The displeasure over the Caribbean Netherlands is rising again: a security crisis on Sint Maarten, a refugee crisis in Curaçao and administrative and financial disorders on Sint Eustatius and Aruba, among others. So the question is again whether the Netherlands should definitely say goodbye to the chaos that is called Antilles.
PvdA MP Franssen argued in 1972 to ‘send the islands by registered mail’. Hero Brinkman once suggested ‘offering them on Marktplaats’. Last year, VVD member André Bosman compared the Antilles with ‘alcohol addicts’. “It is a shame that this can be said,” says John Leerdam (58), born in Curaçao, a former MP in charge of Antillean affairs, theater maker and chairman of the Caribbean Netherlands Consultative Body. “That politicians express themselves about people from the same kingdom. That people smile away and smile. We must stop with the discussion about whether the Antilles will ever become independent of the Netherlands. Those islands never go anywhere again. “
The great writer WF Hermans once called them ‘the last remnants of the tropical Netherlands’, the six small islands colonized in the Caribbean Sea in the thirties of the 17th century. First the toy of the West India Company, later, next to Suriname, colonies of the Netherlands in ‘De West’. Physically separated in the Windward and Leeward Islands, but politically a unit: the Netherlands Antilles.
Until they were dismantled as land on 10 October 2010 (10-10-10). On the Binnenhof in The Hague and on Brionplein in Willemstad, Curaçao, there was optimism and confidence about this new road of the Caribbean Netherlands. A ‘kingdom-new style’ with Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten as autonomous countries in addition to the large Netherlands and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba as a kind of Dutch municipalities.
That ‘new style kingdom’ is not exactly a success …
“From the start I said it was an illusion to think that everything would go better after 10-10-10. And I still support that. The process and the procedure for the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles has gone much too fast. We have learned nothing from the independence of Suriname. There too they had a beautiful image in mind that it would be okay. And the disappointment is clear there. We all know the coup of 1980 and the December murders of 1982. It is sad.
‘The Netherlands Antilles should have been better guided. Moreover, you can ask yourself whether all agreements, all promises made at the time from The Hague, have been fulfilled. But also whether the expectations on the islands were true. On Saba, Sint Eustatius and Bonaire they had a very different picture of what the new status would mean. A majority thought they would receive the same rights as the people in the Netherlands. They thought they would get enough money for poverty alleviation, for social services, for infrastructure, that the benefits would be equalized. Then you know that everything was doomed to fail. “
But to that extent? Five of the six islands are in a “worrying financial situation” and the island governments have to deal with conflicts of interest and corruption.
‘An incredible amount of money has indeed been spent and no one can find out where it went. There have also been some governments on the islands that really could not. As a result, the islands have been thrown back in their development for twenty or thirty years. In addition, the reception of fleeing Venezuelans in Curaçao is inadequate, human rights are being violated. Also on Sint Maarten and Aruba you see that things are not going well. But what does the Netherlands do? That drives a bit, but expects the islands to further solve their own problems. Even little Saba, who is always calm, arranges things well, has everything in order and whose people are very accessible, recently stepped out of a consultation in protest against the lack of structural help from the Netherlands. “
Surely the Dutch restraint is understandable? Involvement on the islands always leads to irritation and the reproach of ‘recolonization’.
“The Netherlands is getting involved! Politicians are calling for everything on the islands to change. Officials come over from the Netherlands and sometimes leave behind greater chaos. A dormant feeling of discomfort, of non-equivalence, is created on the islands. The most important thing is respect. That is no different than fifty years ago during the uprising of 30 May 1969 in Curaçao. Pan i respet. Bread and respect. Working together for a future. But that never really happened on the islands. Problems have been covered. People have ‘exchanged’ the white dolls for the black dolls.
‘In the meantime, here in the Netherlands people pretend that the people on the islands have long toes. Be hypersensitive. But is that different here? Look at the entire Zwarte Piet discussion, at the discussion about racism in the Netherlands. That’s impossible? Isn’t this an international disgrace? But when people complain about racism, colonialism and slavery in the Antilles, they immediately shout: you see, they have not yet dealt with it. The Netherlands has not yet processed its own colonial past! The Dutch have to come to terms with themselves, ask themselves: what do we want and how do we deal with each other? Not only here in the Netherlands, but also with the people in the Antilles. “
The poor image of the Antilles will certainly not help.
“Where’s the trust? I can get really excited about it. How is it possible that the islands have been connected to the Netherlands for longer than the province of Limburg, but after almost four hundred years Antilleans still feel that the Dutch are not interested in their history and their fate?
‘How is it possible that more than 40-45 percent of the people on the islands live below the poverty line? That parents with two jobs can no longer keep up? It is absurd that you allow so many people in your kingdom to live in poverty.
‘As chairman of the Caribbean Netherlands Consultative Body, Antilleans accost me on working visits in Den Helder, Leeuwarden, Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Dordrecht to tell them that friends and family are coming to the Netherlands and whether I can help. “Kos ta malu,” they say, “things are going badly.” But the Antilleans here do not know how to take care of their loved ones and acquaintances here. No housing, no income, that means that they start to roam and end up in crime almost automatically.
“It emotions me. It frustrates me. It pisses me off. This is going to explode in our face. We really have to do something about this. “
What do you think is the solution?
‘Re-invest on the islands, in the neighborhoods, so that people can stay there. If things go better there, things will get better here too. Almost half of the Antilleans live in the Netherlands and do not really want to be here. Ensure that it goes better socially and economically and that they too want to return to make a contribution. They too can go back to where they feel happy . “