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Barbados Ponders Break From England

November 22, 1998

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) _ It’s an island of rolling green countryside with a choppy Atlantic coast, where they drive on the left, take tea before supper, worship cricket, spell the Queen’s English and give Elizabeth II her due.

But ``Little England″ may be ready to go its own way.

As Barbados prepares to mark 32 years of independence in a flurry of gold-and-blue flags on Nov. 30, there is a growing clamor to break the last links with the British colonial past.

Among those ties are a British-based supreme court, the queen’s status as head of state _ and even a statue of 18th century British naval hero Horatio Nelson.

``What’s Nelson doing up there anyway?″ fumes taxi driver Patrick Lloyd, referring to the 30-foot statue that looms imperiously over Bridgetown harbor. ``What did he ever do for Barbados? Let’s put up one of our own!″

Resentment against the British might well be expected. Nine of every 10 Barbadians are descendants of Africans brought here by the British for backbreaking slave labor on sugarcane plantations.

But the 270,000 ``Bajans″ often display a poignant appreciation of what England has given them, stressing that their island was spared the slave rebellions and retributions that laid waste to Jamaica, Haiti and other Caribbean lands.

Decolonization came gradually here, and the result is a widespread feeling that Barbados was somehow favored by Britain and that this helped the former slaves create a relatively prosperous state with a sizable middle class, some of the best-educated people in the Caribbean and an orderly civil service.

As Barbadian pop star John King sings in his hit song ``Fool’s Paradise″: ``We got a lot to be thankful for, we never had a coup, we never had a civil war.″

The English cultural influence is everywhere _ from bars with names like ``Nelson’s Arms″ to a stoic reserve to a national obsession with the game of cricket.

More than three decades after independence, Britain’s queen remains the titular head of state, formally appointing governors-general. When she has visited _ the last time was in the 1980s _ Barbadians lined the streets to greet her, waving the Union Jack.

But that could soon be a thing of the past. All over the world, British territories and others joined in the Commonwealth are questioning such ties. Australia, where the British monarch has been head of state for 210 years, will vote next year whether to become a republic.

In Barbados, the governing Labor Party reflected a growing current of opinion in a policy statement issued in early November:

``Whereas many Barbadians have expressed their disapproval of the Queen of England being the Head of State, and whereas it is the will of most Barbadians to sever such a relationship with the colonial past ... the party (seeks to) establish a genuine sovereign state in the form of a republic.″

Reginald Farley, the industry minister who is widely touted as a possible heir to Prime Minister Owen Arthur, predicted a much-anticipated report by a constitutional commission will recommend the same.

``A nation that says to its citizens that they can never aspire to be the head of state _ that’s a little vulgar,″ Farley said.

He also predicts a Caribbean court will replace the British Privy Council _ a supreme court drawn from London’s House of Lords that has angered former British colonies in the region by impeding executions.

All this could happen ``as soon as Parliament wills it,″ said Farley, smiling broadly.

But such changes will not be unanimous.

``I disagree with any such severance,″ said Sir Donald Wiles, former head of the Barbados National Trust. ``I think the island has derived so very much from our links with England. For example, the English language, British law, the parliamentary system.″

``The child grows up and goes on to live on his own _ but he doesn’t have to sever his links to his father and his mother!″ Wiles added.

Reudon Eversley, editor of the Barbados Advocate newspaper, said that more than nationalism, it is the growing cultural influence of the United States that may finish off what remains of the British empire in Barbados.

It’s also reflected in trade. Once Barbados’ biggest trading partner, Britain now provides only 8 percent of imports, compared to 38 percent from the United States.

``We still prefer the BBC to CNN,″ Eversley said. ``But more and more, we are spelling `honour’ without the `u’. And the kids _ they’re playing basketball instead of cricket.″

With a look of resignation, he predicted what would once have been unthinkable to a nation weaned on cricket: ``They’ll be playing baseball, too, before it’s over. I have absolutely no doubt about it.″

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