While Americans were busy watching TMZ for signs of Kate Middleton’s looming motherhood, other observers on the continent were waiting for their next heir to the throne.
Many don’t think about the British Empire’s lingering influence in the Western Hemisphere, but this week Prince George Alexander Louis became the third in line to the throne that reigns, if only ceremonially, over 22 countries and territories scattered throughout North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. The British monarchy, as it turns out, still has a foothold in every part in the hemisphere.
While not a major legislative or deliberative body, the Commonwealth of Nations remains a loosely-governed body of former British colonies or dominions comprising 54 countries, 2 billion citizens and 20% of global trade. For this neck of the woods, which is often thought of as a preserve of the rebellious U.S. and former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, it is important to recognize the continuing role that Britain has in the region, and the outsized relevance of the royal family to many New World subjects.
Ordered by population, the 13 countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations (with all but Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state) are the following:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
So in total, with a heavy emphasis on Canada, 41 million people in the hemisphere, some 5%, still officially count Britain as their imperial flagship.
Britain’s sway in the region spans even further beyond sovereign Commonwealth states to the numerous overseas territories the country still maintains, including some household names:
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Pitcairn Island
- St. Helena, Ascencion, and Tristan da Cunha
- South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
- Turks and Caicos
This makes Britain still a relevant voice in regional geopolitics, even if it isn’t always a matter of broader Latin American policy like its most famous dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. It also is a reminder of the soft power that the monarchy holds across the world, even with the many movements that cloud its lasting legacy.
Ripped from the headlines, stories ranging from Canada’s courtship of Turks and Caicos to tax evasion in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda show the continuing relevance of Commonwealth issues on American shores. And when territories are in trouble, like Montserrat’s devastating volcano eruption in 1995 or the Falklands War in 1982, Britain rises to the occasion.
Even the Queen feels obliged to speak in French sometimes when she comes to Quebec.
Although republican, or anti-royal, movements have gained ground across the region, particularly in Canada, I have no doubt the Commonwealth is here to stay in this hemisphere. With a wide range of small but strategic overseas territories and sovereign states across the Caribbean, Central America and South America, it’s likely that George Alexander Louis will have a wealth of opportunity to never see the sun set on the British empire for many decades to come.