• The San Juan Daily Star

Barbados elects its first head of state, replacing Queen Elizabeth


Sandra Mason, the governor general of Barbados, meeting with Prince Charles in 2019.

By Christine Hauser


The island nation of Barbados has elected a female former jurist to become its next head of state, a symbolic position held since the 1950s by Queen Elizabeth II, as the country takes another step toward casting off its colonial past.


Sandra Mason, 72, the governor general of Barbados, became the country’s first president-elect last week when she received the necessary two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament’s House of Assembly and Senate. She will be sworn in on Nov. 30, making Barbados a republic on the 55th anniversary of its independence from Britain.


“We believe that the time has come for us to claim our full destiny,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in a speech after the vote.


“It is a woman of the soil to whom this honor is being given,” she added.


Barbados, a parliamentary democracy of about 300,000 people that is the easternmost island in the Caribbean, announced in September that it would remove Elizabeth as its head of state. At the ceremony, Mason read from a speech prepared by Mottley that was explicit in its rejection of imperialism.


The speech highlighted the urgency of self-governance, quoting a warning by Errol Walton Barrow, the first prime minister of Barbados, against “loitering on colonial premises.”


“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” Mason said. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.”


Barbados has since become the latest Caribbean island to shed the symbolic role of the queen and pursue the formation of a republic. Guyana led earlier republican movements in the Caribbean, cutting ties to the queen in 1970, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, and then Dominica.


Mason, who has been the governor general, a position appointed by the queen, since 2018, had been nominated to take on the position of president, subject to the parliamentary vote, the prime minister announced in August. Mottley said other steps in the island’s transition included work on a new constitution, which would begin in January.


“Barbados shall move forward on the first of December as the newest republic in the global community of nations,” Mottley said on Wednesday.


People in Barbados and its government were “conscious that we are going not without concern on the part of some, but with absolute determination that at 55, we must know who we are, we must live who we are, we must be who we are,” she said.


Dame Sandra Prunella Mason was born on Jan. 17, 1949, in St. Philip, Barbados. She was educated on the island at Queen’s College, attended the University of the West Indies and was the first woman from Barbados to graduate from the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago.


In the early 1990s, Mason served as an ambassador to Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. In 2008, she became the first woman to serve as a judge on the Barbados Court of Appeal.


Ambassador Noel Lynch, whose own appointment as Barbados’ representative in Washington, D.C., had to be endorsed by the queen, said in an interview that Mason’s judicial experience made her “well versed” for the work that needs to be done as the nation transitions to a republic.


Mason’s election is also notable because both the prime minister and the head of state will soon be Barbadian women. “It shattered a glass ceiling,” Lynch said in an interview. “Even if it is mostly ceremonial, you have got to have confidence if the president and the prime minister have got confidence in each other.”


After she is sworn in, Mason will become the ceremonial leader of an island that is facing labor shortages, the effects of climate change and economic difficulties due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its tourism sector, the prime minister said.


In her speech after the parliamentary vote, Mottley said the real work would begin the day after the island becomes a full republic.


“We look forward, therefore, to Dec. 1, 2021,” she said. “But we do so confident that we have just elected from among us a woman who is uniquely and passionately Barbadian.”