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement surged across the US and other countries in 2020, triggered by the death of black ex-convict George Floyd while in police custody, similar demonstrations reached Barbados.
Two months after announcing plans to replace Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state, the bronze statue of British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was removed from the capital Bridgetown’s main square, seen as a vestige of colonial rule.
It had been unveiled in 1813 to commemorate Nelson and the British Royal Navy’s victory over the French and Spanish in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
At the ceremony, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the government accepted the statue was an “important, historic relic”, adding:“It is not a relic to be placed in the National Heroes Square of a nation that has had to fight for too long to shape its destiny and to forge a positive future for its citizens.”