Jamaica visit from the British royal family sparks claims for slavery reparations

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

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Belize on Saturday to begin the tour, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, and will conclude over the weekend with a visit to the Bahamas.

They were greeted by Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamena Johnson-Smith and Defense Force Commander Antonette Wemis Gorman at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston. They then left to meet Governor-General Patrick Allen, who represents the British Crown in Jamaica.

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Earlier, dozens of people gathered outside the British High Commission in Kingston, singing traditional Rastafari songs and holding banners reading “Seh yuh sorry” – a local phrase that urged Britain to apologize.

“There are historical errors and they need to be addressed,” said Dr. Rosalia Hamilton, an economist and activist who helped organize the march as protesters read out 60 Reasons for Reparations. Jamaica celebrates 60 years of independence in August.

“Part of the conversation is how to initiate a new measure and (discussion) of the actions of the new generation,” said Hamilton, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “seh yuh sorry.”

Royal visits to the Caribbean are seen as an attempt to persuade other former British colonies – including Belize and the Bahamas – to remain as the “worlds” of the British monarchy amid an upsurge in territorial movement toward republicanism.

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“What are they doing to Jamaica?”

Ballroom singer Penny Mann asked in an interview with Good Morning Britain about the royal visit and expressed her doubts about the Queen: “What are they doing to Jamaica? They don’t do anything for us.”

One Jamaican judge, Hugh Small, this month burned his ceremonial British judicial wigs 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 “cultural activity” on Tuesday as part of the tour that concludes on Thursday, according to a preliminary schedule seen by Reuters.

The couple had to re-route their flight in Belize after a protest by a few dozen indigenous villagers who resented the couple’s helicopter being given permission to land on a football field without prior consultation.

Marilyn Malaho Forte, who was Jamaica’s attorney general until January, told the local Jamaica Observer newspaper in December that she had been instructed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reform the constitution to become a republic.

This process required a referendum, according to Jamaica’s constitution, making it more complicated than in smaller Barbados—which was able to effect the change through an act of Parliament.

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Last year, the government announced plans to demand compensation from Britain for forcibly transferring an estimated 600,000 Africans to work on sugarcane and banana plantations, creating fortunes for British slave owners.

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

He said the figure was derived from the £20 million the British government paid in 1837 to compensate slave owners in the British colonies for the emancipation of slaves after the abolition of slavery in 1833.

(The story corrects a typo in the title.)

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Additional reporting by Kate Chappelle in Kingston and Brian Ellsworth in Miami; Edited by Aurora Ellis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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