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Barbados elects its 1st president in a step towards shedding its colonial past

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In a little over a month, the country of Barbados is set to become a republic some 55 years after it gained independence from the United Kingdom. For the last few months, Barbados has shed symbols of its colonial past, taking down statues and removing Queen Elizabeth II from the role of head of state. Last week Barbados Parliament elected a president, Dame Sandra Mason, which means that two women - the prime minister and president - will lead the country when Mason is sworn in next month. Here she is speaking last year to the people of Barbados.

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SANDRA MASON: The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.

CORNISH: To talk more about what this moment means is Mackie Holder, Consul General of Barbados in New York. He joins us now.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MACKIE HOLDER: Good afternoon. Thank you.

CORNISH: We're actually speaking to you from Barbados. What has the atmosphere been like since this announcement about Dame Sandra Mason becoming president?

HOLDER: There's a level of excitement, but Barbadians are traditionally very quiet persons. We don't really shout a lot. But I think it's a good thing for Barbados. It's part of our journey to maturity as a nation. Especially for a younger generation of Barbadians, it sets a new benchmark which says that Barbados is indeed an island nation fully able to govern its own affairs, as it has clearly demonstrated over decades.

CORNISH: Help us understand the role that the U.K. had in the day-to-day affairs of the country.

HOLDER: What it has given us is a certain amount of order and stability. And now we're at this stage in our progress.

CORNISH: I want to talk about some of the symbolism in terms of breaking away from a colonial past because earlier this year the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson was brought down. And here in the U.S., Confederate statues are being removed in parts of the country as well. Do you think that the movement that's driving that here in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter protests, has actually had anything to do with some of the momentum in Barbados?

HOLDER: I'm not so sure that it has. The whole debate on removing Nelson's statue has been going on for some time. And, again, some things just coalesced, and I just think it was time.

CORNISH: Do you think that once Barbados is a republic, the country will be positioned to maybe have a bigger role in regional or even global politics?

HOLDER: I don't think it's going to position us less or more. At the end of the day, Barbados is driven by its people and its leaders. We will continue to play important roles on the world stage and in the region. I think people just think that if you become a republic, there's going to be some seismic change and some magical thing. The truth is, though, that Barbados has been a solid country, a very successful country for centuries, and it will continue to be so.

CORNISH: Maybe in a way, that's why I'm asking. The country has been successful. Things have been going fine. Why do you think this move is significant at the end of the day?

HOLDER: Because I think all countries need to have symbolism. These things are important for your psyche, for what it says about you as a nation. You know, that is why countries have heroes. That is why countries are so integrated into their sports. It is important that you make these kind of symbolic moves so that, for younger generations, they see a nation that reflects themselves. Why should a Barbadian not grow up to know that there have been Barbados heroes?

CORNISH: I was born in Jamaica, and I know Jamaica is considering a similar move. St. Lucia, St. Vincent have also flirted with the idea. Do you see a path forward for other countries to follow suit?

HOLDER: Other Caribbean countries certainly will follow. Whether that will happen in six months, in a year - who knows? But I expect as we go further into the 21st century that we will see some changes and among other countries in the Caribbean as well.

CORNISH: That is Mackie Holder, Consul General of Barbados.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

HOLDER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYGO'S "ID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.