Barbados Steps Out From Under the Queen’s Umbrella
From Rihanna to climate finance, the small island nation has big foreign-policy goals.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: Barbados officially becomes an independent republic, Washington takes a guerrilla group off its terror list, and traditional Colombian recipes win a global cookbook prize.
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“Break It Off”
Around midnight on Tuesday morning, Barbados swore in its first-ever president, replacing Queen Elizabeth II with Sandra Mason as its head of state. Mason, a 72-year-old Black judge, was elected in October after the country moved to sever ties with the British monarchy last year. She had been previously serving as Barbados’s governor-general, technically a representative of the queen.
In some ways, the breakup was ceremonial: Barbados’s most authoritative political leader remains its head of government, Prime Minister Mia Mottley. But nearly 400 years after its colonization and exactly 55 years after its independence, the fact that the country has formally parted ways with the British crown reflects both Mottley’s more assertive foreign policy and renewed Caribbean critiques of colonialism’s legacy in the region more broadly.
Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth of Nations, a group of 54 countries—mostly former British colonies—that holds forums on issues, such as democracy and the environment.
At the late-night ceremony, Mottley echoed Jamaican pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey’s call to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.” She also named native daughter and singer Rihanna the country’s 11th-ever national hero.
The idea for Barbados to divorce Windsor Castle and become a republic was recommended by a parliamentary commission in 1998. A referendum was planned for 2008 but was postponed over cost concerns amid the global financial crisis.
It was last year’s global Black Lives Matter movement that prompted Mottley to take the proposal back off the shelf. In mid-2020, protesters in Barbados, where the population is more than 90 percent Black, denounced the country’s lingering ties to the British monarchy and called for the removal of a prominent statue of a British military hero in Bridgetown. By September 2020, Mottley announced that a Barbadian would be elected head of state, and by November 2020, the statue was hauled away.
Another event that paved the way for the move, former Barbadian High Commissioner Guy Hewitt told the Guardian, was a 2018 scandal in which people of Caribbean descent living in the United Kingdom faced possible deportation.
“Many of my fellow young Barbadians view 30 November as the start of a new national journey,” Barbados Today journalist Kareem Smith wrote for openDemocracy. Barbadians are increasingly questioning colonialism and the slave trade’s legacy in practices like prayer and corporal punishment in schools, he said.
While Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago all became independent republics amid the Black Power movement of the 1970s, eight other former British colonies in the Caribbean still have ties to the crown today. Jamaica’s opposition leader called this year for his country to sever its own links to the monarchy, prompting speculation that Kingston could soon follow Bridgetown’s example.
A commission of Caribbean governments has also pushed for European countries to issue their former colonies financial reparations for slavery and the killings of Indigenous groups. So far, they have not yielded any commitments, though Prince Charles issued a rare public acknowledgement of the “appalling atrocity of slavery” that “forever stains our history” at the Bridgetown ceremony.
Barbados’s republican transformation isn’t the only way Mottley is making waves. Since taking office in 2018, she has overseen the opening of its first diplomatic offices in Ghana and Kenya as well as a consulate in Morocco in an effort to reclaim what she calls “our Atlantic destiny.” Thanks in part to groundwork she laid, Caribbean Community countries held their first-ever summit with the African Union in September.
Mottley has also pushed for wealthy countries to do more to finance climate policies in poorer nations, proposing at the U.N. climate change conference that the International Monetary Fund issue $500 billion in special reserves annually for this purpose. Barbados is in talks to establish a green bank to finance low-carbon infrastructure in the country.
So-called natural disaster clauses negotiated as part of Barbados’s 2018-2019 debt restructuring with domestic and international banks have become models for other climate-vulnerable nations as well as those looking to protect themselves from the next pandemic. Under these clauses, debt service payments are automatically suspended for two years when an independent body, such as the World Health Organization, declares that a natural disaster occurred.
The Barbadian prime minister said she dreams of a Caribbean version of the European Union. While that degree of integration remains far off within the Caribbean Community, the Caribbean has certainly been more organized and cooperative than South America during the coronavirus pandemic. Caribbean Community countries have donated parts of their small vaccine stocks to one another on several occasions, and the bloc united to buy doses from the African Union.
Currently, around 48 percent of Barbadians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The country is coming off its worst-yet infection wave in October and November, and its key economic sector, tourism, is still reeling from the pandemic shock.
Despite these difficulties, Barbados has shown that leadership can come from a nation of any size.
Tuesday, Dec. 7: Peru’s congress votes on whether to open impeachment proceedings against President Pedro Castillo.
Monday, Dec. 13: The deadline for congressional candidates in Colombia to register for next year’s general elections occurs.
Sunday, Dec. 19: Chile holds a presidential runoff election.
Chart of the Week
According to data from Bloomberg, Latin America is the world region with the highest annual inflation forecast both for 2021 and 2022. Here’s how the projections stack up against other regions.
What We’re Following
FARC delisted. To support Colombia’s 5-year-old peace process, the United States removed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from its list of foreign terror organizations on Nov. 30. The move will allow Washington to support peace-building programs with the now-demobilized militants.
The United States instead added two armed groups that splintered off from the FARC—La Segunda Marquetalia and the FARC-People’s Army—to the list. Not all FARC members demobilized after the peace deal, so the switch aims to maintain restrictions on those guerrillas who remain active.
The Parisi question. Two Chilean candidates, leftist Gabriel Boric and far-right José Antonio Kast, emerged from the first round of Chile’s presidential election on Nov. 21 and will proceed in a runoff on Dec. 19. The surprise strong hitter, ranking third, was an Alabama-based Chilean consultant named Franco Parisi, who ran an all-digital campaign. Rest of World looks at how he did it, writing his support reflects high anti-establishment sentiment in the country.
Parisi’s voters may decide Chile’s presidential runoff on Dec. 19. According to a Cadem poll conducted last week, 38 percent of Parisi supporters would vote for Boric while 23 percent would support Kast; 39 percent remain undecided.
Ortega vs. OAS. After receiving criticism from member of the Organization of American States (OAS) over the detentions and repression surrounding its Nov. 7 election, Nicaragua announced it is pulling out of the regional forum on Nov. 19.
An OAS resolution on Nov. 12 stated Nicaragua’s elections “were not free, fair or transparent and have no democratic legitimacy” and supported an “immediate collective assessment” of Nicaragua’s status in the group. Nicaragua’s foreign minister accused the bloc of “facilitating the hegemony of the United States with its interventionism over the countries of Latin America.”
Although the OAS was not able to stop the Nicaraguan government’s repressive actions during its election, Nicaragua’s departure from the body could be seen as a boost in democratic legitimacy for the OAS after its authority was weakened by controversy over Bolivia’s 2019 political crisis.
Celebrated cookbook. This year’s Gourmand Award for best cookbook in the world went to a mother-daughter pair from Colombia who researched hundreds of different Colombian recipes for making the leaf-wrapped and cooked dish known in Colombia as envueltos and in Mexico and Guatemala as tamales.
They uncovered recipes filled with pork, beef, vegetables, and—according to Spanish conquistadors’ records—insects, according to El Espectador. The cookbook focuses on envueltos made with corn flour, yucca root, and mashed ripe bananas. You can see an interactive map of the source of each recipe at the authors’ blog.
Question of the Week
What is another name for envueltos in Colombia?
In Focus: Honduras’s Big Power Shift
Leftist Xiomara Castro won Honduras’s presidential election Sunday in a landslide and will become the country’s first female head of state. When her opponent Nasry Asfura, from the ruling National Party, conceded defeat Tuesday, 52 percent of votes had been counted, with Castro receiving 53.4 percent of the vote to Asfura’s 34 percent.
The OAS called the vote “adequate and peaceful.” Castro also received warm congratulations from Washington and regional leaders, including Ecuador’s conservative president, Guillermo Lasso.
All this was somewhat of a surprise: Honduras’s 2017 presidential election was bitterly disputed, and this year’s campaign saw more than 20 politicians assassinated.
“It can be good to be wrong,” tweeted the International Crisis Group’s Ivan Briscoe, after having published a report warning of violence and polarization following the election.
“This is like Costa Rica,” said Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, in an allusion to one of the region’s most stable countries. Zelaya himself was elected president of Honduras in 2006 before being ousted in a 2009 coup.
Many big questions face the incoming Castro administration. One of the most closely watched will be whether Honduras takes up diplomatic relations with China, which Castro pledged to do on the campaign trail. Honduras is one of the last remaining countries in the world to diplomatically recognize Taiwan.
Castro has been emphatic about making this switch. Central American neighbors Panama and El Salvador have both seen increased Chinese investment since doing so in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Still, University of Warwick political scientist Tom Long argued the shift is not a given due to Taiwan’s long-standing ties with Honduran political parties and other elements of the state. “Honduran relations with Taiwan share some similarities with those of Paraguay—Taiwan’s only remaining ally in South America,” he tweeted.
Long and the Catholic University of Chile’s Francisco Urdinez wrote in a January paper that Paraguay’s recognition of Taiwan “generates intangible and material benefits” that offset the cost of missed Chinese investment. Paraguay’s insular foreign-policy elite, they write, enjoy the attention and respect they get from Taiwan and identify with the narrative of a small country faced with overbearing neighbors.
On the domestic front, Castro faces the challenge of following through on her promise to clean up corruption in Honduras. In particular, many of the country’s judges remain close to the outgoing National Party. “The judiciary is in the hands of organized crime,” said Salvador Nasralla, a sports journalist who originally entered the presidential race against Castro but dropped out to support her.
How she will navigate this landscape is unclear. In fact, even the family of Zelaya—Castro’s husband—faces corruption allegations. But at least for now, Hondurans are reveling in a moment that feels somewhat like a fresh start.
Catherine Osborn is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief. She is a print and radio journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. Twitter: @cculbertosborn
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