Birthday or not, many Jamaicans want to ditch Queen Elizabeth as their head of state

The World
Queen Elizabeth II on one of her visits to Jamaica

Queen Elizabeth II on one of her visits to Jamaica

Reuters

It’s Queen's Elizabeth’s 90th birthday and Britain is all over it.

But she's not just the Queen of the United Kingdom, she's the queen of a number of other commonwealth countries. So how's this for a present?

Jamaica is thinking of ditching her as its official head of state.

New Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he wants to make the island a republic — that's monarchy-free — and has pledged to hold a referendum.

“I think it is now time,” says Fae Ellington, a journalist in Kingston. “Yes I do, and I thought so since the 1970s. Perhaps I grew up in the radical era. I do like the queen as a person, she’s a warm person. I had the privilege and honor of being presented to her on one of her visits to Jamaica, but I think it is now time, and has been time for us to become a republic.”

Ellington said breaking free of the monarchy would allow her country to take a more individualist approach to determining its own future. Jamaicans tend to be split down the middle on this issue. “There are some people who believe ‘yes we need to not have the queen as our head of state,’ and there are others who believe ‘oh we need to hang on for dear life.’”

At the same time, she says Jamaicans are well aware that Trinidad and Tobago cast off its ties and is managing just fine without a monarch. But most importantly, says Ellington, is the symbolism that allegiance to Queen Elizabeth represents.

“The queen symbolizes colonialism. Lots of people do not like to hear that word. But it’s a reality. The British conquered Jamaica in 1655, they took it from the Spanish and we all know about that unpleasant past with the slave trade, when Africans were brought here to sugar plantations and sugar was king, and all of that.

“I really do believe it’s time for us to move away from all of that understanding of who we are. This is a psychological thing. Who are we? How do we stand on our own two feet in our own national identity?”

Having the queen as a head of state, says Ellington, is “like having a noose, and perhaps that is a harsh word, that is hard to shake off. “

Still, if you ask ordinary Jamaicans whether they want to break ties, you can easily find islanders who aren’t so sure. Many adore and are grateful to Queen Elizabeth II.

One woman who sells carnations at a street market in Kingston told the BBC: “We want to say happy, beautiful birthday to Queen Elizabeth! She visited our island six times and I’m sure she loves the people of Jamaica or else she wouldn’t be coming here, and because of that I love her.”

A Jamaican policeman took a break from directing street traffic to say ”many Jamaicans today, young people especially, don’t have a clue really about how the queen is related to Jamaica, and they don’t see any benefits deriving from it.“

But he worries that breaking ties could be costly. Jamaican cops wear emblems on their police uniforms that display the British crown. He says “all that will have to be changed in a significant way. Our courts, our parliamentary system will have to be changed. I don’t think we really have that capital injection just now that will allow us to create that change, he told the BBC.

Even Ellington wants to wish the queen a happy birthday. “I like her, and happy birthday to the queen on her 90th! I really do like her. She’s a warm person. But it’s not a personal thing now, you know, it’s about national dignity, it’s not anything personal, it’s way beyond that.”