12 October 2010

Mixed Emotions at very last Antillean Parliament meeting

Dismantling of Five-Island Autonomous Country Complete

by Suzanne Koelega
Daily Herald
Sint Maarten

Monday, 11 October 2010 00:03 .WILLEMSTAD--Feelings of joy and sadness blended at the last meeting of the Antillean Parliament in Willemstad on Saturday morning. Some speakers said they felt the pain of saying goodbye to Country the Netherlands Antilles, while others were happy to enter a new era with the new Countries Curaçao and St. Maarten.

In her last public speech as Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles, Emily de Jongh-Elhage spoke of five stars going their own way and five new stars being born. She and several other speakers said saying goodbye to Country the Netherlands Antilles was hard.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima attended the last meeting of the Antillean Parliament, as well as Aruba's Governor Fredis Refunjol and Prime Minister Mike Eman, Dutch caretaker Minister of Defence Eimert van Middelkoop, State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten, Chairpersons of the Dutch First and Second Chambers René van der Linden and Gerdi Verbeet, and Chairpersons of the Permanent Committees of Antillean and Aruban Affairs of the First and Second Chambers Marijke Linthorst and Willibrord van Beek.

"Saying farewell is not easy and we will miss each other," said De Jongh-Elhage, who added that the fact that the Netherlands Antilles would cease to exist Saturday midnight would "touch many of us deeply," as it ended an era of being together under one constitutional entity.

"The Netherlands Antilles will cease to exist and a new future will start for Curaçao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. I wish all the citizens of each of the five islands a wonderful future and I am convinced our friendship will never cease to exist and we will keep sustaining each other based on mutual understanding," De Jongh-Elhage said.

Member of Parliament (MP) Glenn Sulvaran of Curaçao's PAR party said saying goodbye was always hard, especially because the islands had been through so much together, taking decisions in the Antillean Parliament. "We wipe off a tear today. Thank you, Netherlands Antilles, for everything that you have done for us," he said. He said there was also a reason for joy with the birth of Countries Curaçao and St. Maarten.

MP Ramonsito Booi created a light moment in the solemn meeting when he gave a spin to the new constitutional status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as so-called "public entities" of the Netherlands. He said that actually the Netherlands was becoming part of the Dutch Caribbean, with Kralendijk as the new capital of the Netherlands.

In a more serious tone, Booi said the people of Bonaire weren't and didn't want to be "parasites" living off the good facilities of the rich Netherlands. "We want to work hard to grow and develop," he said.

Eunice Eisden of Curaçao's MAN party said saying goodbye didn't have to hurt. "Country Curaçao marks a new step in the emancipation process of our people. It is a new chance to create our future," she said, wishing the other islands also much success in their endeavours.

Helmin Wiels of Curaçao's Pueblo Soberano party referred to the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles and the launching of Country Curaçao as "closing one cycle to start another one." He said his party would continue the struggle to reach "the ultimate cycle," independence.

Long-serving MP Faroe Metry of Curaçao's PNP party said the Antillean Parliament hadn't made much use of the right of amendment, to revise draft legislation. He called on the Parliaments of the new Countries Curaçao and St. Maarten not to "rubberstamp" anything and to be critical.

Carlos Monk of Curaçao's Niun Paso Atras party passionately called for Curaçao's independence and almost shouted when he said that freedom of the people was a sacred right. Many in the audience didn't appreciate his manner and many abstained from clapping when he finished his speech.

Gerrit Schotte captured the atmosphere in Parliament well by stating that Saturday was "a day with many emotions." He said he was looking forward to the next day, when Curaçao would be a country. He said the islands were splitting up, but the solid ties remained. Schotte called for closer social and cultural ties between the three Dutch Caribbean countries Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten. He suggested establishing representatives on each other's islands in the form of a Curaçao House and St. Maarten House.

Representatives of the Windward Islands who were supposed to address the gathering, Members of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel of the National Alliance St. Maarten, Will Johnson of WIPM Saba and Reginald Zaandam, an independent MP from St. Eustatius, were absent. No reason was given for their absence.

Before officially closing the last meeting, Parliament Chairman Pedro Atacho gave a short overview of the history of the Antillean Parliament and mentioned the names of all MPs of the last Parliament. He wished all entities Godspeed, after which the Antillean anthem was played, with many in the audience softly singing along.