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Fifty Year Statuut - May 30th, 1969

Dr. Nilda Arduin, 2004

Documenting our experiences and passing them on to future generations as lessons learned from the past are essential instruments for the development of any society. Documenting without cherishing and heeding the lessons learned, and structurally passing these on through the generations by means of making our history available to the larger public, and making it an essential part of our educational system, would make any documentation a mute exercise.

The experiences of May 30th, 1969 in Curacao, fifteen years after the enactment of the kingdom Charter: What have we learned, corrected and implemented after yet another thirty five years of "Het Statuut"? Did we build on to fill the glass that was half full in 1969, or did we since then reverse any progress made?

The official report dated May 1970, commissioned by the government of the Netherlands Antilles, pertaining to the circumstances leading to, and the causes of the riots on May 30th, 1969 in Curacao ("De Meidagen van Curaçao") outlines and discusses the social bottlenecks on Curacao, and by extension the social climate within the Netherlands Antilles at the time.

The Commission, initially chaired by Dr. A. Paula, and for reasons which warrant a chapter on its own later chaired by Drs. R.A.Römer, concluded that there were no premeditated intentions for massive arson and looting, or tumbling of the Federal government. And though racial tensions were rampant in the Caribbean, according to the Commission the racial issue did not play the main role in the events of May 30th.

The labor dispute at the main contracting company within the Shell, Wescar, while being the immediate reason for the pertinent events, are considered to be only the climax of several labor disputes in the preceding months. The deeper causes of the events according to the report were: the wage differences between the oil-industry and other private sectors; increased unemployment and increased differences in level of prosperity within the community; poor social provisions; dissatisfaction among the youth and young intellectuals; poor police work and too early involvement of military assistance during the riots; loss of control by the union leaders on the masses.

To learn more about specific developments on Sint Maarten, we should all look towards "The Friendly Anger - The Rise of the Labor Movement in Sint Maarten" by Joseph H. Lake Jr., to be launched next month on Sint Maarten. I congratulate Mr. Lake with this work of thirty years.

Various recommendations were made in the abovementioned report pertaining to Police authority and organization; Government; the Socio-economic development; Labor relations and Labor laws; Social Welfare; proper representation of the Afro population in government functions; as well as better control pertaining to the sales of land.

Fifty Years "Statuut", and thirty five years commemorating of the Mayday events warrant in-depth reflection on the progress made, or not made, within our societies. Re-evaluation of the 1969 Maydays may even be required, when we compare the climate within the Netherlands Antilles then and now.

Were the recommendations of the Commission followed? And what were the results? What did we do wrong, or failed to achieve in the passed thirty five years, that today the second Godett-Cabinet, formed by the offsprings of the then main union leader, Wilson "Papa" Godett, fell? Considering that some of the main players on both Federal and Island level in Curacao today were part of the group of young and energetic intellectuals at the time, I wonder which are the choices and decisions that we did not, or dared not make.

Our ambivalent attitude towards Holland did not change over the years! As the authors of the report put it: "We would like to be a Caribbean nation and politically acknowledged by our South-American neighbors, however without Caribbean and South-American circumstances." Meaning, that we want political acceptance and equality within the region, but socio-economic superiority in comparison to our neighbors.

Our continued desire to maintain European standards compels us to hold on to our European heritage, afraid that on our own we are doomed to fail. What did we do over the passed thirty five years towards our desire to be incorporated in the league of Caribbean nations, and at the same time develop that what is needed to make it on our own?

If we did not prepare, nor dared to make our own choices, the least we can do now is to involve the youth and provide them the knowledge and tools needed to move our nations to the next stage. Innovations in education: Do they include a curriculum with Antillean, Caribbean and South-American history, culture and social science? Are our youths provided adequate opportunities to develop social skills, debating techniques, analytical and independent thinking?

Which are the strategies incorporated in our education system to ensure that the "master-slave mentalities", rooted in our attitudes - evident in our lack of acceptance of responsibility while holding on to the blame game -, are permanently eradicated? Our vocabulary is testimony to this, for example when we drop a cup, we still say that "the cup fell", blaming it on the cup, instead of saying: "I dropped the cup". First we have to take courage and acknowledge that this is indeed a reality within our Antillean community. Failure to do so will continue to hamper our progress. A change in our attitudes is imperative!

The textbooks through our generations did not include a conscious development of above mentioned abilities, nor was a change of attitudes structurally promoted, the contrary. When and how were the descendants of the enslaved Africans, who had no civil rights back then and up to 1948 no general voting rights, made consciously aware of the fact that they are indeed free and equal to the descendants of the slave masters of the past? Hence, the expressions of inequality and subtle discrimination within our societies.

What was strategically done to eradicate or narrow the social-economic boundaries of the past? The riots of May 1969 were, as we have learned, not primarily racially motivated, but increased differences in the level of prosperity within the community proved to be an important cause. What are we doing today about it, when chances are that these differences will yet increase in this age of globalization?

Fifty Years "Statuut" and thirty five years after the 1969 Maydays: Are we prepared to accept full responsibility for our actions and institutions as provided for in art. 43 sub 1 of the Charter, i.e. taking care of and ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms, legal security and good governance? Or will we continue to look towards our European partner to guarantee mentioned rights, freedoms, security and good governance as stated in sub 2 of said article as in a principal-client relation? We need to make clear choices with long term results in mind.