The Royal Visit
One week after the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) paid official homage to our last indigenous ruler, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer on the occasion of National Heroes’ Day, we hosted a visit of royalty from another source. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne and hence SVG’s monarch-in-waiting, paid an official visit to our shores on Wednesday this week as part of a Caribbean tour.
Charles is not the first in his family to pay us an official visit. His mother, Queen Elizabeth II, first visited us in 1966 when we were still an Associate state of the United Kingdom. In those days, there was enthusiasm over the visit and one plantation owner here, famed for rearing race horses, even christened one of his 1966-born horses, Royal Visit, to mark the occasion. That horse, Vincentian-bred, went on to win the prestigious Barbados Derby in 1969.
But three years later, with the tide of anti-colonial sentiment beginning to sweep the Caribbean, the official visit of Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, to our shores turned out quite different. The princess had by then earned herself quite a name for her regular jaunts in the Grenadine island of Mustique, and her visit evoked protests by young Black Power advocates with a heavy-handed police response.
Subsequent visits, including another by the British monarch in 1985, by her son Edward in 2012 and her grandson Harry, in 2016, were not marred by such controversy and while there is still much scepticism over the role of the British monarchy, Prince Charles would at least have been assured of a warm welcome.
As is customary, the royal visit has sparked local discussion and debate. There are those who loudly question how a government which is opposed to colonialism would be hosting such a visit. Others are quick to accuse the government of spending to spruce up our surroundings to present a clean image. It was the same when Queen Elizabeth last visited, only that a different party was in office.
We need to understand our obligations under the arrangement we have with the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth is Monarch of St Vincent and the Grenadines under the terms of our constitution. If Charles becomes king, in succession to his mother, his official title will be “Charles III, by the Grace of God, King of St Vincent and the Grenadines, His other realms and territories, Head of the Commonwealth”.
The irony of this is that we voted for this state of affairs in the constitutional referendum of 2009. Charles’ mother is our elected Head of State, so we must accept all the baggage which goes with it, Queen’s Honours and all.
We do hope that the Prince and his party had an enjoyable visit and that we would be able to take advantage of it to spread our own environmental, heritage and social concerns, to promote SVG as an excellent tourist destination, and to reflect further on our compromised constitutional status.