The statue of Lord Nelson in Bridgetown. (FILE)
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GENERALLY, NATIONS SUCH as Barbados that claim ideological roots in the democratic struggles of the working class have opposed publicly revering persons known to have committed crimes against humanity, and those who have assisted them.
The governments of such nations seek to avoid using their considerable moral and legal state power to normalise the acceptance of such crimes within the community of victims.
These circumstances, however, do not apply in our country in the case of Lord Horatio Nelson, rendering it in this regard a deviant if not a pariah nation.
The moral, military, political and legal power of the Barbados state has been used for 200 years to abuse the decency, sensibility and intelligence of the majority of inhabitants. This blunt brutality of state power in itself is considered criminal in some quarters.
The facts speak for themselves. Nelson, the naval warlord of the British empire by his political decisions, military actions and public speeches, was a vile, racist, white supremacist; he disposed black people, and dedicated his political and military life to the cause of protecting Britain’s criminal possession of the 800 000 enslaved Africans held during his lifetime.
The 85 000 enslaved Blacks entrapped in Barbados only knew of Nelson as leader of the naval power dedicated to keeping them in slavery. The 15 000 slave owners in Barbados who welcomed Nelson in the Caribbean and celebrated his presence, did so because their greatest fear was black freedom. For them, Toussaint L’ouverture, who ended slavery in a Caribbean society a decade earlier, was their hero. Nelson was their sworn enemy.
The enslaved black community was not invited, therefore, to be a part of the decision made by enslavers to erect the Nelson monument in Bridgetown in 1813. But they did respond very directly three years later in 1816 when the freedom War of General Bussa was launched to destroy the black enslavement Nelson sought to defend and preserve.
Enslavers used their monopoly possession of parliamentary and military power to erect the monument to Nelson. As a symbol of white supremacy and slavery, it was meant to send a message. But it also represented an excessive and brutal abuse of parliamentary power.
Nothing has changed in this regard. It has no moral legitimacy and its continued presence constitutes the subjugation of democratic parliamentary power to descendant white elites. It is a persistent violent imposition upon the mind of every right-thinking democratic citizen.
Under the guise of cultural artifact, academics such as Professor Sir Henry Fraser, and Dr Karl Watson, who should know better, have confronted the society and in so doing, have refused to answer the question: Were you Jewish, would you wish to live in a state with a monument of a Nazi warlord?
Not only did Nelson fight to preserve black enslavement, he took every opportunity in the House of Lords, where he sat as a member, to vote against Wilberforce and all those who lobbied for the abolition of the slave trade on the basis that buying and selling enchained black bodies was a crime and a sin.
It remains a flagrant abuse of state power that has intimidated black society.
Part of the justification for the abuse of power is the notion that somehow if it is removed, English tourists will stop coming to Barbados in the numbers we expect . . . .
Our English tourists are often . . . ashamed of our mendicant subservient responses to past brutalisation. They are mostly educated and informed people who would feel more relaxed in Barbados if we appear more dignified and less bowed.
To hear them speak of the shame they experience in seeing Nelson in our Parliament square is to realise that our politicians too often act upon the basis of untruth and a fallacy. In fact, more English tourists will likely come to Barbados in greater numbers when we give them more of our best selves which they can respect. This is why they are flocking to Cuba – to experience Caribbean national pride in action.
The shaming of the nation in favour of Nelson’s symbolism is found in two historic moments:
• The Democratic Labour Party turned it around and deepened its roots when it had the opportunity to move it to a marine park on the pier.
• The Barbados Labour Party did not wish the Right Excellent Errol Barrow at the centre of Parliament square and placed him out of sight of the Assembly in what was a public car park. Nelson remained in the more prominent place.
The assumption is growing, I have been informed, that the Government might rather citizens, in an act of moral civil disobedience, to take matters in their own hands, and remove the offending obstacle to democracy. This has been the case in the United States and South Africa.
Quietly, state officials could slip away and say that the people have spoken. Such alliances of active citizens and passive state have moved many societies. Barbados must move on.
– SIR HILARY BECKLES