We recently wrote about the lack of international solidarity during the coronacrisis. When it comes to Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Saba, Sint-Eustatius, and Bonaire, solidarity is also hard to find. The consequences of decades of neo-colonial policy are mounting rapidly, especially in these times of crisis.
When it comes to the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, the Dutch state has not taken up its responsibility for decades. Although according to Minister Knops (Kingdom Relations), the islands can count on support during the outbreak of the coronavirus, according to the Socialist Party and the VVD, this shouldn’t simply happen without consequences. The VVD even wants to supervise the budgets of Sint Maarten, Curaçao, and Aruba for the next 10 years in exchange for humanitarian support. These islands have been autonomous countries within the Kingdom since 2010, supposedly equal to the Netherlands. This proposal is an attempt to further reduce the autonomy of the islands. In other words: neo-colonial influence in exchange for emergency aid.
It is another big blow to the islands. Despite the fact they are all still part of the Kingdom and that, according to the agreements made, they must be able to count on help from an equal position, the Netherlands continues to ignore its responsibilities. Especially when it comes to Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius, and Saba, which have been special municipalities within the Netherlands since 2010. Prices on the islands have risen enormously since the transition to this status, but social provisions, such as child benefit and retirement funds, have not grown sufficiently with this trend. This causes poverty to be a regular sight, especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly.
The impact of the virus
In the meantime, the Dutch state has promised several dozen intensive care beds across the six islands, which should be delivered in mid-April. However, the situation on Sint Maarten, for example, can’t wait for much longer. The country is still picking itself up after the disaster with Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has received only a fraction of the pledged financial support. The number of confirmed infections on the island is now increasing, while the capacity in the intensive care unit, despite recent expansions, still only consists of a handful of beds.
The existing beds are often mostly occupied by regular patients under normal circumstances. Sint Maarten’s capacity is also shared with Saba and Sint-Eustatius, who hardly have their own healthcare-system. The first infections have recently been detected on St. Eustatius.
Aruba and Curaçao are also feeling the consequences of the outbreak. Aruba, where dozens of people have already been infected, is even counted as one of the countries most affected. This is because more than 80% of the Aruban economy runs on tourism, a sector that is now completely shutting down. On Curaçao, thousands of jobs in the tourism sector are at risk as well due to the quarantine measures. No infections occurred on Bonaire so far, but the economic consequences are felt there as well.
In addition, the various countries in South America, with whom the islands usually uphold partnerships with regard to healthcare, are closing their borders. The Dutch state does not take sufficient consideration for the unique vulnerability of closed islands, especially in a world with increasingly more closed borders.
Minister Knops said that, despite the agreements regarding mutual aid mentioned earlier, the islands don’t have to expect any free donations from the Netherlands. However, due to the large-scale financial impact of the coronavirus in the area, especially within the tourism-sector, financial aid is urgently needed. This automatically pushes the countries in the direction of a loan agreement with the Netherlands, because of the agreements made, they cannot seek help elsewhere without interference from the Dutch state. The rules state that such measures can only be taken if the majority of the Kingdom Council of Ministers agrees. This council consists of ministers from Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands. However, the latter has the largest representation and therefore the most control.
Providing the necessary loans will make the islands even more (financially) dependent on the Dutch government. Once again, a targeted blow to the autonomy of the countries, which have never really been able to count on decent, full support from the Dutch state since the brutal colonization. Recent history mainly consists of such practices. For example, the Netherlands made similar demands in exchange for emergency aid to Sint Maarten after the destruction of Hurricane Irma, and despite the serious financial consequences of the crisis in Venezuela, Curaçao is forced to make further financial cuts, at the expense of, among other things, social services.
It is about time that the islands are actually regarder as equal with the Dutch state. There is still an unequal situation where autonomous countries do not have enough of a say when it comes to policy choices, laws and regulations that concern them. The Caribbean part of the Netherlands needs to be a lot more involved in decision-making on issues that affect society and its inhabitants.
Especially now, in times of crisis, it is extremely important to show solidarity. The Dutch government must immediately take up its responsibilities within the Kingdom and offer a helping hand to the islands, which are being hit hard by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
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