It isn’t really a festive celebration, the anniversary of the new countries Curaçao and St. Maarten, which became autonomous countries within the Kingdom on October 10, 2010. Poverty has increased enormously, as well as the crime rate. The world of organised crime seems to have taken over the government by buying votes and bribing politicians. In a very short period, the governments of Curaçao and St. Maarten have fallen and nobody exactly knows why.
Last April, all political parties in the Dutch parliament voted in favour of a motion tabled by my VVD-colleague André Bosman and me calling for an investigation into the relationship between the criminal underworld and the legitimate society. That investigation mainly focuses on the relationship between politics and the (illegal) gambling industry where a lot of money is being laundered, possibly with involvement of Dutch companies.
Curaçao and St. Maarten are beautiful islands, populated by beautiful people. The visitor quickly falls in love with the colourful culture and their friendly people. Upon getting a better understanding of the islands, one soon finds a different world: while many people are living in deep poverty, many foreigners are enjoying their tax-free wealth.
The islands are overrun by accountants and tax specialists, and have special economic zones and special duty-free rules. With an (illegal) gamble-industry that is disproportionate to the number of tourists. The financial infrastructure is not only used by multinational companies, but also by international criminals who like to launder their dirty money here.
Some of this dirty money also flows to the legitimate society and to politics. Theo Heyliger, St. Maarten’s most important politician, in the past seemed to have three million US Dollars available for elections, which is approximately US $150 per voter.
Gerrit Schotte, the first Prime Minister of autonomous Curaçao, is at this moment in Court for allegedly taking money from St. Maarten casino boss Francesco Corallo.
Critics who point out the connection between underworld and upper world, like the St. Maarten blogger Judith Roumou are being arrested and intimidated.
The popular politician Helmin Wiels on Curaçao, who in May 2013 announced that he wanted to deal with the underworld, was killed shortly thereafter. The question who ordered his murder is still under investigation.
In the corridors of the Dutch Parliament many conversations about the islands end with a sigh: “If only we could get rid of them.” Fact is that we can’t. As long as Curaçao and St. Maarten, and the same goes for Aruba, are part of the Kingdom, we are still responsible for good governance, and it is our task to tackle serious injustices.
I don’t want to get rid of the Islands. We can’t leave the people on the islands in the hands of the big criminals. In 2010 a vast majority in the Dutch Parliament ignored the warning by the Socialist Party that the islands weren’t ready for autonomy. Now we still have to get into action with a criminal investigation that puts our political relation under pressure.
Next week Wednesday, the Second Chamber will discuss the 2016 budget for Kingdom Relations. Parties can only come to the conclusion that the situation is worse than ever. That all the laws we made haven’t prevented that the underworld got the upper hand. That all the money we invested hasn’t made a difference and didn’t give ordinary people much hope for a better future.
The criminal investigation has led to predictable reactions: some politicians on the islands accuse the Netherlands of new colonialism. However, I tend to believe that it is the underworld which colonised the Antilles. Many people on the islands tell me that the actions of the Netherlands give them some hope. Some hope that the extensive criminal world that holds their islands hostage is finally put to a stop.
Ronald van Raak
Member of the Dutch Parliament for the Socialist Party SP