Prince William and Kate Middleton were forced to cancel one of their first outings on their Caribbean tour after protests broke out ahead of the couple’s arrival.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had planned to visit a cocoa farm in the foothills of the Maya Mountains in Belize on Sunday, but that has now been canceled after villagers staged a protest about colonialism and the use of a football field by the royals for landing their helicopter.
Villagers in Indian Creek were photographed on Friday with signs saying, “Prince William leave our land.” The local Q’eqehi Maya people have reportedly been in a dispute with the conservation charity Flora and Fauna International, of which William is patron, and the local state over the rights to 12,000 acres of land.
Sebastian Shol, chairman of Indian Creek village, was quoted in the Daily Mail saying the royals “could land anywhere but not on our land.” Village youth leader Dionisio Shol added, “For us, it really hits home because of the treatment. The organizer said we had to let them use the football field and that people were coming to our village and it had to look good. Giving community leaders commands did not sit well with the community.”
A royal source confirmed that the visit had been canceled for “sensitive issues” involving the community in Indian Creek and the couple will now visit a different location. Kensington Palace declined to comment. The Government of Belize said in a statement, “Indian Creek was one of several sites being considered. Due to issues in the village, the Government of Belize activated its contingency planning and another venue has been selected to showcase Maya family entrepreneurship in the cacao industry.”
FFI, of which William has been patron since 2020, bought the land at nearby Boden Creek last December as part of its plans to protect the wildlife. The charity says it also supports the livelihoods and rights of local indigenous people.
The dispute highlights the sensitivities that continue across the region stemming from the U.K.’s history of colonialism. The three countries that the couple is visiting — Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize — all have Queen Elizabeth as head of state. But fellow Caribbean country Barbados recently dropped the Queen, 95, as head of state — and there are rumblings of republicanism in Jamaica, too.
Can’t get enough of PEOPLE’s Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more! In November, Prince Charles denounced the “atrocity of slavery” and Britain’s grim legacy of the slave trade as Barbados removed the Queen as head of state and swore in its first president.
In a speech at Barbados’ transition ceremony, the prince referenced the darkest period of Britain’s colonial past, which saw the trafficking of people from Africa to Barbados and the Caribbean.
“From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” he said.