Published On: Sun, Dec 10th, 2017

Paradise on the edge of demise

Elton Jones column Paradise on the edge of demiseOnce upon a time there was a sleepy salt blasted mosquito ridden island called Soualiga or Qualichi by the Caribs and more recently dubbed Sunshine City by the DJs of Voice of St. Martin. This island‘s history, though not written anywhere for posterity, is proudly told by our elders who witnessed and could relate to the metamorphosis of our lovely island. While the greater Caribbean was into agriculture on a large scale, we mainly subsisted on backyard gardens and fishing. Our main economic activity was the remittances sent from abroad to support family at home. Our people like so many others in the region ploughed the seas to find employment and improve their lives. The towns of Great Bay and Marigot were not much as Capitols go but our people’s faces lit up when we got an opportunity to speak of them. In the fifties Dr. Wathey and Clem Labega, now deceased, embarked on an experiment in tourism. A move that in hindsight can be considered quite bold for there were no examples to follow. They were our pioneers. Always the believers in the ability of our people they wanted to, in a few years, ensure that our people would no more have to butt the four corners of the world to make a living but could succeed in their own home. Some elders tell me of the arrival of the first cruise ship “Stella Polaris” and sister ship “Stella Maris” anchored in Great Bay every two weeks. Our airport wasn’t much but we got a few tourists via Puerto Rico, which was at the time serving the hotels we had, Little Bay, Passangrahan and Hunters House. These good gentlemen realized more needed to be done and invited investors to expand our opportunities and broaden our horizons to a better future. Fast forward to the Mullet Bay Beach Hotel, the largest hotel property in the eastern Caribbean at the time we attained our goal. St. Martin enjoyed in those days 110% employment, most people had two and three jobs and to keep up with our growth which today is called unplanned and ad hoc we imported seasonal labor to feed the need of our growing economy. With not one person on the island with a Degree in Hotel or the service industry we managed these properties successfully. Ironically, and maybe even insultingly, we are told today we are lazy, don’t want to work or don’t possess what is needed to fit in to the economy. You may by now have noticed that to this point there is no mention of Dutch input, well that is not an omission they just were not around. Dutch people in my island at that time were the priest, nuns and school teachers who came for one or two years. In the eighties when we were on our way to greater expansion the Dutch start paying attention. I can still remember hearing the :old man” sarcastically say the Dutch are coming. Then there was a loan on the expansion of PJIA and all hell broke loose, local heavy equipment workers were exempted. An Italian conglomerate was given total control to import goods and labor from Italy. Demonstrations followed leading to total shut down and the Dutch with the help of Willemstad availed themselves to the chaos and put us under higher supervision. From 1992 to 1998 the island government needed permission to buy toilet paper. Salaries were jacked up but only for technical assistants from Holland from anywhere around 17.500Nafls to 46.000 Nafls. The word was they are going to train locals and in so doing clean up the mess. Actually they did no such thing. They were rude, disrespectful and held auctions where their friends and cronies bought up everything. No one was trained and when they left we were worst of than before they came. Of course, our leader then even though being blamed for everything, refused to serve under higher supervision. Unlike what we see today with this breed of leaders who are exulted by the honorable prefix to their name, true leaders refused to sell out. This open invitation for the Dutch to more severely impose the colonial dictatorship will have serious and far reaching repercussions for our people and country. Our parliament seems to accept the Dutch opinion of their incompetence and have decided on the road of least resistance, basically appease and placate without questions. Atlantis is said to have disappeared under the sea by natural means. Closer to home we know the story of the sinking of part of the Golden Rock. St. Martin demise has been secured by people we chose to represent us without any intestinal fortitude or understanding of history. We might in real time be witnessing paradise lost with our cooperation.

Elton Jones