Burofocus Consulting Bureau

Presentation: Roundtable discussion on decolonization Sint Maarten

Date: 19 April 2022
By: Dr. R.J. A. (Nilda) Arduin

My position: Whatever terms applied to establish formal decolonization of the Netherlands Antilles, Sint Maarten is far from being de facto decolonized. (This also applies to the other Dutch Caribbean partners of the Kingdom). Creating a new instrument to organize contemporary Kingdom relations as part of the decolonization process should not be dismissed.

My approach to the decolonization process is from the viewpoint of “transform and inform”. Collective consciousness of the state of Sint Maarten anno 2022 is pivotal to successfully initiate an approach to amending the Charter. I advocate and draw attention to the need for clarity and inclusiveness -initiated by Sint Maarten- in the process of de facto decolonization in order to move forward sustainably.

The creation of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Charter anno 2022

rticle 5 (Charter) provides that the organs of the Kingdom referred to in the Charter, and the exercise of royal and legislative power in Kingdom affairs shall be governed, if not provided for by the Charter, by the Constitution of the Kingdom (read: The Netherlands). In this regard I truly appreciate the outline provided by Prof. Hoogers regarding the Constitution of the Netherlands vs the Charter.

Note: According to the first Constitution for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, dating back to 1814 when the Netherlands regained its independence and became a monarchy, the Dutch Kingdom encompassed the Netherlands and a few colonies and assets of the State (‘volksplantingen en bezittingen van het rijk’).

The colonies (‘volksplantingen’) were the colonists. Slavery was still in force; enslaved Africans were also assets. It was not until 1922 that the Constitution included not only the European territory, but also Indonesia, Suriname and Curaçao (and its dependencies). Holland, the motherland, had an obligation towards her people (the colonists) stationed in the overseas territories.

I like to implore that as we discuss the way forward, to recognize the importance and need to place the procedures and documents to be discussed in the social-political environment of the pertinent time. Laws organize relationships between people and are not mere academic exercises about systems and forms.

The pertinent institutions in the Caribbean territories at the time obtained limited powers to regulate their internal affairs. Bear in mind that the authority of the Governor, representing the motherland, assisted by the Executive and Colonial Councils (represented by high ranking Dutch civil servants and the elites) were the norm. Note: the term ‘Motherland’ as being the place of origin of the colonists, to be distinguished from the term ‘imperial home country’, the empire state.

I furthermore observe the relevance of the environment of global decolonization, which lies at the cradle of the Charter, to understand Sint Maarten’s position within the Dutch Kingdom today and moving forward. Though the European powers (including the Netherlands) were initially determined to preserve colonial rule after World War II, they lacked the wealth and political support necessary to suppress far-away revolts. The Cold War led the U.S. to focus on strengthening their European Allies against the perils of Soviet invasion and domestic communism. Indonesian nationalists' role in crushing communist activities encouraged the United States efforts to pressure the Dutch to leave the territory. This period of decolonization fundamentally reshaped the world.

The developments as a result of the historic speech in 1942 of Queen Wilhelmina (in exile in London), announcing a Kingdom by which the Netherlands was seeking to further strengthen ties with their largest colony, Indonesia, are not to be dismissed. However, the Netherlands could no longer play its former role after the war. In 1947 (August 17) the Republik Indonesia declared itself independent from the Netherlands (after the Japanese occupation of 1942-1945).

Left with the Caribbean colonies to deal with:

1948 the State regulation (‘Staatsregeling’) was enacted.

I care to point out that the State regulation introduced general suffrage to include the descendants of the former enslaved Africans, and as such observe that this group of the population was not (duly and directly) represented during deliberations leading up to the enactment of the Charter.

1950 birthed the Interim Regulation Netherlands Antilles, a prelude to the Charter, including the right of self-determination for the islands, further outlined in the Island Regulation (‘ERNA’). 1954 enactment Charter. The Kingdom of the Netherlands fostered a system of free association with its former colonies through the Charter, marked by a democratic deficit in decision making within the realm, or a lack of democratic legitimacy, interestingly noted and argued by my fellow panelist, Mr. Romney.

Be reminded that thus far the colonial administration was in the interest and in the hands of the descendants of the colonists and newcomers from the Netherlands and others, such as Jews, Portuguese, Libanese, Venezueleans as a result of the oil refinery in Curacao.

Even so, I observe that there was no formal preparation to assume government responsibilities, no institutions of higher education. Whether the new order represented a Unitary or Federal state, or a state Juris Sui Generis, eloquently outlined by panelist Mr. Groeneveldt, was not relevant at the time. Patronage was the system of the day and continued thereafter. Subsequent Administrations governed by way of do what you have seen.

One of the effects of decolonization is the instability of the post-colonial political systems, with far-reaching consequences such as deep economic problems, inhibiting growth and widening disparities between the northern and southern part of the globe. Conditional aid arrangements, Dutch paternalistic role and poor accountability structures increased power imbalances within the Kingdom.

Dismantling the Netherlands Antilles in 2010 has been one of the most radical changes of the Charter for the islands since its enactment in 1954. Until 2010 Sint Maarten had no direct representation and deliberations with the imperial home country regarding the trans-Atlantic relationship, other than utilizing its right of self-determination to acquire an autonomous status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The adage “Standing on our own with the will to support each other” became a reality for Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten became responsible and accountable for making decisions, as well as executing and living up to them.

The period 2010-2022 is marked by internal challenges, compounded by negotiations in the aftermath of unfortunate external events like the hurricanes of 2017 and the global pandemic, which negatively impacted the relationship between Sint Maarten and the Netherlands.

In closing I remark that inasmuch as it is questionable whether removal of the Netherlands Antilles from the United Nations’ list of Non-Self-Governing Territories is justified, the power imbalance within the Kingdom is undeniable when it comes to decision making about the autonomous countries within the realm. The method to deal with this cannot be just proportionate (98% vs 2% territory, population, human capacity etc), but needs to be comprehensively addressed. A reality check of the socio-political evolution within the territory since the enactment of the Charter is required to renegotiate and adjust the current Kingdom relations and collaboration in order not to impede future generations. Creating a new instrument to organize contemporary Kingdom relations as part of the decolonization process should be an option!