Published On: Thu, Sep 17th, 2020

Arkenbout: “Can we count on each other?”

The worldwide crisis due to COVID-19 has hit the islands in the Kingdom relentlessly hard, notes Erwin Arkenbout, representative of the Netherlands in Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten. “The past few months have been intense and have led to a discussion about rights and obligations within the Kingdom. Can we count on each other?”

Arkenbout poses the question in a speech in honor of Prinsjesdag, the day on which King Willem-Alexander addresses a joint session of the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives to give the speech from the throne (Dutch: Troonrede); setting out the main features of government policy for the coming parliamentary session. “This is the day on which it becomes known how the money of the Dutch taxpayer will be spent,” says Arkenbout, who points out that the Statute, the Kingdom Constitution, calls for solidarity. “Those who have more are asked to share it.”

Compared to the Netherlands, St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao face even deeper problems, says Arkenbout. “Fortunately relatively fewer deaths have been recorded, but in Aruba and St. Maarten there are unprecedentedly high numbers of infections. Measures have been taken on all islands that severely restrict freedom of movement. There is an economic contraction of many tens of percent. And tens of thousands of food packages have been distributed. We are seeing an increase in domestic violence, as well as more burglaries, and armed robberies.” Fear and insecurity have become very big for many, he says. “People do what they can. And more than ever, they are counting on their government and their representatives to do what is right.”

Arkenbout sees that there is a great need for perspective. “Where exactly is the end of the tunnel? When will we see light again? When will a safe vaccine be available? And who gets it at his or her disposal? How long will we be walking around wearing mouth caps? How often do we still have to be tested? The situation on the Caribbean islands is still extremely risky and uncertain. We all need to learn from this period as the virus has also exposed very deep problems on the islands. Problems that have existed for years, that are a fundamental part, and are growing day by day. And there is the impact of Venezuela, of climate change, of hurricanes and of migration. There is a range of challenges that compel you to wonder how you can jointly increase resistance and resilience. How do we create buffers and reserves with the small communities on the islands? How do we become resilient, resilient and healthy? In all respects: how do you offer society perspective?”

According to the Dutch representative, a large and growing number of people on the islands are acutely aware that it is precisely being together in the Kingdom that makes the road to 2.0 possible. “Fortunately, we see people, companies and foundations rebound in these difficult times. We see volunteers at work. Selfless for others on the go. We see new businesses emerging because the world looks different, new needs and new markets emerge. We have learned to work and study from home. That is not always easy, but in that respect change is irreversible.”

Anyone who thinks that the old world is also the world of tomorrow is wrong, says Arkenbout. “The islands now have to get started quickly to become 2.0. It is taking too long already. Citizens and companies on the islands are suffering. And that is why choices are needed. These choices require courage and decisiveness and responsibility. Dare to explain how difficult the situation is and what sacrifices are required to emerge stronger as a community. Decisiveness to do what cannot wait now. And also not to run away and show leadership. I am convinced that whoever does that will be trusted and respected.”  

The Kingdom exists to protect democracy and the rule of law, Arkenbout emphasizes. “St. Maarten, Curacao and Aruba are countries with many possibilities. I’m convinced of that. This is because of the people who live there, the location on the globe, and also because of the relationship with the Kingdom. They are countries that can be rich, where the inhabitants can live in prosperity.” But that perspective can disappear and be lost if the right decisions are not made, Arkenbout warns. “When the population becomes insecure because it does not get the honest information to which it is entitled, and contradictions are created that do not exist.”

Arkenbout believes that within the Kingdom we have the opportunity and the obligation to hold each other accountable. “The Netherlands has done this, and will continue to do so, in the belief that it gives the countries the chance to become 2.0.” According to the Dutch representative, the Kingdom is helping to make the countries stronger and better. “If we all want that,” he says. “The Netherlands is willing.”

Speech by Erwin Arkenbout, Representative of the Netherlands in Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten on the occasion of Prinsjesdag 2020.#koninkrijksrelaties

Posted by VNP – Dutch Representation Office in Sint Maarten on Thursday, September 17, 2020
Caption: Videorecording of speech by Erwin Arkenbout, representative of the Netherlands in Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten on the occasion of Prinsjesdag 2020