Premier urges Jamaicans to ditch Queen in Jubilee year
Portia Simpson Miller said, in an interview ahead of Prince Harry’s visit to Jamaica next week, that she believed the move would help Jamaicans turn the page on their colonial past and promote a new focus on development.
Ms Simpson Miller first announced her desire to replace the Queen as Jamaica’s head of state with a Jamaican president during her swearing-in ceremony at the start of the year after leading the right-of-centre People’s National Party to a resounding win in parliamentary elections.
But in a new interview, Ms Simpson Miller, 66, has suggested a referendum on the plan could take place sooner rather than later, possibly even this year as Jamaica prepares to celebrate its 50th year of independence from British rule.
That would mean Jamaica could distance itself from the monarchy during the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Prince Harry is due to visit for three days from Monday as part of a tour that will also see him visit Belize in Central America and Brazil, in South America. The Queen herself last visited Jamaica in 2002.
“I think the fact that August coming will be 50 years since we have gained our independence that it’s time for us to sever the ties,” Ms Simpson Miller declared. “I really feel it is time now for Jamaica to have its own leadership, fully to take charge.”
While professing strong admiration for the Queen, the prime minister described the political change she wants as a memorial for Jamaica’s national heroes and the unsung victims of slavery. Plantation slavery in Jamaica was particularly brutal, according to historical accounts.
“It is important to us because it is part of a journey, a journey that started when our ancestors were dragged, sold into slavery and brought here and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Their struggles were so that we can be free men and women today,” she said.
Ms Simpson Miller said removing the Queen as head of state and replacing the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s highest appeals tribunal “are two things that I would wish for Jamaica to concentrate on”.
Simpson Miller said her administration was focused on whittling down Jamaica’s heavy debt by spurring economic development and job growth. The island has debts totalling about £11.7 billion, or 130 per cent of its gross domestic product – about 10 percentage points higher than debt-ridden Italy.
Ms Simpson Miller has urged companies on the island to hire at least one unemployed Jamaican, and her administration says it will soon launch an emergency employment programme that was the centerpiece of its winning election campaign.
She said her government was pushing for more foreign investment and wants more diversification in Jamaica’s tourist businesses, including more eco-tourism and health tourism offerings.
The island’s hospitality industry is mostly known for the all-inclusive holiday resorts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
Ms Miller Simpson said improving education was also a key to spurring development.
Supporters have long admired Ms Simpson Miller as a Jamaican who was born into rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto, not far from the crumbling concrete jungle made famous by Bob Marley. She has long styled herself as a champion of the poor.