After the Summit of the Americas, it becomes painfully clear how isolated we are in the Caribbean

The 9th Summit of the Americas (the Summit), which took place last month in Los Angeles was supposed to bring together leaders to promote cooperation and inclusive economic growth based on shared democratic values in North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean. No, Curaçao didn’t participate (1).

Before the Summit started most discussions centered around Washington’s decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This led El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines to stay away. Also, key figures of the U.S. Administration weren’t present which diluted the Summit.

Perhaps more regretful is the fact that there were few concrete major policy pronouncements. This showed perhaps the lack of policy convergence in our hemisphere and the painful realization that the US is not the shiny city on the hill anymore regarding leadership and democracy.

I’ll turn to what can be viewed as achievements and opportunities for the Caribbean. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was successful in putting the following items on the agenda: Food security, Finance, and Energy respectively by Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago. It’s telling how the Caribbean was front and center in this Summit. CARICOM managed to be an agenda maker and not the traditional agenda taker. Another achievement is the agreement to launch the Caribbean Partnership for Climate Action (PACC 2030) to address climate change, given the region’s vulnerabilities to natural disasters.

What’s Curaçao going to do?

What’s more, food security, energy, and finance are also important issues for us. Can we afford to remain sidelined and not find a formula to work together with CARICOM? Do we approach the U.S. bilaterally to find a way to coordinate on these issues? What’s Curaçao going to do? Doing nothing is not an option it seems.

Willemstad, Curaçao

De klassenmaatschappij op Curaçao

Mijn 99-jarige koffievriend die iedere dag een hoed draagt, vertelde onlangs dat hij zich kan herinneren dat John F. Kennedy het gesprek van de dag werd door de eerste president te zijn die bij zijn inauguratie in 1961 geen hoed droeg en hierdoor gezorgd heeft voor de teloorgang van de hoed. Deze stelling is niet helemaal correct want de heer Kennedy had wel een hoed in zijn handen op weg naar de inauguratie maar deed deze tijdens de ceremonie niet op, en ook bijna nooit tijdens zijn presidentschap wat inderdaad voor veel consternatie zorgde. Verschillende bronnen betwijfelen of deze mode bewuste president helemaal alleen de hoed heeft laten verdwijnen, maar hij speelde wel een belangrijke rol hierbij.

Ook op ons eiland is in de jaren 60 de hoedenrage verdwenen, maar ik weet niet of er hier ooit schande werd gesproken over het bloothoofd. Op foto’s van straatbeelden vanaf het einde van de 19de eeuw was er bijna geen man op Curaçao te verkennen die geen hoed op had. Politici, directeuren, artsen, praktizijns en bankiers bleken een grote liefde te hebben voor dit hoofddeksel. Hoe hoger de (cilinder)hoed hoe interessanter de drager. Het is ook geen toeval dat een ‘average Joe’ in het Nederlands nog steeds wordt aangeduid als ‘Jan met de Pet’ en geen ‘Jan met de hoed’. De hoed was een statussymbool en scheidde de gewone man van de ‘upper class’.

Gedurende medio jaren 60 is de hoed als statussymbool hier verdwenen. Misschien als bewustwording van de bestaande klassenmaatschappij, slechte arbeidsomstandigheden en oneerlijke beloning zoals elders in de wereld toentertijd. Er kunnen andere redenen zijn voor het verdwijnen van de hoed want ik heb hierover geen onderzoek gedaan. Een aantal foto’s na de opstand van 30 mei 1969 toont een ommekeer aan in het gebruik van hoofddeksel in de lokale politiek: de belangrijkste leiders van de opstand hadden bijna altijd een pet op, ook toen ze bij de Gouverneur waren voor beëdiging. Met uitzondering van het dragen van burlesque “hoeden” door vrouwelijke politica in het Koninkrijk, lijkt het tijdperk van hoeden voorlopig voorbij. De ondergang van de hoed betekende echter niet het verdwijnen van onze bestaande klassenmaatschappij.

In plaats van de hoed zijn er andere statusobjecten gekomen. De ‘gated communities’ die sinds 30 Mei 1969 zijn vervijfvoudigd, luxe wagenparken, opulente religieuze gebouwen, dure horloges, peperdure feestjes, sieraden en ik kan zo doorgaan. De hoed is ingeruild voor andere materiële acquisities.

Ik moet dan ook ongetwijfeld denken aan ’s werelds oudste blogger, de Zweedse Dagny Carlsson, die dit jaar op 109-jarige leeftijd is heen gegaan. Zij groeide na haar 100ste verjaardag uit tot een beroemdheid in de wereld van bloggers. Ik las af en toe haar ‘blogs’ en vond vooral haar motto: ‘niets was vroeger beter dan vandaag’ heel mooi. Bepaalde dingen gaan inderdaad nooit weg, ze veranderen slechts van vorm.

Willemstad, Curaçao

CARICOM turns 49, we watch from the sidelines

CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) is the oldest surviving integration movement in the developing world. It turns 49 this Monday, 4th July 2022. It was built in large measure because of shared history and culture shaped by populations of indigenous Amerindian people, colonization, plantation economy, slavery, and emancipation. Against this background, 20 Caribbean countries decided to unite as members and associate members to build a better and stronger Caribbean.

We’re one of the few exceptions. Once we were CARICOM observers but lost that position due to our lack of interest. In 2005 as Minister of Economic and Labor Affairs, I spoke to Secretary-General Edwin Carrington about investigating the possibilities of associate membership. This caused a stir in the Council of Ministers since some were afraid that building a better relationship with our neighbors would make the Netherlands angry.

This attitude was not just political. See, for years we’ve been brought up with the deeply ingrained notion that the other Caribbean islands were less developed and cultured than us. This attitude has not gone unnoticed by our neighbors. Mr. Carrington very diplomatically told me that he felt that a CARICOM rapprochement by our country could be met with reservation and hesitation by the (associate)members. He suggested talking with (CARICOM-enthusiast) Surname regarding this matter.

Meanwhile, CARICOM has chalked up some impressive achievements. This regional body has strengthened and intensified mutual synergies and functional cooperation as it faces the quickening pace of challenges of nature and global economic shifts.

Whilst some giants in the banking, hardware, and professional services branches here at home are already working closely within the Caribbean context, more official cooperation with CARICOM is not being seriously discussed. Most telling is that these companies know now better than anyone how important regional cooperation is, and how many opportunities pass us by whilst we watch from the sidelines.

Willemstad, Curaçao

The significant impact on our region due to the war in Ukraine

Below, is an abbreviated version of a talk held by Dr. Scott B. MacDonald on June 23, 2022, at a panel discussion hosted by the University of the West Indies. Dr. MacDonald and I currently work with other experts for Global Americans/High-Level Group on Climate Change in the Caribbean.

Introduction

The Russian invasion has continued to shift geopolitics and geoeconomics. The tsunami of economic sanctions leveled against Russia by the West clearly underscores the tearing apart of the global economy, with Russia’s economy increasingly tied to China’s as well as other non-Western countries, like India (a major buyer of discounted Russian crude oil), Iran other non-democratic states, such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Myanmar. 

Though the battlefields of Europe are far removed from the Caribbean, there is an impact, on a region seeking to recover from the harsh economic downturn caused by the COVID pandemic. There are direct and indirect implications, the latter being more profound.

The CARICOM-Russian trade relationship is not significant

According to the International Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS), trade between the Caribbean is under USD billion; among CARICOM members it’s probably below USD 500 million. In terms of imports, Russia ranks 87thwith Jamaica and 99thwith Barbados. Regarding Caribbean country exports to Russia, Russia ranks 98thfor Barbados and 33rdfor Trinidad&Tobago. Ukraine’s trade presence in the Caribbean is even smaller. In terms of foreign direct investments, Russia is a minor player in the Caribbean, with a few exceptions in mining and energy. Rusal (the world’s second-largest aluminum company by output) has holdings in Jamaica and Guyana. Russia’s main economic focus in the Caribbean is Cuba and Venezuela, the former consistently in need of Russian help, and the latter, a play on oil.  

CARICOM’s response to the Russian invasion

CARICOM countries were part of the 141 countries at the United Nations that condemned the Russian invasion in March. Cuba and Nicaragua joined China and India in abstaining. A majority of Caribbean countries also voted to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council, which passed with 93 in favor, 58 abstentions, and 24 against (including Cuba).

A number of Caribbean countries (mainly in the Eastern Caribbean) decided to restrict economic transactions on the part of sanctioned Russian entities or individuals including the suspension of Citizen by Investment programs vis-à-vis Russian and Belarusian applicants. 

The Bahamian Central Bank issued a directive to financial institutions “against doing business with sanctioned persons and entities of Russia and Belarus.”Also, efforts are being taken to help freeze Russian assets. Such efforts are likely to have a negative impact on those sectors in the Caribbean that are involved in offshore financial business activities. 

The indirect impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Caribbean

Whilst the direct impact is minimal, the indirect consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian war are significant. One major area is food security. Prices for food are on the rise, which can be traced back to the role played by Russia, and Ukraine in world food production.

It is not only food. The key to food production is the products that go into making fertilizer. In this, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all play a role. Russia and Ukraine together export 28% of fertilizers made from nitrogen and phosphorous. This puts pressure on food supplies and on food production costs – all of which are inflationary and becoming a problem around the world (consider the June 2022 food price riots in Ecuador).

What it means for the Caribbean

Food security is increasingly a concern. This is particularly worrisome considering the high level of dependence on food imports through the Caribbean. That’s just for food. Oil prices are another major concern. This war has helped push up international oil and natural gas prices. While this benefits fossil-fuel producers, in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad&Tobago, it is a blow to the rest of the region. According to Goldman Sachs, oil prices are expected to average $140 a barrel between July – September 2022, and remain around the $135 a barrel through the second half of 2022 and into 2023.

The economic landscape for Caribbean policymakers is not encouraging

Economic growth has returned for 2022, but will it last? The Russo-Ukrainian War is likely to push Europe into a recession. Considering that Europeans are one of the major markets for Caribbean tourism, this hurts. The inflationary dimensions have prompted the U.S. Federal Reserve, to raise interest rates. For the Caribbean, this means that the U.S. will either experience an economic slowdown or recession, both of which could put a dent into regional tourism. 

Rising interest rates in the U.S. are going to make borrowing more expensive. This constrains the ability of governments to protect the most vulnerable of their populations from food insecurity, building up resilience from the ill effects of climate change, and diversifying their economies away from heavy dependence on tourism to broader blue and orange economy strategies. The Russo-Ukrainian War is one more reason to continue to push in creating an economically more self-reliant Caribbean.

With that in mind, it is worthwhile to conclude with a quote from 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov, “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

Willemstad, Curaçao

Het Haatvirus op Curaçao

Mocht u nog twijfelen, bestaan haat, racisme en discriminatie echt op Curaçao. Na de laatste uitval van een radiopersoon en vader van de Gevolmachtigde minister (GevMin) dat Nazis meer Nederlanders hadden moeten afmaken omdat een Europees Nederlandse journalist zich kritisch had geuit richting zijn zoon, dacht ik: moet ik nu lachen om deze onzin? Maar na de zoveelste haatspraak tegen buitenlanders, de LGBTQ+, Aziaten, Joden, om maar enkelen te noemen, is het lachen me allang vergaan.

Hoe zou vaderlief het hebben gevonden als die jounalist had gesuggereerd dat de bemanning op een van de slavenschepen vanuit Afrika naar ons eiland, de voorouders van de GevMin had moeten omkieperen in de Atlantische Oceaan? Waarschijnlijk hadden dan minder mensen hun schouders opgehaald. Dan zou het een witte aanval zijn geweest op zwarten. Want wat me hier opvalt is dat sommigen ervan uitgaan dat racisme een éenrichtingsverkeer is. Dat is niet het geval. Haatspraak is niet beperkt tot één ras, geslacht of religieuze instelling.

We hebben onszelf jarenlang zoet gehouden met de overtuiging dat er geen haatvirus hier bestaat omdat ” tientallen verschillende nationaliteiten naast elkaar wonen”. Wij zijn dus tolerant is de conclusie.  Fout.  Anti-racist en anti-haatzaaier zijn , betekent niet elkaar tolereren maar in daad en woord strijden opdat iedereen, ongeacht ras, huidskleur, geslacht, religie, sexuele voorkeur of moedertaal, dezelfde rechten en plichten hebben om zichzelf te kunnen zijn.

Menige geïnstitutionaliseerde discriminatie bestaat niet meer. Een van de laatste strijden die moedige mannen en vrouwen hebben gevoerd, is tegen wettelijke discriminatie van vrouwen. Institutionele discriminatie tegen de LGBTQ+ blijft daarentegen bestaan doordat sommige groepen, vooral Christelijke organisaties blijven volharden dat gelijke rechten niet van toepassing zijn op mensen met een bepaalde sexuele geaardheid. We hebben weer moedige mannen en vrouwen, ongeacht hun sexuele voorkeuren, nodig om deze discriminatie tegen te gaan.

Het haatvirus wordt vooral in stand gehouden middels onze hedendaagse taal(gebruik).  Hoe vaak hebben we niet gehoord: “Zij is zwart maar mooi (of intelligent of fijntjes)”.  Benamingen voor groepen zoals kulibedjisabachihouse negro worden nog steeds gebruikt. Hoe vaak hebben wij niet in de kranten gelezen dat de 45 miljoen tellende Yoruba bevolking in Afrika een stam is, maar dat dat woord nooit wordt gebruikt voor Ijsland welke slechts 350,000 zielen telt? Of dat Amharic, een taal die 2000 jaar bestaat, met een eigen alfabet en die door 65 miljoen mensen wordt gesproken, een dialect is?

Ons taalgebruik is bepalend. Weinig mensen zeggen openlijk: ik ben racist of haatzaaier. Maar dat betekent niet dat het klopt. Het haatvirus is te vergelijken met het coronavirus: met het blote oog niet zichtbaar, maar uitermate besmettelijk en onderhevig aan mutaties. We moeten net als het geval van het coronavirus, werken aan het tegengif. Goed letten op ons taalgebruik en dat van onze omgeving. Als het een groep discrimineert of pijn doet, moeten we ermee ophouden. We kunnen niet in het midden blijven, hopend dat dit weer overwaait of het onder het tapijt schuiven. Vroeger of later ontploft er een bom.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Si bo no ta lesa buki ta meskos ku si bo no por lesa ni skibi

Luna pasá den un trein di Haryana pa Uttar Pradesh (India), mi ta ripará sigur 50 hende rònt dimi ta lesa buki. Fasiná, mi ta konsultá despues algun sitio elektróniko i konstatá ku India ta e pais ku mas ta lesa (midí kuantu página ta lesa diariamente) mundialmente.

CBS tampoko tin sifra riba esaki, pero bo ta ripará rònt dibo, speshalmente den salanan di espera (Bentana di Informashon, Imigrashon, Kranshi) no tin hende kasi ta lesa buki.

Lesamentu ta empoderá hende, stimulá pa wak un punto di vários ángulo, amplia konosementu, drecha vokabulario i outografia. Segun a outor Mark Twain: The person who doesn’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.

Serka nos, Biblioteka Nashonal i kuido di e bukinan eiden no ta haña atenshon di hendenan den Fòrti i Staten. E mayoria di nan no ta lesa ni tin lesamentu na pechu. Por ta un sorpresa ora bo tende nan masakrá nos idioma? Por ta un sorpresa ku nèt nan ta kritiká tur ku a invertí den nan mes, a bai skol i tin un título?

Na otro pais lidernan den komunidat manera Obama, Oprah, Bill Gates ta papia di bukinan ku nan ta lesa/rekomendá. Serka nos esei ta deskonosí.

Luna pasá na Sri Lanka, mi a saka potrèt di un biblioteka den un tènt riba e plasa di protesta pa kambio di régimen: Books are the greatest weapon in the People’s Revolution.

Foto: Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mei 2022 (Alex Rosaria)

Kisas mas impaktante ta loke e outor, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai a bisa: Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war.

Mi ta stimulá lesamentu, rekomendando un (1) buki pa luna riba mi ‘blog’.

Willemstad, Kòrsou

The refinery discussion highlights the limitations of our democratic system

I’ve written extensively about the deficiencies in our Western-style democratic system 1,2 which has undergone little reform since trias politica, and the American Revolution of the 18th century. This system mainly calls for elections, multi-party systems, and the separation of political powers. However, it’s built to (practically) only consider the present over the future making it inadequate to develop a satisfactory approach to dealing with future citizens.

This couldn’t be more obvious than the discussions regarding our refinery versus concerns about the future of fossil fuels and the environment. Yesterday an older gentleman who’s in the petrol business told me: we should sacrifice the environment for 10 more years to make sure the refinery reopens. Like him, many argue that Curaçao’s largest pollution source contributes little to the global climate problem. True. Like many also, we fail to realize that as a small island it will not take much for our lives to dramatically change due to climate.

Don’t get me wrong. Compared to other forms of government, democracy is still the best way to hold rulers accountable. But, the fact that our decision-makers consider the present, neglecting long-term environmental concerns, and issues such as genetic manipulation, changes in agriculture & livestock, and population decrease, compromises the choices of future citizens. 

The future of those too young to vote or who are not yet born has never been on the agenda of those in power today. We could say: “when those (future) kids are grown up, they can get elected and change things”. The problem is that the effects of the decisions today may be irreversible and the damage has already been done.

There are no simple solutions, but we could stop magnifying our own needs compared to those of future citizens. We need new institutions, and devices such as independent long-term planning bureaux, and think tanks. Also, democracy must be more inclusive. Foreigners with permanent residence in Curaçao must be able to vote. They’re bound by our laws but don’t have a say. This is unfair. We could also think of lowering the voting age to 16 years.

Willemstad, Curaçao

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We’re moving backward on key equal rights principles

A huge reversal is taking place in the four corners of the world on key equal rights. If the current trend continues, it could take generations just to be where we were before moving backward.

In Turkmenistan, the new president just enacted a law making it a crime for women to have beauty enhancements done to their bodies. In fact, last month security forces raided a restaurant forcing women to uncover their faces to check if their lips or other parts have been treated with botox. The new law is based on an ancient local custom, Adat, which essentially says that women should stay home and have children. Female fertility has been declining in Turkmenistan and it’s being blamed on girls who focus on beauty.

At home in Curaçao, the Christian churches, including Catholics are pushing their extremist agenda against equal rights for LGBTQ even after the independent Court ruled that the prohibition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. The churches launched a despicable attack disqualifying the then President-designate of our Common Court based on his assumed sexual preference. In their perverseness, they didn’t care about the damage inflicted on our administration of justice and rule of law. Yet, Fòrti has the backs of these churches, apparently as long as the money keeps flowing.

In the U.S. another attack on women’s rights to choose is being played out with the probable reversal of Roe v. Wade, which protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. If history is our witness, women will not stop having abortions. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, women will be stopped from having safe abortions.

How long will our brothers and sisters have to suffer while we stand aside and look? Perhaps we’ll jump into action the moment our own rights are trampled? Maybe we should realize that the time for justice and equality is not tomorrow, not in 100 years, but always today.

New York City, U.S.A.

Referèndum sin un lei di referèndum ta garantia pa desaster

Figurabo koriendo bo outo riba un kaminda ku hopi bògt, awa ta kai, zeta plamá riba asfalt, pero bo ta primi gas ta bai. Ta riba e ruta ei nos ta ku tur e gritunan pa referèndum siendo ku no tin un lei di referèndum. Tene un refèndum sin un tal lei ta hasi e choke inevitabel.

Pakiko mester di un lei si ya nos a tene referèndum sin un lei spesífiko? Mi ta menshoná tres (3) motibu.

Pasombra ta importante sa kuantu hende tin ku vota pa esaki tin bálides. E mester ta 10%, 30%, òf mas ku 50%? E islanan di BES si tin un lei al respekto. P’esei e referèndum di 2014 na Statia no tabata bálido, pasombra solamente 45% di esnan ku derechi a bai vota. Na Kòrsou no tin klaridat.

Pasombra nos mester sa na ki momento un opshon ta gana, spesialmente si ta trata un kambio konstitushonal. Ku 50,01%? Òf 66.7%? 75%? Mayoria pais tin esaki debidamente determiná. Na Nevis 62% di poblashon a vota pa sali for di federashon di St Kitts and Nevis, pero lei ta bisa ku pa kambio konstitushonal mester di 66.7%.

Tambe ta importante determiná si nos ke pa un referèndum riba kambio konstitushonal ta obligatorio (bindend) òf no-obligatorio. Obligatorio ta nifiká ku polítikonan mester ehekutá e resultado. No-obligatorio kier men ku ta e polítikonan ta disidí si ta ehekutá e deseo di pueblo, òf no.

Nos a yega di tin referèndum kaba. Realmente nos lo ke bolbe purba nos suèrte sin transparensha ku asta a kondusí na hendenan ku a bisa ku e último tabata froudulento? Ta parse ku nos ta preferá grita referèndum pa loko sin sikiera pensa kon legalmente ta e mihó manera pa organisé. Kisas ta esei ta e intenshon. No bin ku regla ya ora ‘nan opshon’ no gana, hasi ko’i shouru i sembra mas divishon.

New York City, USA

China is dealt a major blow by very small islands in the Pacific: Hopefully, we’re paying attention

The PAR/MAN Administration presented the Chinese Communist Party’s representatives as the saviors of our economy

I’ve written before about the new Cold War in the Caribbean between the U.S. and China. Lesser known is a similar Cold War thousands of miles away in the Pacific between, again, the U.S. and China. The reason for mentioning the Pacific is that this week something remarkable happened that caused China a major embarrassment.

China offered some Pacific Islands including Fiji, Kiribati, Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu millions of dollars in assistance and loans and a free trade agreement. In exchange, Beijing would train their police forces, provide cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water. The contents of this ‘security pact’ that normally are strictly confidential, became known because they were leaked.

In a 9th inning effort, the Chinese President tried to convince these islands that: “China will be a good brother”.

The Chinese Foreign Minister who was present in Fiji for a virtual meeting with the region thought this was a done deal. Yet, in the end, the small Pacific Islands rejected China’s offer because of concern with ‘China’s brotherly love.’, and a plain lack of confidence in Beijing. What happened this week is a major blow to China which assumed it could continue to overrun (small) developing nations with its wallet diplomacy.

Hopefully, we can learn from our Pacific Island politicians who rejected Beijing’s imperialistic diplomacy.

Unfortunately, China’s servants in Curaçao are still trying to convince us to go into business with Beijing. Remember the CEOs of major local State Companies toasting champagne with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) representatives (see picture)? Let’s not forget that those representatives are still on our island and have the ear of many a politician.

Chennai, India