Barbados parts way with Queen and becomes world’s newest republic

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After 396 years, the sun has set on the British monarchy’s reign over the Caribbean island of Barbados, with a handover ceremony at midnight on Monday marking the birth of the world’s newest republic.

As the clock struck 12, the Royal Standard flag representing the Queen was lowered over a crowded Heroes Square in Bridgetown and Carol Roberts-Reifer, chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation, made the declaration of Barbados’ transition to its new constitutional status.

Guests in the square applauded as Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as president by the chief justice and took the oath of allegiance to her country. Hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital cheered and a 21-gun salute fired as the national anthem was played. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero.

“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” Mason said in her inauguration speech as the first president of the country, recognising the “complex, fractured and turbulent world” it would need to navigate.

“Our country must dream big dreams and fight to realise them,” the former governor-general told those gathered for the ceremony.

Prince Charles was on hand to witness the transition. “The creation of this republic offers a new beginning,” he said in a speech to the ceremony. “From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

“It cuts into your dignity as a citizen,” Sir Hilary Beckles, the country’s most renowned historian and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, said of the ongoing role of the monarchy in the country.

“It reduces you psychologically in terms of being a citizen of your nation, and then you have public officials who have to swear allegiance to this sovereign who is not a part of their reality.” A comprehensive survey of Barbadian attitudes to the royal family – the early results of which were shared with the Guardian – suggested that more than 60% of Barbadians were in favour of becoming a republic, half of them enthusiastically, while about one in 10 people preferred to keep the status quo.

“A significant number of persons were not interested one way or the other,” said Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor at the University of the West Indies and a lead investigator for the poll, which is yet to be released.

On an island whose anglophile tendencies once led it to be dubbed “little England”, where people still drive on the left, play cricket at Kensington Oval and bathe at Brighton beach, the republic is part of a wider agenda building steam across the Caribbean to forge a future outside a British framework.

The last time a spate of former colonies in the region cut their ties with the monarchy was the 1970s at the peak of the black power era. It was amid another reckoning on race last year, after the killing of the African American George Floyd, that Barbados flagged its own breakaway from the Queen.

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