OPINION | A petition submitted to the United Nations (UN) in New York by US-based law firm Choharis Legal Solutions on behalf of Parliament last week raised eyebrows throughout the kingdom. It asked to investigate violations of the people of St. Maarten’s right to a full measure of self-government.
President of Parliament Rolando Brison authorised this move based on the motion of UP faction leader Grisha Heyliger-Martin passed with 12 votes to three on November 5. A press release announcing the petition was – perhaps fittingly – issued by Brison in his capacity as UP leader.
While the main discussion that led to the motion was getting the Dutch Caribbean back on the UN’s decolonisation list, pursuing this matter through the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance plus the Working Group of experts on People of African Descent seems to have made it more about oppression based on race. The Dutch government is blamed for using COVID-19 financial assistance to practise such.
The presentation even includes a request to revisit the related Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO that is to guide implementation of the so-called “country package” with restructuring measures in exchange for more liquidity loans from the Netherlands, as agreed on by the NA/UP government. Hence the remark by UD leader Sarah Wescot-Williams (see Friday/Saturday paper) that the petition had effectively “pulled the rug” out from under the feet of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs (NA) and her cabinet.
All this understandably led to fierce reactions in The Hague, especially because the filing was accompanied by an extensive article with these accusations in The Washington Post. Second Chamber of Parliament member for VVD Andre Bosman advised initiating talks on St. Maarten becoming independent, as “nobody in the Netherlands will stop them.”
His Socialist Party (SP) colleague Ronald van Raak went a step further (see related story) by suggesting to temporarily halt financial support. That would obviously be disastrous and highly unfair to many like the PFP faction led by Melissa Gumbs that –together with UD – voted against the relevant motion.
Gumbs warned in a first reaction to the petition that money coming from the Netherlands is currently used for food aid to 4,000 households as well as to fund both the public sector and the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) “allowing us to take care of our most basic needs.” She also wondered whether the recipients of this Dutch help are the same ones being identified as victims of racial oppression.
To be sure, it is Government, not Parliament that officially represents the country abroad. Moreover, the legislatures of Curaçao and Aruba were also supposed to join this effort but have yet to do so.
Chairman of Curaçao’s Kingdom Affairs Committee Stephen Walroud (PAR) had backed a motion passed last year to send out a letter asking to get back on the UN decolonisation list, even though the rest of his faction voted against. He did so to “end years of discussion” but now says that by choosing the discrimination route St. Maarten is treading on “thin ice” considering its level of prosperity.
It is highly regrettable that much-needed and -appreciated assistance provided by the Netherlands in this unprecedented socioeconomic crisis is depicted as a racial discrimination tool. Stopping it for this reason alone, however, is hardly a humanely acceptable option and would probably be frowned on internationally too.
Two wrongs simply do not make a right.