Jamaican activists on Tuesday held a protest to demand slavery reparations as Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate prepared to visit the island nation as part of a Caribbean tour that has fuelled renewed scrutiny of the British Empire’s colonial legacy.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Belize over the weekend to start the week-long tour that coincides with Queen Elizabeth’s 70th year on the throne. They arrive in Jamaica on Tuesday and will then travel to the Bahamas.
The tour comes some four months after Barbados became a republic by removing the queen as head of state. Jamaica’s government has started proceedings that could lead it to follow the same path – although it may take years.
Dozens of people gathered outside the British High Commission in Kingston, singing traditional Rastafarian songs and holding banners with the phrase “seh yuh sorry” – a local patois phrase urging Britain to apologize.
“I am a descendant of great African ancestors, I owe it to them to be here,” customer service worker Hujae Hutchinson, 27, said at the rally, where activists read out 60 reasons for reparations. Jamaica celebrates 60 years of independence in August.
“I want to make the British crown recognize that they have committed a great crime against the African people and that they must apologize and give back what they have taken from the ancestors.”
A letter published ahead of the visit signed by 100 Jamaicans politicians, lawyers and artists said reparations were necessary “to begin a process of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compensation.”
Kate and William are scheduled to participate in a “sports activity” and a “cultural activity” on Tuesday as part of the tour that wraps up on Thursday, according to a preliminary agenda seen by Reuters.
The couple had to change their itinerary in Belize following a protest by a few dozen indigenous villagers upset that the couple’s helicopter was given permission to land on a soccer field without prior consultation.
Marlene Malahoo Forte, who was Jamaica’s attorney general until January, in December told the local newspaper Jamaica Observer that she had received instructions from Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reform the constitution to become a republic.
That process would require a referendum, per Jamaica’s constitution, making it more complicated than in smaller Barbados – which was able to make the change via an act of parliament.
The government last year announced plans to ask Britain for compensation for forcibly transporting an estimated 600,000 Africans to work on sugar cane and banana plantations that created fortunes for British slave holders.
Jamaica lawmaker Mike Henry has proposed reparations of 7.6 billion pounds (US$10 billion).
He has said the figure is derived from a 20 million pound payment that Britain’s government made in 1837 to compensate slave owners in British colonies for the emancipation of enslaved people following the 1833 abolition of slavery.
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