Jamaicans have countered a visit by the royal family with demands for an apology and reparations for slavery.
Dozens of Jamaicans took to the streets of Kingston on March 22 as Prince William and Kate prepared to tour the island nation. It was part of a larger tour of the Caribbean. It is also a prelude to the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the 70th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
According to reports, about 600,000 Africans were enslaved in Jamaica under more than 300 years of British rule. A group of 100 Jamaican activists, attorneys, entrepreneurs, members of the diaspora and other professionals, including one member of Parliament, penned a letter to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and hand-delivered it to the British High Commission in Kingston on March 22.
The letter was coupled with a list of 60 reasons the group says the British need to pay reparations and apologize.
Norah Blake, human rights advocate and one of the signatories of the letter, said although they welcome William and Kate as visitors, they can no longer celebrate the British monarchy.
“We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind,” the letter states.
“During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to redress and atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and/or during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement, indentureship and colonialization.”
According to the letter, former slave owners in the Caribbean have been compensated millions of pounds under the Slave Compensation Act of 1837. The payments lasted through 2015 because of government annuities.
However, none of the descendants of slavery have been reimbursed for slavery’s lasting effects. The group said an apology by the British Monarch for its “crimes against humanity” could initiate healing.
The group said the royals should apologize for slavery, indentureship, colonialization, human trafficking and exploitation of the country’s indigenous people.
In the list of 60 reasons for an apology, the group outlined the specific ways the British exploited and abused Africans in Jamaica for their benefit. It details the punishment of the enslaved and the abuse of power and laws that criminalized cultural rituals and traditions and restricted the African diaspora.
The reasons include actions that wiped out or diluted Africans’ identity, including stripping the enslaved of their native languages, forcing them to eat slave diets and the indoctrination of colorism. The list also details sexual exploitation, including rape and later sexual objectification of Black women. The group is demanding an apology for destroying family life and family separations.
Blake hopes that the government will engage in the conversation to move the process forward.
“Today’s representation was quite strong,” said Blake, following the protest. “We believe that it is definitely a voice and a signal that cannot be ignored. We believe the next step is a national conversation.”
Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sports, urged the country’s National Council on Reparations to expedite its reparations strategy.
Grange, in a March 21 statement, said Jamaica should “seize the moment of the global movement and momentum in favor of the alignment of our local and global human experiences with the human right we have to equality and equity.”
Jamaica MP Mike Henry was among the group who signed the letter and has been a vocal advocate for slavery reparations.
There are also calls for Jamaica to remove the queen as head of state and become a republic. It follows Barbados’ move in November, marking its independence celebration as a republic, a ceremonial dissolution of colonization.
Robert Nesta Morgan, the minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, told ABC News that the country has already started the process of becoming a republic. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has assigned former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte to oversee the process.
Morgan said there are disagreements on how much power a president under the republic would have.
“It’s not a straightforward simple process,” Morgan told ABC News. “It requires a lot of planning. It requires a lot of public education, and it also requires a lot of consensus between both the opposition and the government.”
One of the protesters, Clement Deslandes is skeptical about Holness’ motivation since he was appointed to a panel of advisers to the sovereign in July.
“At this time, I see my prime minister going to England to accept the Queen’s Counsel award,” Deslandes said. “I can’t tell you how disgusted and ashamed I was to see that man do that. That is the reason why I’m here today to condemn those Black people who refuse to stand up for our rights, who refused to denounce European colonization, who refuse to come from under shackles of slavery.”
Jamaica Opposition Leader Mark Golding said in a March 21 statement that he plans to attend the events scheduled during the royal visit. He will take the opportunity to discuss reparations and depature from the crown.
“The opposition agrees that such an apology and acknowledgment would be an appropriate way for the British Monarchy to commence the process of atonement for their role in this aspect of our history,” the statement reads.
William and Kate canceled a cacao farm tour in Belize on March 18 after villagers protested.