Published On: Wed, Mar 17th, 2021

The answer is clear: Parliament opposes conditions for liquidity support

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PHILIPSBURG — The Choharis-petition to the special rapporteur of the United Nations has drawn widespread criticism, but the backers of this initiative – eleven of the fifteen members of Parliament – are sticking to their guns. But its proponents, led by UP-faction leader Grisha Heyliger-Marten are sending mixed signals about the relationship they want with the Netherlands.

On November 20, 2020, Parliament approved a motion with the support of eleven MPs. The Party for Progress faction (Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson) and the UD (MP Sarah Wescot-Williams) voted against it. US party member of parliament Akeem Arrindell did not support the motion because he was absent.

The motion gives Parliament the (disputed) right to hire attorneys to help “parliament and government” with ending violations of St. Maarten’s right to a full measure of self-government and to complete the decolonization of “St. Maarten and the other islands of the former Netherlands Antilles.”

One may well wonder whether the Parliament of St. Maarten has the authority to take an initiative on behalf of the government and of autonomous countries like Aruba and Curacao and Dutch public entities like Bonaire, Saba and Statia, but that detail escaped all of those who voted in favor of the motion.

Another resolution is to instruct the Council of Ministers “to urgently initiate dialogue with legitimate governments to initiate a Kingdom round table conference by July 2021.” That conference is then supposed to “ratify and commit to the complete decolonization of the islands.”

Four months have gone by since Parliament approved this motion but the Council of Ministers has, as far as we know, not taken any steps towards initiating that round table conference.

It is clear that this initiative from Parliament is a reaction to the conditions the Kingdom has attached to continued liquidity support. The establishment of the COHO, the Caribbean Entity for Reform and Development, is a hard condition: no COHO, no liquidity support. Parliament has expressed its support for the COHO and Parliament’s President Rolando Brison has confirmed this in writing to State Secretary Knops.

But now Peter Choharis has submitted a petition “on behalf of parliament and the citizens of St. Maarten” to the special rapporteur of the United Nations.

According to Heyliger-Marten the petition asks the UN to go on a fact-finding mission. But that statement does not correspond with the content of the petition. In its conclusion, it asks the UN to “urge the Netherlands to terminate the COHO proposal and to ensure that no Dutch entity or person assumes similar powers.”

Right there State Secretary Knops and the ever-watchful parliamentarians André Bosman and Ronald van Raak have the answer they are looking for: the Parliament (at least the eleven parliamentarians who votes in favor of the motion) does not support the Kingdom’s conditions for liquidity support. That’s reason for Knops to terminate financial support.

Heyliger-Marten said in a press release, and with so many words during an interview in Andrew Bishops InDepth TV-show: “We are not suggesting that we don’t want the relationship (with the Netherlands). We are merely saying that it needs fixing.”

The bold conclusion of the Choharis-petition suggests something completely different: a straightforward opposition against the conditions for liquidity support. If that is not even negotiable, there is no relationship.

Heyliger-Marten speaks in the press release also of the “systemic racism perpetrated by the Dutch government towards the Dutch citizens of the Caribbean.”

But what exactly is racist about any decision taken by the Kingdom about St. Maarten remains unclear. Instead, Heyliger-Marten comes up with examples of racist behavior in the Netherlands. There is a 14-year old court ruling against Mark Rutte when he urged municipalities in his role as State Secretary of Social Affairs to control whether Somalian refugees committed fraud with social benefits. The court ruled that this was “discrimination based on race” but in Heyliger-Marten’s interpretation this becomes “inciting racism.”

The MP also mentions the Black Pete controversy and a European report about the Netherlands that states that “politicians have openly expressed racist beliefs of biological superiority.” Insofar as this refers to the beliefs of politicians like Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet the statement is correct. But what does it have to do with perceived racist behavior by the Kingdom towards St. Maarten? Heyliger-Marten does not provide a single example.

Another nugget from Heyliger-Marten’s press release goes like this: “They have for too long run with the narrative that our people are corrupt and incompetent.”

The truth is that the MPs husband, Theo Heyliger, has been sentenced to five years of imprisonment for taking bribes and for money laundering and that the Prosecutor’s Office, while the verdict is still awaiting appeal, wants to seize $17 million in criminal proceeds from the former leader of the UP.

Lastly, Heyliger-Marten asserts that, if the Kingdom discontinues liquidity support, this “equals pleading guilty to the charges in the petition.”

What the government is thinking about all this remains unclear, though Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs was quoted in a Washington Post article as saying: “This top-down approach definitely feels like reverting back to colonial times.” Not to be outdone, the Post speaks of “a racial reckoning in the Caribbean.”

And then there is the question: what exactly do the petitioners think to achieve? What do they mean by that full measure of self-government? According to State Secretary Knops, the Netherlands Antilles achieved that status when it voluntarily accepted the Kingdom Charter back in 1954. VVD-MP André Bosman echoed this position in questions he posed to Knops. Is this petition then a call for independence?

No, says UP-MP Omar Ottley in a press statement. “This petition is in no way a call for independence.” He accuses opposing MPs of “lying again” by claiming that they did not support the petition because it is a call for independence. Ottley supposes that completion of the decolonization process would put St. Maarten in a position “to broker financial agreements with better terms and fewer conditions.”

On a different level, Dutch representative Chris Johnson told the Washington Post: “Maybe we have reached the time for a constitutional referendum that asks the question: independence, yes or no.”

Bosman has asked Knops whether the government of St. Maarten supports the petition the Parliament has sent to the UN. He also wants to know who is responsible for the fight against poverty and for social affairs in St. Maarten. (The answer is, of course: St. Maarten).

Bosman also refers to the reproach that the Netherlands does not do anything about the conditions at the Pointe Blanche prison. (The Netherlands has offered 30 million euros for the construction of a new prison).

Bosman’s SP-colleague Ronald van Raak has asked Knops whether he is prepared to suspend financial aid and to engage in talks with the Parliament to find out whether it is still possible to execute the plans for support.


Related links:
Understanding racism
Choharis-petition puts liquidity support at risk
Choharis petition
Committee for Constitutional Affairs and Decolonization holds inaugural meeting