Protests are underway in Jamaica today, the second of three Commonwealth realms the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are touring this week.
“We will not participate in your Platinum Jubilee celebration!” declared an open letter addressed to Will and Kate that is signed by 100 Jamaican leaders in politics, clergy, and the arts. “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.”
Overdue conversations around colonialism and reparations come as many Caribbean countries have said they want to remove the Queen as head of state like Barbados did last fall. “There is no question that Jamaica has to become a republic,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness said last December.
Below, I have compiled a look at Jamaica, its relationship with the British Royal Family, and more on the protests. I hope it will help provide needed context for your royal watching these next few days.
As always, I want to hear your thoughts. Please hit “Join the discussion” at the bottom of this email to leave a comment on this newsletter. You can also send me an email: Hello@SoManyThoughts.com.
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Jamaica is a Caribbean island of 4,244 square miles (smaller than Connecticut, bigger than Delaware) located roughly 90 miles south of Cuba.
It is home to 2.9 million people (comparable to the size of Chicago), according to UN Data. About 92% of its population is Black.
The island’s economy was hit hard by the prolonged drop in tourism due to COVID, according to Reuters: “Figures from the Tourism Ministry show that before the pandemic, tourism accounted for nearly 10% of Jamaica’s gross domestic product. But last year, border closures and cruise cancellations due to the pandemic caused visitor arrivals to the country to fall by nearly three-quarters.”
Jamaica is one of the world’s leading producers of aluminum and bauxite (the ore of aluminum); its main crops are sugarcane, which is used in molasses and rum, and fruits including oranges, coconuts and bananas.
Andrew Holness, the country’s ninth prime minister, was first elected in 2016.
Jamaica was originally inhabited by the Indigenous Taino people, also known as Arawaks. According to the Jamaican Information Service: “They came from South America 2,500 years ago and named the island Xaymaca, which meant ‘land of wood and water.’”
Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1494. Within 15 years, the first Spanish settlers arrived. “The Spaniards, when they came, tortured and killed the Arawaks to get their land,” reads the history as outlined by the Jamaican Information Service. “They were so overworked and ill-treated that within a short time they had all died. The process was aided by the introduction of European diseases to which the Arawaks had little or no resistance.”
In 1655, Britain conquered Spain. In its occupation of Jamaica, the new English settlers focused on crops that could be sold back in Britain, replacing tobacco, indigo and cocoa with sugar, according to the Jamaican Information Service:
An estimated 600,000 enslaved Africans came to Jamaica between 1533 and 1807, making it one of the largest importers of the enslaved, according to the National Library of Jamaica.
Jamaica was a crown colony for nearly a century following the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865, in which the British violently suppressed the rebellion by former enslaved people.
It gained independence from Britain in 1962, sixty years ago this year and a decade into Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Like Belize and the Bahamas, it is a constitutional monarchy, which means Queen Elizabeth II carries out the symbolic and ceremonial role of head of state.
Jamaica appears to be one of the more popular Caribbean destinations for royal tours. The Queen has visited Jamaica six times in her 70-year reign. Her first trip was in 1953, during her months-long tour of the Commonwealth. According to the royal family’s website, Her Majesty traveled to the island roughly every decade through 2002, when she attended a special session of parliament in Kingston for her Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The Queen’s eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, have each been to Jamaica twice. Prince Edward has been once, as has Prince Harry. That last visit by Harry has been touted ever since. This quote from the prince features prominently on the royal family’s website: “Wow! I have totally fallen for Jamaica and its people. My grandmother, The Queen, was so right about you.”
It’s worth noting that on that celebrated trip Harry was met by some protests, although on a much smaller scale. The Huffington Post UK reported that on a visit to William Knibb Baptist Church, to pay tribute to Knibb for campaigning against slavery, Harry was met by a trio of protestors holding signs: “One read: ‘Down with Harry the slave master,’ while another demanded ‘reparations for 400 years of slavery’ and asked: ‘Your Granny says slavery was not a crime, what do you think Harry?’”
The Advocates Network, a human rights coalition, has organized a protest near the British High Commission in the capital of Kingston to coincide with the Cambridges' arrival. Nadine White, race correspondent for the Independent, broke the news this week. Her piece quotes co-organizer Nora Blake:
Kay Osborne, a local activist who planned to join the protest, told the Guardian “she was participating to demand that Jamaica becomes a republic, and ‘loosens and removes the Queen’s gloved hands from around our necks so we can breathe.’ She said: ‘We do not welcome Kate and William. We do not want them here. We reject the photo ops that will be staged here for the UK’s consumption.’”
The Jamaican Gleaner had a piece this week about local officials calling for removal of crown-inspired statues and street names:
A debate about removing the Queen as head of state has been going on for decades in Jamaica, with many in both political parties saying the move is long overdue.
In 2001, ahead of Her Majesty’s visit the following year, then-Prime Minister P.J. Patterson proposed a constitutional amendment and said, according to the Associated Press, “I cannot think of anyone who does not feel a sense of discomfort at being obliged to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch.”
Last year, there were renewed calls for reparations. The Reuters report on the bill, introduced by a Jamaican lawmaker and said to be worth an estimated £7.6 billion, included this from Olivia Grange, Minister of Sports, Youth and Culture:
Following Barbados’ transition to become a republic last fall, momentum in Jamaica picked back up again — with the goal of starting the complicated process this summer, on the 60th anniversary of independence.
“Unlike other countries, Jamaica's Constitution is set up in a way that makes it challenging to undertake such a critical move easily,” read a piece in the Jamaican Observer. “Among the hurdles is the need for a referendum to remove the monarchy.”
News broke on Tuesday that the process to become a republic “has already begun,” writes Nadine White of the Independent, but with this caveat: “The Independent also understands that there has, however, been some resistance from within the Jamaican Government to plans to remove the Queen as head of state.”
Kensington Palace has said the Cambridges’ time in Jamaica will include “engaging with the Jamaican Defence Force and celebrating the seminal legacy of Bob Marley and other ground-breaking Jamaican musicians alongside some of tomorrow’s stars.”
The Jamaican Observer reports that the couple will meet a number of local officials, including Sir Patrick Allen, the governor general, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet Holness, and the Chief of Defence Staff Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss-Gorman. There will also be a state dinner (another chance for a dress, perhaps?) at King's House, as well as visits to Shortwood Teachers' College, the Spanish Town Hospital, and the Caribbean Infantry Training Centre.
They can expect to have some conversations with local officials about becoming a republic and addressing reparations. Mark Golding, the leader of the People’s Nation Party, will be in attendance and told the Independent he plans to make “his views on these fundamental issues known to the royal.”
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But mostly: I wanted to share this perspective from Bethany, who wrote to me over the weekend from Jamaica with her thoughts on the trip. “The pandemic and its resulting restrictions, the current economic situation and the recent conversations about independence are the main reasons Jamaicans are not keen on the visit,” she writes. “I would also mention that as a majority Black nation the treatment of Meghan Markle also left a bad taste for some. Finally, I’ve heard people say if they can pay for Prince Andrew’s indiscretion, then they can pay for this trip.”
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I’ll see you back in your inboxes later this week with a look at the final tour stop: The Bahamas.
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