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Dr. Nilda Arduin, 2004
From slavery to the kingdom Charter, the Maydays of 1969 and the "Friendly Anger" on Sint Maarten in 1974 (See Joseph Lake Jr., House of Nehesi, Sint Maarten, 2004)). From born there's to born here's, nationality and citizenship. From colony to overseas territory, from Curaçao and its dependencies to the Netherlands Antilles being a partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Answering the many questions posed in the course of my discourse in these essays, is not feasible in the scope of this series. Two issues may however - no matter how concise- not remain unanswered, namely my overall evaluation of the past fifty years of the Charter, and subsequently where we should go from here as a result of my analysis.
Self-reliance, though with the will to support one another as partners in the kingdom, the basis of the Charter, in my opinion has not been achieved after fifty years. A lack of preparation for the tasks ahead, lack of trust and or confidence in the abilities of the Caribbean partner, poor communication and or cooperation between the kingdom partners, as well as subtle and or open interference by the dominating partner in the internal affairs of the overseas territory, combined with a lack of initiative, consensus and acceptance of full responsibility by and among the members of the Caribbean part of the realm, have in my opinion all been contributing factors to the relationship as it is today within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The new order established on December 15, 1954 has not yielded the proclaimed result, hence the need for a Workgroup Administrative and Financial Relations ("Werkgroep Bestuurlijke en Financiele Verhoudingen") to evaluate where we are going from here. It is my opinion that the mere circumstances surrounding the establishment of mentioned Workgroup are testimony to my conclusion and arguments mentioned above. It is not clear which are the instructions to, discussion papers, resolutions and policies -federal and island- that our representatives in the Workgroup will be defending on behalf of the peoples they represent?
The enactment of the kingdom Charter signified the closure of the colonial period according to the motherland, which today proves not to be factual, viz. the military involvement during the Maydays of 1969, as well as higher supervision imposed on Sint Maarten in the period 1992-1996, and the constant threat of higher supervision to be imposed on the federal government by the Kingdom government (the Netherlands). If we in the Caribbean part of the kingdom continue to fail to take decisive actions, others will make decisions for us from their perspective and with their best interest in mind. Believing in our own is a first requirement for change!
On June 23rd, 2000 "the people" of Sint Maarten exercised their right of self-determination, while the peoples of each island territory of the Netherlands Antilles will be exercising said right once more in the course of this year. Five island territories making up the Netherlands Antilles, with each the right of self-determination by resolution of the kingdom partners at the Round Table Conference in 1981. After fifty years of the Charter, this is a reality of the Kingdom of the Netherlands today.
Where do we - the peoples of Sint Maarten, Saba, Statia, Curaçao and Bonaire - go from here? "The people" of Sint Maarten has voted to obtain a status as an autonomous partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which implies that the population of Sint Maarten has established who "the people" of Sint Maarten is. "The people" again chose to maintain ties with its European heritage, with no desire to become an independent nation in the league of Caribbean nations.
Though these choices seem clear -evident by among others the new wave of Dutch technical assistance without Antillean counterparts on Sint Maarten-, yet the question remains to what extent the reality of these choices is as clear to the citizens, "the people", who made these choices. Choices, that will affect the nation for at least another generation.
While the discussions on Sint Maarten on these issues have not ceased, fact is that "the people" (whoever the people themselves conceive this to be), already made its choice. The members of the Referendum Committee on Bonaire have recently resigned from the Committee. No consensus could be reached with the authorities on the choices to be brought forward to the population. Neither has the discussion on which "the people" of Bonaire is, yielded a final conclusion. It is the people who need to define who they are, and thoroughly comprehend the choices they have to make.
According to the criteria followed for the referendum on Sint Maarten in June 2000, "the people" of Sint Maarten are all persons of Dutch nationality who live on the island for a period of at least two months prior to the referendum (See art. 6 Island Ordinance Referendum Constitutional Future Sint Maarten 2000).
These people (compare the definition used in Constitutional law of "the people", being the entire body of those citizens of a state or nation who are invested with political power for political purposes) were eligible to exercise their right of self-determination on June 23, 2000. As such the discussion on who is a Sint Maartener is in my opinion at this time closed. We need to accept responsibility and the consequences of our choices, and move to make the slogan "Many cultures, One country, One people" fit; with emphasis on "one" rather than on "many" to develop our nation. Having established this, we need to set policies for the country.
It is a fundamental right, a sovereign right of each nation to determine its internal policies. Government may set its labor, social, economic, immigration and other policies without an apology or explanation to persons other than "the people". The right of self determination includes the exclusion of those who are not considered to be "the people" of the nation, while guarantees pertaining to human rights and freedoms, legal security and good governance apply to all within the territory, without distinction of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.
Within the parameters of our realities we need to plan, work and encourage participation in developing our society. It calls for revisiting our education system, equipping our youths with skills and tools needed in a highly competitive globalize world. This include broadening their knowledge pertaining to their immediate surrounding - the Caribbean and South America-, in order to enable these adults of tomorrow to make decisions regarding their destiny with a broader vision than limited to the territory of the Dutch kingdom as is thus far being emphasized.
With globalization looming at our door and fierce competition for the tourist dollar in the region, sand, sea and sun is not enough to make it in today's world. Other than these our human resources are our greatest assets. "Many cultures, One country, One people" gives us the opportunity to become a cultural Mecca, offering visitors diversity in one place. Sint Maarten is strategically located, and offers the possibility of becoming a Center for various services internationally, such as but not limited to telecommunication, research, art, and the often mentioned financial services.
The larger countries, in particular the USA, are outsourcing their services massively. With a people understanding the American culture, Sint Maarten is in a position to become a major service provider and tab into that market, if we are prepared to seriously develop and equip our man power with excellence to that extent. Of course a proper balance will have to be found between costs and wages as a result of our tourist industry.
With people from one hundred and four nations gathered on our sixteen square miles, it is obvious that we are not too small to be noticed worldwide. It takes courage, ambition, focus, planning, persistence and hard work to be able to offer the world, and our people, more than just sun, sea and sand.
Development of our human resources to achieve the abovementioned goals and compete on the international market, takes, apart from choosing the right strategies and finances, total community participation and commitment of the born and belong here's, as well as the fortune seekers on the island. This will have to start in the home. Parent education will be a must. Community awareness about where we are going as a nation and changed attitudes are equally important to achieve our goals.
Lessons can be learned from the Bahamas, where every man, woman and child is educated to serve the visitor to the island, who pays -according to the man in the street- their daily bread. Providing excellent service against acceptable wages should be the goal, not a disguised nouveau form of slavery. The mission statement of the country should be clear and carried from Middle Region to the Low Lands.
Creative thinking and boldness, believing in ourselves and self critique are essential characteristics to support these goals. The vision needs to be all inclusive, not geared at prosperity for just a chosen few, but aimed at the well being of all, in particular the masses. After fifty years of the Charter we should be mature enough to direct our own destiny; learning, blending and copying from others where appropriate without fear. Monies and expertise should be sought worldwide, not limiting ourselves to the known and familiar sources.
In light of our expressed desire to maintain our European ties, and by extension European standards and way of life, it behooves us to thoroughly evaluate possible benefits of becoming an Ultra Peripheral Territory of the European Union, however not without considering the options for future generations to withdraw.
Developing our human resources in and outside the classroom to meet international standards should become our priority. Many NGO's and civic organizations are already doing a fine job, a common aim and direction is needed. From Middle Region to the Low Lands, as in a choir, though having different voices, the nation needs to sing the same song!