Pro-reparation demonstrators take stand for slavery pain
Kimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Protests continued to follow Britain’s Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on the couple's tour of the Caribbean as scores of anticolonialism protesters converged metres away from the British High Commission in opposition of their visit to the island.
There were also calls for an apology and reparation for the descendants of enslaved people as Jamaica mulls severing ties with the British monarchy almost 60 years after gaining Independence.
But the vitriol on show at the New Kingston demonstration was juxtaposed by sunny smiles and light-hearted humour at sporting and cultural events as the day tapered off, offering the royals a more welcoming atmosphere.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday aboard the Royal Air Force Voyager at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, descending to warm greetings from a waiting Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith and Chief of Defence Staff, Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman.
But a frosty response to the royal couple’s visit persisted approximately 20 kilometres from the airport, where placard-bearing members of the Marcus Garvey-founded Universal Negro Improvement Association, the United Independents’ Congress, and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) declared them personae non gratae.
“We should not be welcoming any representatives on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Jamaica at this time unless they are coming to make a sincere and profound apology and talk about reparations,” Paul Burke, a former PNP general secretary, told The Gleaner.
He said that resistance to the royal couple’s visit, which forms part of a wider celebration of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, should be analysed within the context of the role played by the monarchy during slavery.
Burke said the British Crown and government had a heavy hand in the exploitation and underdevelopment of African people through hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, cultural indoctrination, and colonialism.
On the verge of tears, Montego Bay resident Joy Whitter said the Crown was to blame for Jamaica’s runaway crime problem, insisting that the country’s underdevelopment is a result of British rule.
“The enslavers' children are coming here and are having a good time while we having a bad time," Whitter said in a Gleaner interview.
"We're really having a bad time and it hurts.”
She said reparation would ensure infrastructural development, including more skills training centres, which would significantly reduce the number of at-risk youth and slash unemployment.
“Idle dog worry sheep. Maybe that’s why we have so much killing in Jamaica, because the youth don’t have nothing to do,” she said.
But even as Whitter called for infrastructural development through reparation, millions of dollars were spent to repair thoroughfares ahead of the visit.
Chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA), E.G. Hunter, called the roadworks “a happy coincidence”, although admitting that the Government instructed that the repairs be expedited because of the visit.
“Yes, we were asked by the Government to carry out some works incidental to the visit,” Hunter told The Gleaner.
He said the first request came for work to be fast-tracked at Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine where the Duke and Duchess are slated to visit today.
However, he said works being done now were already in the pipeline and formed part of the NWA’s “fourth-quarter patching for the end of the financial year”.
“So, it is a happy coincidence that the royal couple will be able to benefit from the works that we had planned and that we had been executing prior to them coming. So, too, will the rest of the travelling public,” Hunter said.
Vice president of the UNIA, Jawari Deslandes, said that he was appalled by Jamaicans who have rolled out the red carpet to welcome the royal couple.
Deslandes told journalists that while the country should be shedding the vestiges of colonialism, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has instead embraced them tighter.
“At a time when Jamaica should be leaving out of this colonial madness, when we should be kicking The Queen out of this country, dumping the governor general ... I see my prime minister going to England to go and accept the Queen’s Counsel award,” he said, referencing Holness’ appointment to The Queen’s Privy Council last July.
“I can’t tell you how disgusted and ashamed I was to see that man do that.”
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, who was among government officials who greeted the couple on arrival, told The Gleaner that the monarchy is a part of the country’s constitutional structure.
“Therefore, we have to respect that until that is changed to a republican type of government or any other kind of government that the politicians choose and which they think is appropriate for our country,” he said.
Justice Sykes declined to comment on whether Jamaica should ditch the Queen or pursue reparation, noting that the issues could end up before the high court in the future.
The royals' welcome party also included Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs Lisa Hanna and Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams.
In his brief discussion with Prince William, the mayor said the Duke spoke of the push to transform Kingston into the leading destination city in the Caribbean.
He said the prince was "very supportive".