Sunday, 12 September 2004

The Bonaire referendum

On Friday, during the aftermath of hurricane Ivan, Bonaire went to the polls. The island council organized a referendum about the future status of the Papiamento-speaking island with 13,300 inhabitants. Bonaire is still part of the federal Netherlands Antilles, together with Curaçao, the Dutch part of Saint Martin (Sint-Maarten), Sint-Eustatius and Saba. Aruba left the federation in 1986 to become a separate part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (status aparte). Sint-Maarten voted for status aparte in 2000, but this still has to be implemented.

The options were:

  • A: Status quo (Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles including Bonaire, and Aruba)
  • B: Direct relationship with the Netherlands (to be negotiated, maybe with municipality or province status)
  • C: Autonomous state in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (status aparte, like Aruba and Sint-Maarten)
  • D: Independence

Option D got almost no votes. The island is obviously too small to deal with all of its affairs on its own. Only 16% preferred the status quo. More than 84% voted for the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles (59% for option B and 25% for option C). The difference between the two of them is the difference between e.g. French Polynesia and French Guiana. The former has its own government and laws and is no part of the European Union, while the latter is considered part of France and the European Union and hence all French and European laws apply in the territory.

Later this year, Saba and Sint-Eustatius get the same referendum. It is to be expected they also choose option B. The result is that when Curaçao citizens have their referendum early 2005, the federation of the Netherlands Antilles is already doomed. Their options will be C or D and the outcome will most likely be option C. That means that in 2006 or 2007 the Kingdom of the Netherlands will be restructured: 4 constituting states (the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint-Maarten), while the smaller islands Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius and Saba will have direct ties with the continental Netherlands. Aruba, Curaçao and Sint-Maarten will have to choose between the EU status of Overseas Territories or Extremely Remote Areas. The latter option will mean they have to integrate in the European Union and adopt European regulations and the euro.

The reason for the disintegration of the Antilles is the fact that Curaçao is having more than half of the population and that Curaçao politicians are not interested in the other islands. With Aruba, the other four islands could balance the influence of Curaçao politicians on the federal policy, but since Aruba left in 1986, there is a general feeling the Curaçao corruption (e.g. former Justice Minister Ben Komproe and FOL Leader Anthony Goddett, two of the most influential Curaçao politicians) and mismanagement is dragging the rest of the islands further down. The Northern Windward Islands (Sint-Maarten, Saba and Sint-Eustatius) are English-speaking, while Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire have Papiamento (a Spanish Creole language) as the main vernacular language. Willemstad seems a long way for the other islands, almost as far as The Hague. But whatever happens next, Curaçao needs to clean up its political caste, in order to function as a modern state.

PS: Also the French Antilles will see political changes. Although Guadeloupe and Martinique voted in December 2003 to not merge the regional and departemental councils, the island Saint Barths (Saint-Barthélemy) and the French part of Saint Martin (now both communes of Guadeloupe) voted in the same referendum to constitute separate collectivités territoriales. They will get their own administration, directly under the French republic and they will have the same status as Mayotte and Saint-Pierre & Miquelon.


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