Activists at the forefront of local Black Lives Matter movements are threatening a fresh round of protests starting tomorrow, following Government’s “broken promise” on the relocation of the Lord Nelson Monument.
In a statement on Friday, Culture Minister John King revealed that instead of having the controversial statue moved from Heroes Square to mark the end of this year’s Emancipation Season, Government would be officially opening the Rock Hall Freedom Park in St Thomas.
Two days before the end of the season, the Minister blamed the government’s limited resources for the decision.
“Once we have completed all the critical matters in relation to Rock Hall, we will be in a position again to turn our attention to removing Nelson from Heroes Square,” Minister King explained. He gave no definitive timeline about the promised removal.
The Rock Hall Freedom Village project involved the refurbishing of the 20-foot bronze monument; the upgrading of a number of chattel-type shops built by a previous Barbados Labour Party Government, but which were never opened; the creation of a park, which formed part of the original plan, but which was never executed; and the building of an outdoor amphitheater to facilitate the performing arts. Work on this amphitheater is still underway.
King explained that with so many families struggling to keep their heads above water because of the challenges brought on by COVID-19, “we felt it was critically important to create new opportunities for ordinary Barbadians by getting those shops that had been languishing for so long back in shape and ready for commercial activity”.
Less than a month ago, King promised to have the statue moved on or before August 23 and justified the decision by citing consultations by the National Heroes Square and Development Committee carried out approximately 20 years ago.
The decision followed a series of demonstrations in solidarity with global anti-racism movements that focused on the removal of controversial monuments.
Alex Downes, who amassed 12,000 signatures in supporting his Nelson Must Go campaign expressed his disappointment about Government’s laidback attitude on the contentious issue.
“There is a march on Saturday which now appears to make a lot of sense. I don’t want to call it a broken promise, but if you say you are going to do something, then you should do it, and if you can’t do it then there should be some kind of communication within a reasonable time,” Downes contended.
“I really hope to hear Government at least give us an idea of what will happen going forward, because it would be very disappointing to see them agree to do something as monumental as this on a particular date, then allow it to fade into the background as has been done in the past. I don’t think we are going to allow that to happen,” he added.
Downes was among a group of stakeholders who met with Minister King on August 8 to discuss what should be done with the statue once it was taken down. After weeks of silence from authorities, he is even more disappointed that a new date has not been set.
David Denny who heads the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration revealed that tomorrow’s march would occur from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in National Heroes’ Square as he reacted to Friday’s “embarrassing” announcement.
“We are hoping that the Government will understand the level of embarrassment that the people of Barbados are going through because Lord Nelson remains in our National Heroes’ Square, because he represents slavery and fought for black men and women to remain as slaves, which is one of the most degrading and insulting things that would have happened to our ancestors here in Barbados,” he explained.
But he warned: “What the Government has done today will make us stronger, and it means that we have to continue to organize protest action. We were hoping that tomorrow would be the last day that we would protest next to the statue, but that action will have to continue until the Government of Barbados removes Lord Nelson from our National Heroes’ Square. We are not going to give up this battle.”
The bronze statue at the top of Broad Street, in Bridgetown was erected on March 22, 1813 in the area known as Trafalgar Square, opposite Parliament buildings.