The poison of fake news

You’ll never understand the pain of being at the opposite end of fake news until you are the one feeling it. Too many people have personally suffered or had their lives shattered by fake news. Few months before the election in 2016 a local morning paper quoted me in a made-up story saying that my opponent won thanks to corruption. Since the election was months away this was a deliberate lie. When I confronted the newspaper I was told, “it’s normal for writers to be creative when trying to make a point. No biggie”. Not only was I severely criticized, but my opponents greedily used this item during the campaign.

Fake news is not new. Pheme, the Greek Goddess of false news, was described as having multiple tongues and destabilizing those seduced by her trumpet thousands of years ago (see photo). I get that exaggeration and errors are inevitable in journalism, but fake news is something else -and much more dangerous: it is the spread of deliberate misinformation or fabricated stories with the intent to gain financially, politically or in popularity.

The bigger danger of fake news is when people act on misinformation. Hannah Arendt, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” asserted, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi [..], but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction no longer exists.” Fake news has pointed out a major flaw of our democracy: it is unsuccessful in guaranteeing good governments since it is subject to the irrationality which fake news today exploits. I have argued before that the time has come to evaluate our Western-style democracy which has not been reviewed since it inspired the French Revolution in the 18th century. Paradoxically the internet’s democratization of news outlets has proven a danger to democracy. People don’t really believe what they’re reading in the mainstream media, so they’re even more prone to want to believe other things that people are spreading.

Fake news is like poison that is injected in small doses. It undermines the very fundamentals of a democratic society. So how do we stop it? A handful of countries are in the process of preparing legalization to curb this. One difficulty they face is to come up with a consistent definition of fake news. The second important difficulty is deciding who is going to implement such laws. Governments? Mainstream media? Why trust them if they themselves are sometimes part of the fake news problem? A more viable alternative seems to be independent fact-checking organisations to fight the problem. But maybe the most durable solution is to educate people how to pick up and understand what is fake.

I do not have a silver bullet. I do not think anyone does. What I do suggest is for us to have a national conversation on this matter. Sooner rather than later. Our peace of mind and democracy depend on it.



The devil is in the details

The devil is in the details. Everyday it becomes more evident that local politicians who sold the Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE) project as a celestial answer to the economic standstill we’ve been confronting for some decades, were blindsided by naïveté and even, I suspect, an unhealthy dose of self-interest. News this week about a decision of the Hong Kong High court followed by a ‘by the book’ PR to defend the Chinese ‘noble’ intentions in Curaçao, is no surprise.

According to a trusted source in Singapore, Titan Petrochemicals which is owned by GZE, announced recently that GZE has been ordered for winding up by the Hong Kong High Court. It seems these proceedings were started in 2016 in the Hong Kong Court of First Instance. In an official statement released on 27 September, 2017 Titan recognizes that: “the order of winding up of GZE may have material adverse impact on [Titan] and that it is seeking legal advise and further evaluation [..]”. Titan, a Hong Kong listed company with headquarters in Hong Kong, is due to conduct the LNG-Terminal in Bullenbaai. Titan has recently expanded its business activities to broaden income. Unaudited figures show that during the first half of 2017, this company lost Naf 15.5 million. No wonder Titan is nervous about the state of affairs of GZE.

That the Chinese try to do as if these disconcerting informations regarding GZE are somehow just fake news is worrisome. Let’s not forget that in China, the Communist Party (CCP) precedes any state owned company (SOE). This was clearly the case with the GZE’s representatives and CCP Members responsible for the press release this week. In China, SOE managers concurrently occupy party’s positions and are also expected to display political rectitude. A look into the charters of GZE and Zhuhai Zhenrong Company, the largest shareholder of GZE, shows that party’s leadership is the most important principle. “And this principle must be insisted on,” according to the Chinese President as reported in the New York Times, 13 October, 2016.

Because communists have yet to show they can successfully run capitalist companies, most of the SOEs which operate as monopolies, are in dire straits. So far the best idea Beijing had was to lump smaller inefficient SOEs together. So whilst the quantity of SOEs may have dwindled, now there are much larger inefficient SOEs. There are no indications that the CCP will be able to ensure competitiveness and efficiency. A major stumbling block is that SOE regulators are outranked in the party by SOE executives.

We must also carefully watch the huge China’s debt, expected to rise to 300% of GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this may soon lead to a financial crisis. Another IMF warning is that “China’s sustainable economic growth -growth that is achieved without excessive credit expansion- was much lower than actual growth over the last five years.” Complicating matters, debt in China is handled in a complex, non-transparent way of interbank loans and bonds.

What are the implications for Curaçao? We will face serious challenges if politicians keep assuming that GZE can fix our economic problems and use it as an excuse to further delay needed reforms in among others labor market and immigration policies. Another huge mistake is to assume that China’s SOEs will manage this project in Curaçao according to the arm’s length principle. Fact is that the Chinese do not have a proven ‘record of allocating resources efficiently’, even at home. Let us consider these details as relevant information in dealing with the Chinese. I suggest China drop the act that it is here because it somehow fell in love with the island. We know all about this kind of love in places like Zambia, Angola, Laos and Jamaica. Curaçao must seriously do its homework and use all resources available here, in The Kingdom and elsewhere to get the most out of this project. We have been warned.


Lès di 10-10-10

Den e artíkulo aki, 10-10-10 no solamente ta e fecha di nos status konstitushonal nobo, pero tambe e ta para pa e kontenido di e status. Na víspera di konmemorashon di e di 7 aniversario, mi ta konkluí un bia mas ku 10-10-10 a keda fundá riba un fundeshi defekto. Polítikonan a bende nos ku si sali for di e konstelashon di Antia Ulandes i bira Kòrsou outónomo, adelanto pa pueblo lo bin outomátikamente. Lo eliminá e buriku di karga i tur plaka di belasting lo keda akinan, garantisando bienestar.

Tabatin mandatario ku a mira 10-10-10 komo un remplasá “Antia Ulandes” pa “Kòrsou” den Statüt. No tabatin interes pa diskutí e struktura nobo di ámtenar, status di polítikonan sospechá i kondená pa sierto krímen, kalidat di nos demokrasia ni mehorashon di enseñansa ku ta e aspekto mas importante den desaroyo di un pais. A bai di akuerdo ku Ulanda su eksigensia pa krea un solo banko sentral pa Kòrsou i Sint Maarten apesar ku tur dos isla a skohe pa outonomia den maneho finansiero i makro-ekonómiko. Awe ainda nos ta usa un moneda di un pais ku no ta eksistí i ta mará den un union monetario sin kurso.

Echo ta ku esnan responsabel pa e desmantelashon tabata biba den nan mes mundu. Un mundu di pretenshon di éroe ku estatua i nòmber di kaya. No a traha riba e fundeshi, riba e kontenido. Un diferensia grandi por sierto tempu ku dr. Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez (Dòktor) den añanan 40 a lucha pa nos outonomia. Dòktor, for di 1935 den su tésis ” Het Wetgevend Orgaan van Curaçao” i siguidamente den un seri di diskurso detayadamente a plantea e base filosófiko di e status konstitushonal nobo ku a drenta na vigor na 1951 (Interimregeling) i 1954 (Statuut).

Awe nos ta paga e preis haltu pa un kambio konstitushonal sin un fundeshi fuerte. Nos ta puntra unda e bienestar outomátiko a keda? Despues di 7 aña nos mester akseptá ku kambio konstitushonal so, no ta trese adelanto. Adelanto ta bin ku trabou duru i prinsipalmente ku kurashi pa tuma e desishonnan nesesario, apesar ku nan ta polítikamente impopular.

Mester stòp di kere ku ta otronan lo salba nos. Nos historia a demostrá ku e kerementu den milager manera Guandong Zhenrong, Sambil, 80/20, PDVSA, BOO, un tratado fiskal ku Merka, Texas Instruments no ta trese desaroyo duradero. Laga nos pone dilanti ku ta nos ta e proménan responsabel pa nos bienestar. Nos mester ta konsiente ku bienestar nunka a surgi diripente òf outomátiko. Laga nos drecha kalidat di e hendenan ku nos ta skohe pa representá nos i eksihí hende kapas ku no ta bolbe gaña ku nos problema ta asuntu di sistema di gobernashon o konstitushon.

Record-setting use of currency of a country that no longer exists

As part of the deal in 2008 to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius) on 10 October 2010, it was decided that the common currency, the Netherlands Antillian guilder (ANG), would be maintained for Curaçao and Sint Maarten. “For a very short period,” we were told. This because the ANG would be replaced by a brand new currency of the brand new monetary union Curaçao and Sint Maarten (MUCS).

Today, 7 years after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles and the birth of the MUCS there is no new currency. Instead, the ANG of the defunct country is still in use which as far as I’ve been able to fact-check, is a world record. Curiously this topic came up during a conversation last year with an official of the United Nations banking institution (the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU)) who told me that the ANG did not appear anymore in its system meaning that someone who gets paid in ANG cannot get a loan or credit card from the UNFCU. How widespread this is, I do not know. Neither do I know if the authorities in Willemstad are even aware of this matter. Unnecessary confusion.

When Czechoslovakia was dissolved both the Czech Republic and Slovakia used the Czechoslovak koruna currency. In less than a year the two states adopted two national currencies. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 local currencies were introduced in the newly independent states. The same thing happened with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the breakup of the State Union of Serbia & Montenegro, the separation of South Sudan from Sudan and Timor Leste when it gained its independence from Indonesia. But why go halfway around the world? When Aruba left the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 it almost immediately introduced its own currency.

Sadly, this confusing situation, maintaining a currency of a country that does not exist anymore, is not the most important problem we are currently facing. The common definition of a monetary union is two or more countries with a single currency, one central bank, one monetary policy and convergence of macroeconomic policies. After 7 years there is no mechanism -not even on paper- to coordinate macroeconomic policies relevant for the monetary union. According to the Minister of Finance of Curaçao (2012-2016), when I questioned him in Parliament, the monetary union was “not a priority”.

Meanwhile under the watch of the two governments, the board of supervision of the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten, we continue to think that somehow this monetary union will spontaneously function and be a success by pretending it doesn’t even exist. From time to time voices can be heard in Sint Maarten to step out of the MUCS and start using the U.S. Greenback which is de facto already taking place. In Curaçao the decision makers remain suspiciously silent.

The question is how the MUCS is going to function with a weakened Sint Maarten after the devastations left behind by Irma. How is a potential “free rider” problem, very common in dysfunctional monetary unions, going to be handled in the aftermath of Irma? What is the cost to preserve the MUCS – which was never based on one single economic feasibility study? Since Curaçao’s share of the MUCS is about 75%, is Curaçao going to pay for the lion’s share? Is Sint Maarten going to be pushed out or will Curaçao opt out?

I’ve always objected to the decision to have a monetary union between the two countries. My reasoning was that when political unions dissolve in separate countries/entities, this is done so that each party can pursue its own policies. If that were not the case, there should not have been any need for a separation in the first place I argued. So why did Sint Maarten and Curaçao form a monetary union? The Netherlands simply did not trust Sint Maarten to have it’s own central bank. So no monetary or macroeconomic arguments were used to arrive at the decision to come up with a MUCS.

As an avid sports fan, I am fond of records. As a former State Secretary of Finance, nothing makes me more nervous than this record-setting entanglement we are in. Question is how much longer are we going to dally without taking a decision? In any case if we want to be considered a serious international financial center this is definitely not the kind of situation we’d want to persist. Especially not when we throw in the mix the court hearings in the criminal case against the Curaçao and Sint Maarten Central Bank’s President that will take place at the end of this month.

Sto’i skonde tras di mal kustumber

Na Chad (Afrika), tempu mi tabata traha einan, mi mester a papia ku algun suidadano di e pais pa loke ta trata un proyekto di ‘riolering’. Mi no sa kon presis e kombersashon a kana yega na e punto ku un hòmber a bira bisami ku Nashonnan Uní, pa kende mi tabata traha, ta bin ku kuenta di derecho di hende muhé, strobando nan kultura. “Un homber mester por pasa su kasánan un wanta di bes en kuando. Ta nos kustumber. Muhé ta inferior, skrituranan religioso mes ta bisa esei i semper nos a hasi’é”.

Opvio ku e persona no ta tene kuenta ku derechinan humano universal. Esaki portá te na momentu ku e mester skucha por ehèmpel un Katóliko – mesun diskriminatorio ku n’e- bisa ku: “katolisismo ta é religion superior na mundu.” Por sierto e hòmber no ta Kristian.

Mi ta kombensí ku tur hende, irespekto rasa, koló, orígen, idioma materno, klase ekonómiko, religion i preferensia seksual, tin e mesun derechinan. Si, tambe basá riba preferensia seksual. Nos no mester ta hende muhé pa ta di akuerdo ku derechi pa hende muhé. Tampoko nos mester ta deskapasitá pa komprondé ku e hendenan aki tin derechi igual. Aki ta trata na ser un hende ku kompashon pa un minoria. Nunka demokrasia por ta un diktatura di e mayoria.

Den e kuadro aki mi ta felisitá Kòrsou ku su su Curaçao gay Pride pa entre otro hala atenshon pa derechi igual. Mi ta kòrda ku hopi satisfakshon kon 5 aña pasá mi tabata tin e honor na hiba un diskurso na e promé aktividat di Curaçao Pride. Bèrdat ku nos isla no ta esun mas malu den e lucha aki. Ta bisá ku nos ta hopi tolerante. Pero nos no por ta kontentu ku solemente ‘toleransha’. Tambe nos mester ta vigilante pa personanan ignorante, manera e Chadiano ariba menshoná, ku awe ta usa beibel pa hustifiká diskriminashon kontra hendenan di e mesun sekso. E mesun beibel ku (t)a keda uzá kontra di derechi di voto universal, hende muhé, hende pretu i na fabor di sklabitut.

Nos mester akseptá otro i hasi muchu mas pa garantisá derechi igual pa tur ku ta biba na Kòrsou. Toleransha so no ta sufisiente. Staten kompleto a akseptá e desishon aki ku a kai durante di e Enkuentro Parlamentario di Reino (IPKO) na 2014.

And the winner of the war on drugs is…the drug trafficker

You would think that the largest consumer of drugs in the world would focus and invest hugely in strategies to curb its domestic demand for illicit narcotics. This especially considering that its own Department of Justice has concluded that the use of drugs affects nearly all aspects of human lives: overburdened justice and healthcare systems, lost productivity, domestic violence and random acts of violence. No sir. The U.S. focuses instead on funneling vast resources to reduce the supply of drugs in other countries.

Fittingly, like a fall ritual, a group of Washington experts come together annually to determine the designation of nations considered by the U.S. to be ‘major drug producing or transit zones and those who failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts to stop the supply of illegal narcotics.’ Then invariably U.S. politicians use this information to shame and blame other countries for the U.S. drug problem. It reminds me of the story of Pontius Pilate who when he saw trouble approaching, took some water and washed his hands saying, “I am innocent … it is your responsibility!”

This year Colombia, the staunchest U.S. ally in Latin America, was threatened by President Trump to be decertified as a partner in the drug war. True, cocaine production in Colombia, the major provider of cocaine available in the U.S. has increased significantly. On the other hand, United Nations reports that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the U.S.. Maybe even scarier according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health is that from 2013 to 2016 a whopping 61 percent more young Americans admitted to trying cocaine. No wonder Colombia, the country that has suffered more than any other country at the hands of narcotics traffickers, did not take this news well.

To blame the U.S. drug problem on the supply of drugs without addressing the U.S. demand for drugs stands in the way of a constructive dialogue about this epidemic. Neither does this backward approach consider the wounds that producing and transit counties inflict on their societies. I’m from Curaçao (an island in the Caribbean) and believe me, I have seen the almost unimaginable violence and deep scars courtesy of drug transportation to the users in the North. What we have is a classical case of Increased demand being met by increased supply.

While neglecting investments in strategies that could help reduce drugs demand, the U.S. singular focus has been on supply reduction. This strategy has failed and will continue to fail because these supply containment policies tend to raise the margin between retail and producer prices, meaning sky high profits. And as we have seen, eliminating kingpins does not quell the drug trade. It does however guarantee a new breed of kingpins.

The U.S. supply-side war on drugs is not only hypocritical, but ceaseless and senseless. Assuming we are not yet ready to start talking about a bold rethink on drugs like decriminalization or (partial) legislation -a discussion whose time has come- the best bet is to invest in education and treatment programs.

Alex Rosaria was field officer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Nicaragua from 1995-1998.

The statue of Peter Stuyvesant

Six years ago the statue of Peter Stuyvesant was removed from the secondary school in Curaçao that bore its name. The former Minister of Education responsible for its removal had immediately promised an alternative location for the statue. Today no one seems to know its whereabouts. The current Minister gave local authorities two weeks to find the statue. It’s unknown what she plans to do once it has been located.

In the months preceding the removal of Peter Stuyvesant’s statue, activists contended that Stuyvesant was an extreme racist who targeted blacks, Catholics, Jews and energetically tried to deny them any basic rights. Counter protesters felt that Stuyvesant, Director-General of Curaçao from 1645-1664, had become part of our heritage and that his statue should remain as a historical symbol.

History cannot be erased. That’s correct. But should we remember history or historical facts with statues that celebrate those who have perpetuated heinous acts? Or do we, while not denying history, honor those who fought against atrocities committed throughout history? Protests and counter protests on symbols of hate have been going on in the U.S. (Confederate symbols), South Africa (Apartheid symbols), Canada (symbols linked with the genocide of the Canadian original population ) and elsewhere for some time now. Germany doesn’t have a single Hitler statue. Germany will never fail to remember its bloody history, but not via Nazi statues. The German example may be a bit extreme, but it makes the point.

Returning to Peter Stuyvesant, it is very interesting to go back in history, as I did in an article I wrote in February 2011, and establish that the statue of Stuyvesant has absolutely nothing to do with honoring his place in the history of Curaçao. The statue arrived in Curaçao in 1940 (almost three centuries after his death) simply because of a whim of a single man, Wybo Jan Goslinga.

According to the monthly Neerlandia, March 1944, Dutchman Wybo Goslinga, Education Inspector in Curaçao, held a speech in 1939 as member of a local service club in which he made a strong appeal to have a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, a ‘very brave man’. He was fascinated with a statue he had seen earlier in New York. He then convinced the KLM Director to go to New York to negotiate with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the designer of the Stuyvesant’s statue in New York (see picture) and was able to convince her to make an identical copy at cost price. Mid-1940, the statue arrives in Curaçao. And then the problems started.

According to the above mentioned edition of Neerlandia, nobody knew what to do with the statue or where to place it. The statue spent the first year after its arrival in a dusty barrack of Curaçao’s International Airport, Hato. Then a lucky break in 1941. In that year Curaçao’s first secondary school was founded and Goslinga, still passionate about Stuyvesant, named the school after his hero and automatically decided that the statue would be placed in front of the new school. The statue was moved from Hato to.. a dusty gym facility where it would stay for two more years because the Department of Public Works did not consider this project to be a priority. Finally the statue was placed in front of the school, Peter Stuyvesant College, in 1943. It should be obvious that the presence of the Stuyvesant’s statue on Curaçao is bereft of any kind of historical meaning whatsoever.

Interestingly, a Jewish activist group is now demanding New York City’s Mayor de Blasio to scrub all traces of the anti-Semitic ex Dutch governor from city property -even Stuyvesant High School and the original Stuyvesant statue in Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Park- as part of his campaign to rid the city of ‘symbols or hate.’ Meanwhile we wait and see if and when the Stuyvesant’s statue in Curaçao is located. It should not come as a surprise if it turns up in a dusty barrack somewhere because l’histoire se répète.