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The Queen and the Caribbean: Elizabeth's death is likely to elevate the region's republic drive

Queen Elizabeth II, left, stands on the reviewing stand alongside Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga during "Jamaica Salute"  pageant in the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on Monday, Feb. 17, 1983.   Seaga enjoys great support from the western powers and includes President Reagan among his closest supporters. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press
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AP
Queen Elizabeth II, left, stands on the reviewing stand alongside Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga during "Jamaica Salute" pageant in the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on Monday, Feb. 17, 1983. Seaga enjoys great support from the western powers and includes President Reagan among his closest supporters. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Well before Queen Elizabeth II's death, the popularity of the monarchy as head of state in British Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean was falling. As countries such as Jamaica and Bahamas consider their position, the reaction across the region is likely to be mixed.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who passed on Thursday in Scotland, was also the head of state for several British commonwealth countries — including some in the Caribbean, where the reaction to her death is likely to be decidedly mixed.

A dozen Caribbean countries belong to the British Commonwealth, and eight of them still retain the British monarch as their head of state.

But the popularity of Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy has been steadily declining in recent years — Barbados last year became the fourth Commonwealth in the Americas to ditch the Queen and become a republic — as was uncomfortably evident to the royal family earlier this year when Elizabeth's grandson, Prince William, was greeted with angry, "anti-colonialist" protests on a tour of the western hemisphere's Commonwealth nations.

 Queen Elizabeth II (right) greeting a Jamaican woman in Kingston during her visit to the Caribbean island in 2002.
Screenshot The Royal Family
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YouTube
Queen Elizabeth II (right) greeting a Jamaican woman in Kingston during her visit to the Caribbean island in 2002.

Even so, Caribbean residents like Father Stephen Grant, an Anglican priest in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas, still support keeping the monarchy as a reassuring cultural, economic and security presence. Grant remembers seeing Elizabeth for the first time as a boy when the Queen visited the Bahamas in 1966.

“She would not only spend time with the politicians, but visit the underprivileged,  especially children," Grant recalls. "And we have a whole lot to thank her for, to be such a stabilizing force in commonwealth countries, especially in the Bahamas.”

But even Bahamians today are decidedly split on the monarchy — and the country is one of six that signaled to William they plan to eventually jettison the monarchy.

Jamaica is perhaps the most serious: a recent poll showed only 27% still favor keeping the British monarch as head of state. Most view the monarchy as a colonial-era, if not racist, anachronism and they support becoming a republic as the best way to develop and modernize the island in the 21st century.

During his visit to the island nation, William was met with demands for reparations for Britain's legacy of slavery in the Caribbean, for which he expressed "profound sorrow" during his tour.

Pro-republic Jamaicans feel Elizabeth’s death could accelerate a constitutional referendum on the issue.

 Prince William (left) and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week at Jamaica House, the PM's Kingston residence
Jamaica Information Service
Prince William (left) and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week at Jamaica House, the PM's Kingston residence

“I think it will fuel much more conversation about it," said Rosalea Hamilton, an economist and attorney in Kingston who spearheaded a protest letter to William signed by some 100 Jamaican civic leaders.

"Their hope for a better future for Jamaica is riding on this idea. I think the voice that will win out is the one that reflects the polls results. But what is still the elephant in the room is how fast the government will move.”

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness — who told William publicly "we are moving on" from the monarchy — has said he intends to hold a referendum. But so far the process seems slowed by complex constitutional process and resistance to republicanism among some in Jamaica's political and economic elite.
Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.