Jamaican activists, as well as prominent professors, politicians and other leaders, have rejected a visit by the duke and duchess of Cambridge, calling on the United Kingdom to apologise and pay reparations for hundreds of years of slavery.
Britain’s Prince William – the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II – and his wife Kate landed in the capital Kingston on Tuesday afternoon as part of a wider, week-long Caribbean tour.
The royal couple’s trip coincides with the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the 70th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It also comes at a time of growing scrutiny of colonial-era British conduct in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
In an open letter published on the weekend, 100 Jamaican leaders said they saw “no reason to celebrate” the Queen’s coronation “because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind”.
“During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to redress and atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and/or during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement, indentureship and colonialization,” the letter read.
Dozens of people also gathered on Tuesday 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 apologise.
“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.
“I want to make the British crown recognise that they have committed a great crime against the African people and that they must apologise and give back what they have taken from the ancestors.”
The royal couple’s visit to Jamaica comes just months after Barbados in November officially became a republic, replacing the British monarch as its head of state and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.
While the country remains a republic within the Commonwealth, experts said its decision to break ties with the Queen could fuel republicanism in other countries, especially in Jamaica, where the two main political parties support breaking away from the monarchy completely.
Hundreds of thousands of enslaved African people toiled in Jamaica under more than 300 years of British rule and faced brutal conditions.
There were numerous bloody rebellions, with one woman called “Queen Nanny” leading a group of formerly enslaved Africans known as Jamaican Maroons, whose tactics became renowned and battered British forces. “Queen Nanny” remains the sole woman of Jamaica’s eight national heroes.
In their letter on Sunday, the Jamaican leaders said they would be celebrating 60 years of freedom from the United Kingdom – but stressed that an apology was “necessary to begin a process of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compensation”.
Jamaica lawmaker Mike Henry, who has long led an effort to obtain reparations, also told The Associated Press news agency that an apology is only the first step for what he described as “abuse of human life and labour”.
“An apology really admits that there is some guilt,” he said.
Prince William and Kate first visited Belize during the weekend, and after two days in Jamaica they will travel to the Bahamas.
Even before the pair left the UK, a protest by a few dozen villagers at a planned Belize tour stop prompted organisers to change Sunday’s itinerary in the country, known until 1973 as British Honduras.
On Monday, they visited a British military training camp in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in central Belize, and Prince William later pointed out that the country had joined others in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Today, we think of those struggling in Ukraine and we stand with them in solidarity,” he said during a formal dinner on the grounds of the Cahal Pech Archaeological Reserve with Belize’s prime minister.