Published On: Wed, Jun 19th, 2019

Fake historian?

Published June 19, 2019, in The Daily Herald:

Hilbert Haar - Pirate PicDear editor,

In April I wrote an article under the headline ‘Heyliger’s bribery allegations have a long (family) history.’ It appeared on the independent news website stmaartennews.com on April 9 or 10 of this year. More than two months later one Adrian Lista – a grandson of Claude Wathey, or so I’ve been told – showed in a letter to the editor of the Daily Herald how upset he was about this piece.

In itself, I find it rather weird to react to an article that appeared on one platform – stmaartennews.com – with a letter to the editor of another news outlet. But never mind, t’is the culture probably, as the saying goes.

Mr. Lista makes one very good point in his rather slanderous letter: “Above all else, real journalism is about reporting what is true, not what you want to be true.”  Very good and his letter proves the point.

Lista labels my article as “weasel journalism” – I hadn’t heard that one before – and speaks of “playing loose with the facts.” My career in journalism spans more than five decades and I surely have made my share of mistakes – but playing loose with the facts isn’t one of them.

What was Mr. Lista so upset about?

Probably about the following paragraph:

“Bribes have been a fact of life in St. Maarten for a long time. Historian Will Johnson mentioned in an address about Heyliger’s grandfather Claude Wathey on July 31, 2016 what must have been one of the first recorded cases of bribery in St. Maarten. In the fifties of last century Wathey was having trouble getting a majority vote for a project to “turn around traffic in Philipsburg,” as Johnson described it. The crucial vote had to come from Piesco (Charles Wilson). Wathey sent Clem Labega to investigate and he came back with the message that “a small calf would do the trick.” So, according to Johnson, Wathey bought a calf from “either Lexie or Miss Ela Brown and Piesco was back on board.”

Is that what Mr. Lista considers “playing loose with the facts” by accusing me of “being light on fact and heavy on fiction”? I always thought that Will Johnson was a respectable and reliable source when it comes to the history of St. Maarten. But maybe Mr. Lista considers Johnson a fake historian like he considers my article fake news.

Oh, that Wathey – according to my article – once described himself as a ‘beneficial dictator’ comes from  the same source – Will Johnson’s address I referred to above.

I also want to point out that my article was not about Claude Wathey – it was about Theo Heyliger and I used the references to Claude to illustrate that the family he belongs to is no stranger to bribery. Mind you – those allegations against Heyliger are just that: allegations. Time will tell whether these charges hold up in court.

That Claude was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1994 on charges of forgery and perjury is a historical fact.

That those who were close to Claude prefer to forget that fact is understandable. It is however part of the – to quote Mr. Lista – “incontrovertible facts about Claude.”

“The way prosecutors trapped Claude and got him convicted of perjury is now no longer permissible under our modern criminal law precisely because it is viewed as an ethically dubious method of getting a conviction,” Mr. Lista furthermore complains.

That could be true, but hey: in our system court cases are handled based on applicable law, not based on laws that might or might not be written twenty years later. So it’s a non-argument.

To sum it up: I stand by my article – not anonymous, but with my full (and real) name.

Hilbert Haar
Independent journalist
Currently based in Siem Reap, Cambodia