Barbados Ending Queen's Reign as Head of State With Prince Charles in Attendance

The Caribbean island of Barbados is readying to leave behind Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and transition into a republic when it swears in its first president shortly after midnight Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Prince Charles arrived in Barbados Sunday in anticipation of the ceremony, where he was honored with a 21-gun salute.

The Prince of Wales, the most high-profile guest set to attend the swearing-in, is scheduled to speak before president-elect Governor General Sandra Mason officially assumes her position. The island of more than 300,000 people elected Mason, one of the queen's appointees, in a two-thirds majority vote in October.

Barbados, a former British colony nicknamed "Little England" in the past, is one of the Caribbean's wealthier countries with its tourism, manufacturing and finance industries, the AP reported. Its transition into a republic concludes an effort that began more than two decades ago.

Mason will be sworn in as the country celebrates its 55th anniversary of gaining independence from Britain, the AP reported.

"The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind," Mason said during a speech to Parliament last month, adding that Barbados is looking to maintain its relationship with Britain's leadership despite the separation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Prince Charles Visits Sandra Mason
The Prince of Wales, the most high-profile guest set to attend the swearing-in of Barbados' first president, is scheduled to speak before president-elect Governor General Sandra Mason officially assumes her position Tuesday. Prince Charles attends a meeting with Mason on March 19, 2019 in Bridgetown, Barbados. Tim Rooke/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Thousands of people were expected to watch the late-night event on TV, listen to it on the radio or see it in person at a popular square where the statue of a well-known British lord was removed last year amid a worldwide push to eradicate symbols of oppression.

"It should be a historic moment," said Dennis Edwards, a property manager who was born in Guyana but lives in Barbados.

His son was born on the island, so Edwards said he plans to take him to see the once-in-a-lifetime event: "He's a Bajan."

Prime Minister Mia Mottley praised the election of Mason at the time, saying, "We have just elected among us a woman who is uniquely and passionately Barbadian...I can think therefore of no better person at this juncture of our nation."

Mottley added that the "responsibilities and rights come with the understanding that there is no one else to look over us...This is our moment."

Mason, 72, is an attorney and judge who also has served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

Barbados has slowly distanced itself from its colonial past after gaining independence from the United Kingdom in November 1966, more than three hundred centuries after English settlers arrived and turned the island into a wealthy sugar colony based on the work of hundreds of thousands of African slaves.

In 2005, Barbados dropped the London-based Privy Council in favor of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal. Then in 2008, it proposed a referendum on the issue of becoming a republic, but it was pushed back indefinitely. Last year, Barbados announced plans to stop being a constitutional monarchy and removed a statue of British Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square, the location of the ceremony to celebrate the looming republic status.

Barbados did not need permission from the U.K. to become a republic, although the island will remain a member of the Commonwealth Realm, the first nation to do so after ceasing to be a constitutional monarchy.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement Monday that Britain and Barbados would remain friends and allies: "Ours is a partnership built to last as we tackle shared global challenges like the climate crisis and global recovery from the pandemic together."

The transformation into a republic is an event the Caribbean has not seen since the 1970s, when Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago became republics.

Edwards, the Bajan property manager born in Guyana, said his native country faced a difficult time after becoming a republic because a lot of British-owned businesses pulled out at the time.

"It was a very rough patch for years," he recalled, adding that he expects the results to be much different for Barbados. "It was a different time back then."

Prince Charles Arrives in Barbados
Prince Charles arrived in Barbados Sunday in anticipation of the ceremony, where he was honored with a 21-gun salute. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales arrives at Bridgetown Airport on November 28 in Bridgetown, Barbados. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images