ST. EUSTATIUS–The Community Centre was filled to capacity as Statians came out in numbers to discuss the pros and cons of the island’s current constitutional status.
The recently held constitutional seminar (July 9) organised by Brighter Path Foundation featured Carlyle Corbin, former minister of state for External Affairs of the US Virgin Islands, and an expert on decolonisation and people’s right to selfdetermination. He has two decades of experience as a United Nations’ expert on these subjects. He was joined on the seminar’s panel by Commissioner Koos Sneek and Island Council members Millicent Lijfrock-Marsdin and Reginald Zaandam of Statia; Benito Dirksz and Jeffrey Levenstone from Bonaire and Ishmael Levenstone of Saba; also, Director of the St. Eustatius and Saba Chamber of Commerce and Industry Carlyle Tearr and legal experts Anthony Nicolaas from Bonaire and Denicio Brison from St. Maarten. Moderators were Brighter Path founding members Xiomara Balentina and Lynette Anson. Island Governor Gerald Berkel, Commissioner Glenville Schmidt and Island Council members Franklin Brown, Reuben Merkman and Adelka Spanner were in the audience.
Many Statians are concerned about the island’s current status as “special entity” of The Netherlands. Not only is its present status not what the population voted for in the 2005 referendum, but many people also feel that it has turned out very different from what they expected. In addition, the Dutch government wants to go ahead with changing the Constitution according to these lines.
Brighter Path Foundation organised this seminar to increase public awareness of the constitutional changes as they relate to Statia. Since Bonaire and Saba are in the same situation, the foundation believed discussions would benefit from the input from these islands as well.
Corbin explained the UN’s views on the implementation of the right to self-determination. The three recognised models are full independence, self-governance (including free association with another state) and full integration into the (formerly) controlling country. As a UN member state, The Netherlands has legally committed itself to developing self-governance in all territories under its control including Statia. This means that the island’s population has to be able to freely determine its political status. However, Corbin stated the UN had already taken the former Netherlands Antilles off the list of territories awaiting self- determination as they were considered to have obtained autonomy since the implementation of Statute of 1954.
Many Statians feel they did not have any say in the island’s current constitutional status, and the issue of a new referendum came up frequently during the discussion. It was repeatedly suggested that a signature drive could convince the Island Council to organise a referendum. Questioned about this Council Members Lijfrock- Marsdin and Zaandam said they were both in favour of a new referendum.
Corbin said that for a new referendum to carry any weight, a clear definition of the options had to be presented to voters, including what integration would mean. “Would it be full integration (as in the French model) or partial integration (as in the current model),” Corbin explained.
Dirksz said it seemed that the Dutch government only had two options on offer: autonomy or becoming a Dutch municipality. Commissioner Sneek said there was no alternative to Statia’s current status. “This is what we have to work with,” he said. However, when someone in the audience asked the room during the lively and animated discussion if they were happy with the existing status, the answer was a resounding “no.”
Balentina said that followup events and activities are being developed “to ensure that the population of Statia can make an informed decision about their constitutional future.”