WILLEMSTAD – Since 10 October 2010, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has consisted of four countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten. The Netherlands Antilles has been dissolved and its constituent islands have acquired a new status.
What does this mean for Curaçao?
Curaçao has, since October 10, 2010, a separate status as an autonomous country. It has its own government and is no longer a dependency of the Netherlands Antilles. The Netherlands will, just as it did during the time of the Netherlands Antilles, continue to be in charge of defense, foreign relations and citizenship. It will also keep a watchful eye on the finances of the island.
Gerrit Francisco Schotte was appointed as the first Prime Minister of the Country Curaçao. A few days before that, the new Premier indicated that Curaçao was ill-prepared for its new status. He said in an interview that October 10 was premature. “It’s a chaos. We’re not ready yet.”
“Curaçao only exists on paper. We have nothing to celebrate in a country where children barely receive any education or even food,” said the then new Prime Minister. His government was elected on a promise of anti-bureaucracy, anti-corruption and anti-poverty. The Prime MinisterAutonomy2 expected he will need quite a bit of Dutch help in the near future, maybe even for “ten or fifteen years”.
“There’s nothing I’d rather be than an independent country, but it’s simply impossible at this stage,” said Schotte in his interview with the Dutch media.
Even though the then new Prime Minister did not start on a positive note, it was a great moment for Curaçao. The island finally received what it has voted for, more independence from the Netherlands. Not only more independence but it was finally free from the other islands that once, with Curaçao, were part of the Netherlands Antilles.
The dream didn’t last long.
Instead of celebrating its newfound freedom, the island found itself wading through a political crisis. The murder of a leading politician in an unprecedented act of violence against a public official capped a string of events that has left the young country questioning its future.
Its stability is of far-reaching importance: Located just off the coast of South America, Curaçao has become a significant piece in the relationship between Venezuela and the United States, which keeps a US military installation on the island as part of its anti-narcotics mission. During the first years of Curaçao’s autonomy, Venezuela accused US planes stationed on the island of violating its airspace and spying.
The real instability began when Gerrit Schotte was ousted in what he called a bloodless coup d’état. Since then, seven Prime Ministers have taken office, enacting sweeping policy changes to the sales tax and public pension and healthcare systems.
The new country hit a previously unthinkable low point in May 2013. The popular politician Helmin Wiels was murdered while relaxing at a popular beachside pier in Willemstad. Wiels, an outspoken advocate for independence from the Dutch and an anti-corruption crusader, led the Pueblo Soberano (Sovereign People) political party and was seen as a hero by his largely less affluent political base.
Schotte continued with his negativity. “It’s a very bad situation that we are in.” He was often at odds with Wiels, who called Schotte a sociopath apparently over differing opinions on policy, despite the fact that the men had formed a political coalition.
Schotte said: “People are tired of not getting what they voted for. They see that our system is not working.… Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
While Wiels’ case has not been completely solved, only the executors have been sentenced, theories as to why he was killed have abounded. The investigation focuses now on those close to the former political leader. There is even a former Minister of Finance (George Jamaloodin) awaiting extradition in Venezuela.
After Schotte, several Prime Ministers were appointed and each came with promises of economic growth, jobs, investments and prosperity for the people.
There was a moment of hope when after the elections of October 5, 2016, the blue party MAN came out as the winning party. The leader who radiated positivism, Hensley Koeiman was going to lead a new government. A positive government that wanted to tackle the social problems of the island.
This dream, this hope did not last long. It lasted only 50 days. The government was overthrown by one of its coalition partners, the Pueblo Soberano. Immediately after the government lost its majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister met with Governor Lucille George-Wout to call snap elections. The Governor accepted Koeiman’s resignation and called new elections which, according to the Constitution, should be held within a period of 90 days. But in the meantime …
Gerrit Schotte came back in the picture.
Schotte immediately indicated to the Governor that there is a new majority in Parliament and they want to form a government.
Curaçao was back to square one. Schotte formed a new government with Pueblo Soberano and Korsou di Nos Tur of the businessman Amparo dos Santos in February this year. He was not able to appoint himself as Prime Minister because he was convicted twice of corruption, fraud and forgery, both by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals. Even though he was convicted, Schotte remained in Parliament.
The first item on their agenda was to stop the elections. They made a formal request to the Governor. The Governor rejected this and requested assistance from the Kingdom Council of Ministers, who in turn placed the elections under her care. This meant that the Governor was in charge of organization the elections.
During the political campaign, a new leader emerged. One that radiated hope and stability. This new leader, Eugene Rhuggenaath, is now the eight Prime Minister of Curaçao since October 10, 2010. He was hailed by the Dutch media as the Kennedy of Curaçao. The one who would save Curaçao from chaos.
One thing is for sure, Rhuggenaath does not have an easy task. Curaçao has a lot of social, economic and financial problems. And he has to deal with all that on a small budget. But there is hope. There is an air of positivism again on the island.
Today the people are celebrating 7 years of autonomy but the question remains; is there really something to celebrate?