Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William and Kate on Wednesday that the British commonwealth intends to become independent 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...fulfill 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 II in recent years, with Barbados doing so 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 3 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 Gullota, director of Stand Up for Jamaica, a nonprofit human rights organization that joined dozens of other groups and leaders in signing a recently published letter demanding an apology and reparations from Britain.
She told The Associated Press that her phone started buzzing just minutes after Holness made the announcement, which comes a day after Gullota 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 organized at the behest of the queen and that 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, she 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.”
Veteran lawmaker Mike Henry also has told the AP that he worries demands for an apology and slavery reparations will not be addressed if Jamaica chooses to become independent.
Meanwhile, Gullota said she doesn’t support reparations in the form of a check, which she called “ridiculous.” Instead, she said Jamaicans should be compensated in other ways with things including scholarships and access to healthcare.
“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 remained within the British commonwealth.