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Sundial Now: How the changes in Buckingham Palace might affect Caribbean nations

Queen Elizabeth
The Miami Herald
The Miami Herald
Queen Elizabeth's visit to Miami in 1991

While some in the Caribbean are mourning Queen Elizabeth II’s death, others are hoping that the change to the throne might loosen their ties to the monarchy.

A dozen Caribbean countries belong to the British Commonwealth. Most of them maintain the crown as their head of state.

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There is a partnership in certain areas like law enforcement and judicial cooperation. Still, the British monarchy’s authority over these countries is largely symbolic.

Half of these nations have been outspoken about separating themselves from the monarchy and the legacy of British colonial rule that comes with it.

Last year, Barbados removed the queen as its head of state and became a republic. (Like other Caribbean countries that have done likewise, Barbados remains a member of the Commonwealth.)

“Intellectually, of course, many of us are going to realize that [Queen Elizabeth II] wasn't responsible for colonialism. It was something kind of handed to her. But viscerally, at this spiritual level, we think of her as ultimately the head of an institution with a horrific legacy, and she apparently never apologized for any of it. So it's definitely a mixed bag,” said Calibe Thompson, who is Jamaican-American and the president of the Island SPACE Caribbean Museum.

Although there hasn’t been a formal apology, earlier this year, Prince William visited the Caribbean islands and expressed his sorrow for the legacy of slavery in the region under British rule.

Jamaica is poised to possibly become the next nation in the region to leave the Commonwealth. According to a recent poll, only a minority of residents support having the British monarch as its head of state.

America’s editor Tim Padgett joined Sundial Now to discuss how the queen’s death might affect the region.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

On the decline of the monarchy’s popularity

Particularly in a young populated country like Jamaica, where just this past summer, a new survey came out showing that only 27% of Jamaicans support having the British monarch as their head of state. A very ample majority now want to become a republic. At least, that's what the polls say. But we're still seeing a lot of influence in Jamaica that's sort of pro-monarchy. And a lot of it involves the political and economic elite in Jamaica, again, an older generation. And they're sort of slowing things down. And so even though you see the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness is saying they intend to have, before the year is out, a referendum on breaking with the British monarchy. The wheels are moving very, very slowly, and I doubt very much that they'll have a referendum of that kind before this year is out.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne reiterated this week, after the queen's death, that within the next three years he expects to have a referendum that will separate that island nation from the British monarchy and become a republic.

On the impact of islands leaving the Commonwealth might have on the U.S.

If we do see more Caribbean countries break with the British monarchy, I think it's going to become incumbent on the United States, whether it likes it or not, to increase its own involvement with the Caribbean.

I think one of the benefits you might expect from having the British monarchy as your head of state if you're a Caribbean country is a lot more help with things like climate change mitigation. You would have expected, for example, to see the British monarchy making a much bigger effort to get scarce COVID-19 vaccines into the Caribbean Commonwealth countries during the pandemic. That didn't happen. In fact, one of the ironies was that Caribbean countries received a lot of doses donated to them by India, a former colony of Great Britain. So there was an irony there.

I think what the United States has a chance to do here is step in once the British monarchy is out of the Caribbean and show that it is interested in being perhaps a more concrete partner with the Caribbean in areas like climate change mitigation than what the British monarchy ever showed itself to be.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Barbados left the British Commonwealth. The island did not leave the Commonwealth, but did remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a republic in 2021.

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org