Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William and Kate on Wednesday that the British Commonwealth nation intends to become a republic in an unexpected announcement that comes as other countries consider cutting ties with the monarchy.
Holness also noted that there are “unresolved” issues as he greeted Prince William and Kate in front of a media scrum.
“We are moving on,” he said. “We intend to … fulfil our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”
The former British colony would become only the second Caribbean island to sever relations with Queen Elizabeth in recent years, with Barbados having become a republic in November.
The royal couple, who flanked Holness on either side when he made the announcement, did not immediately react except for only a couple of brief head nods.
The announcement surprised many on the island of nearly three million people and unleashed a flurry of text messages and phone calls.
“I did not know that the prime minister was going to say what he said today. I think it is a very important step forward,” said Carla Gullotta, director of Stand up for Jamaica, a non-profit human rights organization that joined dozens of other groups and leaders in signing a recently published letter demanding an apology and slavery reparations from Britain.
She told The Associated Press that her phone started buzzing just minutes after Holness made the announcement.
It comes a day after Gullotta and others joined a protest held hours before the royal couple arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday as part of a weeklong tour of Central America and the Caribbean. The trip, organized at the behest of the Queen, coincides with the 70th anniversary of her coronation.
“This visit has brought back to light that many Jamaicans are looking forward to Jamaica becoming a fully independent republic,” she said, adding that the island has all the opportunities and potential to do so.
However, Gullotta noted that many worry about ongoing government corruption, which has eroded people’s confidence. “If you do not trust those leading the country, it will be hard for people to take a stand,” she said.
Veteran lawmaker Mike Henry has also told the AP he worries that demands for an apology and slavery reparations will not be addressed if Jamaica chooses to become a republic.
Meanwhile, Gullotta said she doesn’t support reparations in the form of a cheque, which she called “ridiculous.” Instead, she said, Jamaicans should be compensated in other ways, including with scholarships and access to health care.
“What was not offered in the past should be offered now,” she said.
Britain ruled Jamaica for more than 300 years, forcing hundreds of thousands of African slaves to toil the land under brutal conditions. Jamaica gained its independence in August 1962, but it remained part of the British Commonwealth.
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