Prince Harry is currently on a tour of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica, representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II in honour of the Diamond Jubilee from March 2 to March 8. His travels will end in Brazil from March 9 to 11, to discuss the passing of the Olympic torch from London in 2012 to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. After these official duties, he intends to spent a few more days private traveling in South America. Along for the tour are forty journalists from around the world, increasing the international profile of Harry’s travels.
The current Jubilee tour has received far more attention that the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s visits to the other commonwealth nations in the Caribbean. In Belize and the Bahamas, the coverage has reinforced the popular perception of Harry as a party prince. Pictures of Harry dancing a Belize street party, sampling a wide selection of island rum cocktails and receiving a marriage proposal from the reigning Miss Bahamas suggest that the tour is simply a tropical version of his usual nights out in London.
In fact, a better comparison would be to the numerous diplomatically sensitive tours that members of his family have undertaken in past decades. While the Bahamas appear to be an unambiguously friendly setting for a royal visit, both Belize and Jamaica appear to be growing apart from Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II takes her role as Head of Commonwealth very seriously and values good relations between all the member states. Prince Harry has not been sent to the Caribbean just to have a great time but to demonstrate the continued desirability of a close relationship between the United Kingdom and these Commonwealth nations.
Belize is currently at a cultural crossroads. In the past, it was the only English speaking nation in Central America. Although Belize retains English as its official language, immigration from Guatemala and El Salvador has shifted the nation’s demographics. More than half of Belize’s 300,000 inhabitants are now Spanish speakers and knowledge of English or Belizean Creole (which Harry included in one of his speeches) is no longer necessary for citizenship.
While English and Spanish speakers currently peacefully co-exist, there are concerns that land shortages will cause conflicts in the future. When Harry hiked through the Mayan ruins, enjoyed local drinks and danced in the streets with Belizeans of all backgrounds, his actions symbolized the potential for a peaceful, prosperous future and a continued close relationship with the United Kingdom.
Prince Harry will face an even more complicated diplomatic situation when he arrives in Jamaica later today. The current Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller is interested in changing Jamaica from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. Supporters of this change have objected to Prince Harry’s visit. For example, according to Britain’s Sky news, Verene Shepherd, professor of history at the University of the West Indies has stated, “In 1962 we had a kind of political separation. But decolonisation is not complete and Britain needs to make amends. . . and so I’m sorry, I object.” For Shepard, Harry’s presence represents the continued legacy of colonial rule.
In contrast Simpson-Miller has affirmed her personal respect for the Queen and stated, “British-Jamaican relations will not suffer as a result, it’s just time has come for Jamaica to stand on its own two feet.” The impression Harry makes on ordinary Jamaicans will undoubtedly influence popular opinion regarding the island nation’s relationship with the constitutional monarchy. If Jamaicans decide to transform their nation into a republic on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence in 1962, a successful royal visit will contribute to future friendly relations between Jamaica and the United Kingdom
The controversies will continue in Brazil, as Harry is expected to face protesters objecting to the United Kingdom’s claim to the Falkland Islands. The monarchy is closely tied to this issue. Harry’s uncle Prince Andrew was helicopter pilot during the Falklands War and his brother Prince William is currently stationed there. Once again, Harry will be expected to spread goodwill in a politically sensitive climate. Prince Harry’s tour of the Caribbean should not just be discussed in the press as one long tropical party but as an opportunity for one of the most charismatic and well known members of the royal family to reinforce a positive relationship between the United Kingdom and Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil.