British royals’ visit to Jamaica sets in motion demands for compensation for slavery

KINGSTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday as part of a week-long Caribbean trip, hours after activists protested for compensation for slavery amid growing scrutiny of the British Empire’s colonial heritage .

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Belize on Saturday to start the tour, which coincides with Queen Elizabeth’s 70th year on the throne, and will end this weekend with a visit to the Bahamas.

They were received by Jamaican Secretary of State Kamina Johnson-Smith and Chief of Defense Antonette Wemyss Gorman at Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport. They then set off to meet with Governor-General Patrick Allen, who represents the British Crown in Jamaica.

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In the past, dozens of people gathered outside the British High Commission in Kingston, singing traditional Rastafari songs and holding banners with the phrase “seh yuh sorry” – a local patois phrase urging Britain to apologize.

“There are historical flaws and they need to be addressed,” said Dr. Rosalea Hamilton, an economist and activist who helped organize the demonstration, in which protesters read out 60 reasons for compensation. Jamaica celebrates 60 years of independence in August.

“Part of the conversation is how we begin a new dispensation and (discussion) of actions for the new generation,” Hamilton said, wearing a T-shirt printed with the phrase “seh yuh sorry.”

The royal visits to Caribbean nations are seen as an attempt to convince other former British colonies – including Belize and the Bahamas – to become “kingdoms” of the British monarchy amid a growing regional movement against republicanism.


Dance hall singer Beenie Man, in an interview with Good Morning Britain, questioned the royal visit and expressed skepticism towards the Queen, saying “What are they doing for Jamaica? They are not doing anything for us.”

A Jamaican judge, Hugh Small, burned his ceremonial British judge’s wigs this month in a symbolic protest against the fact that a London-based court called the Privy Council remains Jamaica’s highest court of appeal.

William and Kate are scheduled to take part in a “sports activity” and a “cultural activity” on Tuesday as part of the tour, which ends on Thursday, according to a preliminary agenda seen by Reuters.

The couple had to change their itinerary in Belize after a protest from a couple of dozen indigenous villagers who were outraged that the couple’s helicopter was allowed to land on a football pitch without prior consultation.

Marlene Malahoo Forte, who was Jamaica’s attorney general until January, told the local Jamaica Observer newspaper in December that she had received instructions from Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reform the constitution to become a republic.

That process would require a referendum under Jamaica’s constitution, making it more complicated than in smaller Barbados – which was able to make the change through a parliamentary law.

The government last year announced plans to ask Britain for compensation for the forced transport of an estimated 600,000 Africans to work on sugar cane and banana plantations that created fortunes for British slaveholders.

Jamaican lawmaker Mike Henry has proposed a £ 7.6 billion ($ 10 billion) compensation package.

He says the figure is derived from a £ 20 million payment made by the British government in 1837 to compensate slave owners in British colonies for the liberation of enslaved people following the abolition of slavery in 1833.

(The story corrects a typo in the headline.)

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Reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston and Brian Ellsworth in Miami; Editing Aurora Ellis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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