Ethnic account in the Caribbean: Sint Maarten confronts the Netherlands over help in the fight against Coronavirus


She needed a Malian lifeline. Four thousand miles away, Mother Holland was ready to throw one – albeit with a string tied. What would follow would be an ethnocentric account in the Caribbean: a bitter struggle between the Dutch overseers of Saint Martin in Europe and local politicians representing an island predominantly inhabited by Afro-Caribbean and other people of color.

“This top-down approach definitely looks like a return to the colonial era,” Jacobs said.

The pandemic has transformed the economic fortunes of billions of people around the world, exacerbating existing inequalities and creating new cases. In the case of Sint Maarten and the other Dutch autonomous islands in the Caribbean – Aruba and Curaçao – the economic turmoil went even further.

Broad demands from the Netherlands in exchange for millions of dollars in emergency aid threaten to alter the balance of power between the former empire and its former colonies, and re-impose the kind of control that islanders believed they left behind when they gained autonomy. Inside the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 2010. Lawmakers in Saint Martin this week submitted a petition to the UN Special Rapporteur on racism accusing the Netherlands of “racial discrimination” and “violations of international rights.”

Tuesday’s file, which seeks to monitor, document and take action against alleged racist policies, comes two months after the Dutch government fell into a scandal related to the alleged racial profiling of claimants for benefits in the Netherlands.

The primary claim now is that the Dutch government is using the pandemic to turn the clock back on colonial rule.

“They are trying to take full control of our democracy,” said Grisha Hilliger Martin, a prominent member of St. Martin’s parliament who helped lead the petition efforts. “They have run for too long with the narrative that our people are corrupt and incompetent.”

“He’s like a Black Beat,” she said, referring to the black-faced Christmas character who is still popular in the Netherlands. “They say this isn’t racist, but it is. Just like what they’re trying to do to us right now.”

However, the Dutch see a problem that needs to be solved, as the pandemic represents an opportunity to fix islands that they say are not working. In exchange for millions of dollars in aid, they are insisting on cutting state salaries and benefits. They are also calling for sweeping and long-term changes to local tax laws, labor laws, border controls, education and healthcare systems that could change the way of life forever in Sint Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba. Everything must be done under the watchful eye of the new Caribbean Entity for Reform and Development, whose members will be appointed by the Dutch government “in consultation” with the islands.

Dutch officials say the pandemic has uncovered years of mounting problems since the granting of autonomy – including extremely high salaries for lawmakers and government ministers. In Sint Maarten, which has a population of about 40,000, MPs earn more than $ 10,000 a month – amounts that Dutch officials say are higher than comparable salaries in the Netherlands. (Sint Maarten officials say the claim does not take into account the additional benefits and allowances granted to their Dutch counterparts.)

To the Dutch, it is as if it was 2017, when Hurricane Irma devastated Saint Martin. The country, which shares an island with the French overseas community of Saint Martin, needed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Dutch officials say taxpayers in the Netherlands are being asked to once again open their pockets to the supposedly self-sufficient islands. Since the epidemic hit the Caribbean, they say, they have fed thousands of islanders through food programs, provided medical equipment and Corona Virus Vaccines are through grants, and tens of millions of dollars in loans in financial support.

Dutch officials insist that Saint Martin – whose politicians were the most vocal among the former colonies in condemning the Dutch demands, and held out for much longer before agreeing to them – has not succeeded in creating an effective and just society. They say they are trying to push them towards that goal now. They point to allegations of rampant political corruption and stubbornly high levels of poverty on an island that is a haven for superyachts and the billionaires they love.

“If they feel that we are still colonized by us even today, they can jump out of the kingdom, that is entirely up to them,” said Raymond Knobs, the Dutch Minister for Kingdom Affairs. He said the Dutch demands are related to the guilder and the euro, not “racism or post-colonial action.”

Because of this crisis. . . They were not independent at all and had to ask for money elsewhere – in this case, the Dutch government, “said Nobbs.” This makes this relationship a bit controversial. “He added that he hoped they could achieve” true independence, “and that” All of these things that we do will help them become stronger. “

Saint Martin voted in favor of self-government in 2000. The three Caribbean islands that have chosen to remain closer “municipalities” within the Netherlands – Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba – are not targeted. Critics say the Netherlands is singling out the islands that have opted for greater freedom of punishment.

Saint Martin maintains its own parliament and police force; The Dutch still manage its defense and justice system. It is located on an island slightly larger than The Hague. The island was divided in the 17th century between the Netherlands and France, whose relationship with its lands was noticeably less adversarial.

Dutch officials in Sint Maarten blame politicians overreaching in the discord. They say the island’s leaders refused to acknowledge the sacrifices the Dutch taxpayers made to support them. They say that ordinary islanders understand these sacrifices much better, and yearn to end the shortcomings and corruption that plagued the former colony.

Chris Johnson, the Dutch representative at St Martin said: “If you listen to the news in the newspapers and politicians, you will hear words like“ neo-colonialism, ”“ all kinds of accusations against the Dutch. ”“ But what the civil servants tell me is that they are excited because they will be able. To take a look at their organizations and find out ways in which they can be more efficient. “

At least some of the island’s business leaders agree.

“When a country provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, it will set conditions,” said Ricardo Perez, secretary of the St. Martin’s Association of Hospitality and Commerce. “Are the conditions difficult? Absolutely. But the government has not created the level of confidence for the Netherlands to say, ‘Take the money and spend it as you like.”

However, the UN petition makes broader allegations, asserting that racism has tarnished Dutch politics in the Caribbean.

Take a look at what the Dutch are doing [government] It does in relation to its European citizens who are overwhelmingly white in terms of covid aid and relief for small businesses and being part of the funding mechanism for all Europe, ”said Peter Chouharis, the Washington attorney who filed the petition on behalf of the Saint Martin Parliament. Compare that to what they are doing. On the islands, it “needs to accumulate more debt and agree to our demands.”

Rolando Bresson, speaker of St. Martin’s Parliament, said 12 of the Chamber’s fifteen members supported the petition. But Dutch officials questioned its legality, arguing that its specific language was not approved in a public session. They also said that previous legal challenges to Dutch financial decrees and allegations of neo-colonialism had been overruled by local courts.

“At the end of the day, both sides will always have opinions about who is right and who is wrong,” Johnson said, “but people should be allowed to make the final call, so maybe we have come to that time for a constitutional referendum that raises the question: Independence, yes or no “.

Saint Martin officials say they tried to avoid seeking financial aid from the Netherlands, but had no choice after Dutch officials effectively blocked their attempt to float a private bond offering last year. Dutch officials say they were upset with the deal because it indicated the “self-interest” of the politicians involved, and it would have burdened the island with worse financial terms than the Dutch interest-free loans.

“You can’t come and use your money as a skin tool to re-colonize my country because the epidemic has put us in need,” said Hilliger Martin. It took everything from us already during colonization, and left us nothing. You guys were pirates, you were corrupt. Don’t blame us now. “

Her husband, a former politician, was imprisoned on corruption charges. Denies the charges against him and appeals them.

Jacobs, Prime Minister, expressed her gratitude for the help in combating the epidemics provided by the Dutch. She refused to say whether their demands amounted to racism.

“What it looks like is disrespect, whether it’s because of race, or if it’s because we’re a small island,” she said. She added, “Draw your own conclusions.”

Correction: The name of Grisha Heyliger-Marten is misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

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