British royal couple starts Caribbean tour amid colonial reckoning

19 March 2022 - 15:34
By Jose Sanchez
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine  Middleton, with their son Prince George.
Image: Robin Jones/Getty Images The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine Middleton, with their son Prince George.

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate arrive in Belize on Saturday for a weeklong Caribbean tour that sparked controversy before it even began amid growing scrutiny of the British Empire's colonial ties to the region.

The arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge coincides with the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's 70th year on the throne, and comes nearly four months after Barbados voted to become a republic, cutting ties with the monarchy but remaining part of the British-led Commonwealth of Nations.

The duke and duchess are due to spend their first three days in Belize, formerly British Honduras. But on the eve of their departure, Belize officials said an event planned for Sunday was scrapped when a few dozen villagers staged a protest.

Residents of Indian Creek, an indigenous Maya village in southern Belize, told Reuters they were upset that the royal couple's helicopter had been granted permission to land on a local soccer field without prior consultation.

The village has for years been engaged in a land dispute with a conservation group supported by the royal family, stirring anger over colonial-era territorial settlements that are still contested by indigenous groups in the country.

A visit to a different site is being planned instead, Belize's government said.

After Belize, the royals are due to move on to Jamaica and the Bahamas. Meetings and a variety of events are scheduled with politicians and a range of civic leaders.

Dickie Arbiter, Queen Elizabeth's press secretary from 1988 to 2000, described the tour as a goodwill visit that ought to give at least a temporary lift to the family's popularity.

Today, many people see the monarchy as an anachronism that should be let go, he said. But he expected that little would change while Elizabeth remained on the throne.

“The royal family is pragmatic,” he said. “It knows it can't look at these countries as realm states forever and a day.”

Debates over colonial-era oppression, including possible reparations for the descendants of slaves in Jamaica, could push more countries to emulate Barbados' recent move.

University of the West Indies professor Carolyn Cooper said the visit of the queen's grandson would be unlikely to discourage Jamaica from opting for republic status.

“I think there is a groundswell of popular opinion against the monarchy,” she said.

Some in Belize, which only gained independence from Britain in 1981, speak warmly about remaining in the fold.

“I believe it's a wonderful opportunity for them to appreciate the country's multiculturalism, natural attractions, and to enjoy our culinary practices,” said Joseline Ramirez, a manager in the Cayo district of western Belize.

But others are less enthusiastic.

Alan Mckoy, a mechanic in Belize City, said he “couldn't care less” about the royal family.

“They are no better than any of us,” he said.