Never heard of Chuuk? You will in 2019


On 5 March, 2019 an independence referendum is held on Chuuk, a sparsely populated and far-off paradise-like state in the Pacific. Chuuk belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Why should we pay attention to a referendum somewhere you probably never heard of? It’s because its outcome has potentially disproportionate global geo-strategic importance.

The FSM, an independent republic associated to the US, consists of the states Chuuk, Yap, Pohnpei and Kosrae comprising 607 islands with a land area of 702 km2. It lies 2,900 km north of eastern Australia. The US is responsible for FSM’s defense and has a strategic military presence there. It also provides economic and technical aid.


Chuuk, a quarter the size of Curaçao, wants independence from the FSM just like Kosovo (which broke away from Serbia). Whilst 107 of 193 UN members recognize Kosovo, many oppose it claiming that ‘established international law.’ was violated. The opposers, notably powerhouses such as Russia, India and China, don’t dare recognize Kosovo because of problems they have with separatist movements at home. Chuuk’s referendum is spearheaded by those saying that Chuuk receives less resources from the national government than it contributes. Coincidently the same argument Curaçao used to abandon the Netherlands Antilles. The US, staunch ally of Kosovo, opposes Chuuk’s independence because such action is, unlike Kosovo, ‘against international law.’

Countries facing the real possibility of parts of their territories declaring independence: Spain (Catalonia), Russia (Chechnya), Indonesia (Aceh), China (Tibet), India (Kashmir) and others will be closely watching this referendum. Further, we have to consider China’s ambitions in Chuuk and the region. China supports an independent Chuuk and has been presenting itself as a much more attractive model for the people of Chuuk than the US. Washington has reason to fear that China might be willing to provide Chuuk with cash, loans and investments as long as it’s willing to terminate the US military hold on the island clearing the way for more Chinese influence in Chuuk, the FSM and region. 

About 45,000 eligible voters will decide Chuuk’s future in less than 3 months. Chuuk’s independence could set off a chain reaction of events that could undermine the US military position in the South Pacific to the benefit of China and Russia. It could also influence the many separatist movements around the globe seeking greater autonomy or self-determination.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Putin’s bombers in Venezuela: a clear message to the US


The two Russian nuclear-capable bombers that recently landed in Venezuela created  an uproar in Washington and raised concerns in Curaçao considering our proximity to this South American country. While I think these planes will soon return to Russia, we need to realize that the presence of Russia and China in this region will continue to grow mainly to undermine US influence and as payback for US interference in Russia’s and China’s backyards. Presence of those bombers was no coincidence. 

The US ambitions in Southeast Asia, increased presence in the energy-rich South China Sea, support for Taiwan and Tibet among others, irritate China. Just yesterday the US Congress passed an act to restrict travel to the US of Chinese authorities responsible for limiting foreign travel to Tibet. China’s main interest in our region is to seek natural resources for its economic growth. The number of nations that have swapped recognition from Taiwan to China reflects China’s increased influence in the region. The Dominican Republic just dropped Taiwan and embraced China after getting investments worth US$ 3.1 billion. China has also been investing in ‘soft power’ promoting Mandarin, cultural exchanges and Confucius Institutes. And totally surprising, it wants to build a space station in Argentina.

Russia’s interest in the region is mainly strategic. Vladimir Putin has been trying to come back from the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warshaw Pact (a Soviet military alliance) by re-engaging old friends like Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua and even Jamaica. Moscow has also sought to deepen ties with allies that share the resentment of US global leadership, such as Venezuela and Bolivia. While Russia doesn’t have deep pockets like China (Russia ranks 11th in overall GDP) it has leveraged other instruments such as arms sale, military cooperation and cyberwar to expand its presence.

I’ve spoken with people from different walks of life in Serbia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro and other places and they all coincide that Putin’s Russia will never be able to forget the NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in the 1990s (see my picture of poster in downtown Belgrade), the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, disappearing importance of the Russian language in the ex-Soviet Republics and the rush of ex-allies to join NATO. Putin’s visit to Serbia in January 2019 should give more details as to Moscow’s strategy to deal with what it considers EU’s and US meddling in its backyard.

So while the Russian bombers will soon return home, Putin’s power projection in an attempt to erode US leadership will not dissipate soon. In addition, we should not underestimate the fact that China is both an ally and a competitor to Russia’s agenda in the region. So Russia’s show of power was not only meant for Washington but for Beijing as well. This means that it will not be the last time that we’ll witness such geoplolitical spats in our region.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Bo sa ken ta registrá na bo adrès?


Aña pasá, agentenan armá a drenta un kas na Kòrsou -adrès fiktisio: Kaya Saguaro #123- pa buska un presunto kriminal. Sigun e apoderashon di Korte (pa drenta e kas), e sospechoso ta biba na e adrès en kuestion. Kurioso ta ku ni doño ni habitantenan di e kas konosé òf a yega di tende di e sospechoso ku “ofishalmente ta biba einan”. Adrès robes? No. Agentenan a bisa di tin konfirmashon di Kranshi. Por sierto, despues di investigá, a konstatá ku tabatin sigur 4 hende mas ku e doño di kas no konosé, registrá na su adrès. Imposibel? No na Kòrsou.

Ta resultá ku ta posibel bai Kranshi i deklará ku for di awe bo no ta biba na e adrès unda bo ta registrá i deklará ku bo ta muda bai p.e. Kaya Saguaro #123. Esaki, sea ku e doño di kas na Kaya Saguaro #123 ta na altura òf no. Òf si e konosebo òf laga. Kranshi ta tuma bo deklarashon i hasi e kambio. Ta esaki e sospechoso a hasi. Na otro pais, e.o. Ulanda, un kambio di adrès ta rekerí un prosedura pa kuida integridat di datonan den registro.

Ku esaki ta posibel na Kòrsou, ta for di sla i peligroso. Na di promé lugá no mester balotá e spantu ora un batayon di agente armá drenta bo kas. No papia mes di e trauma ora bo adrès skeiru den medionan di komunikashon pa motibu di negligensia di otro. Fásilmente un hende por kousa problema na persona inosente. Por ehèmpel hendenan den mundu kriminal ta registrá nan mes na bo adrès. Tambe  esaki ta muestra ku e kalidat di datonan di nos registro ta laga di deseá ku tur tipo di konsekuensia pa elekshon, efisiensia pa kombatí kriminalidat i mas asuntu. Pero mas ku tur kos, e ta indikativo di un pais den kua desorden no ta un eksepshon. 

Mester tuma akshon. Mi a komprondé ku no ta asuntu di falta di lei. E ordenansa ku ta regla e asuntu aki ta: Basisadministratie persoongegevens ta vigente. Parse ku e sistema outomatisá, tambe tei. Loke falta ta aplikashon di e reglanan. Mi ta di opinion ku kada un di nos mester sa ken realmente ta registrá na nos adrès. Mesun kos ta konta pa nos instansianan ofisial.


Willemstad, Curaçao


Born with a birth defect: corruption


Curaçao was born in 10.10.10 with a potentially lethal birth defect: corruption combined with lies and deceit. We know that not all members of the first cabinet passed the constitutionally required screening. We’ve seen numerous calculated attempts to undermine governance systems and institutions that promote accountability and oversight. And, in 2013 the most popular Curaçao politician, Mr. Helmin Wiels, Member of Parliament (MP) and anticorruption activist, was killed.

Unfortunately these events do not come from a Hollywood script. The recent verdict that was upheld by the Supreme Court against Curaçao’s first Prime Minister for among other, bribery, forgery and money laundering confirmed that our young country was on its way to become a mafia state. There’re other cases pending, including the pretrial on 18 December, 2018 against the first Curaçao Minister of Finance related to the murder of Mr. Wiels.

To be fair, we’re not the only ones confronted with corruption. There’s corruption almost everywhere, also in The Netherlands, our Kingdom partner. The MPs in The Hague should know that their paternalistic views on corruption in Curaçao are vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. And, rightfully so.

Point is however that the wellbeing of our people is not served by finger-pointing. Not all countries are equally afflicted by corruption. Curaçao with a population of 150,000 and a fragile economy will always be harder hit by corruption than The Netherlands, the 18th largest economy of the world (World Bank, 2014).

The question we should ask ourselves is why the Prime Minister of Iceland resigned when he was merely mentioned in the Panama Papers, while our politicians, MPs and other high ranking officials remain in their functions despite overwhelming evidence of irregularities? Why do politicians in New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Estonia voluntarily resign over allegations of wrongdoings? Why do the privileged in some countries go to exotic islands to hide their money while here some openly flaunt lavish houses, cars, and life style worth far more than their declared earnings?

Corruption can be controlled according to many experts by good governance, a free press, independence of the judiciary, less red tape, and a transparent tax system. But what should we do when the same government that’s in charge of creating the  abovementioned conditions routinely distributes public goods and resources based on favoritism and keeps a system in place which allows ruling elites to flourish pretty much unhindered?

The main obstacle to corruption remains the capacity of a country’s own citizens to hold the government accountable. It’s scary to hear people defend corrupt politicians by accusing judges, The Netherlands and white people (the convicted ex-Prime Minister was defended by a white Dutch lawyer). This is why public opinion forced the resignation of the Icelandic prime minister, while the Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and the Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, remain in power despite overwhelming evidence of all kind of wrongdoings. 

As we approach the International Anti-Corruption Day (9 December, 2018) it’s important to once again realize that corruption distorts the electoral processes, perverts the rule of law, stuns economic development and creates poverty. Most important, let’s realize that we are not powerless bystanders in the fight against corruption. We must use our power of the vote wisely and not vote for parties and candidates who are corrupt. Stop defending the unjustifiable. Through the efforts of our own citizens we can make them change.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Candra gave us pure and true love


I remember how excited my wife and I were when we drove to pick her up almost 15 years ago. I named her Candra, which means “moon” in Sanskrit. She was a Shih Tzu, a breed of Tibetan origin and loyal companion of the Lord Buddha. As the story goes, one day, several robbers came upon the Buddha with the intent of robbing him. The Shih Tzu changed into a ferocious lion and ran off the robbers and afterward turned back into a dog, which the Buddha picked up and kissed. The white spot on the heads of many Shih Tzus supposedly marks the place where Buddha kissed his loyal dog.

Candra was cute, always calm and affectionate. Unlike other dogs, she didn’t care much for trips in the car. She was a house dog that loved nothing more than staying home and to follow people from room to room. Her purpose was to be a companion – the best companion she could be. She was the happiest when she was with her family, giving and receiving attention. Yes, she could be very stubborn. She refused to go outside to her potty place when it had rained or the yard was a tad moist after watering the plants and would do it inside. Yet any feeling of angriness quickly dissipated after she looked up at you with those wide-open eyes. Most importantly however, she taught us what true and pure love, friendship and loyalty really is all about. She always knew that she was loved and appreciated.

Candra’s death did not come as a surprise as she was ill for some time. She died yesterday, just three days after I had returned from a two-month trip abroad. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to cuddle her before she drew her last breath. As we laid her to rest I was reminded by something Will Rogers, a Cherokee Indian, said last century: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” We will miss you Candra, our little soul. Everyday.

Willemstad, Curaçao

We’ll get back to you when we’re done


One of the assumptions scientists make in order to create theoretical models is to hold some variables constant, a concept known in Latin as ceteris paribus. Whilst this makes sense in laboratories, it’s not the case in the real world. Meaning, we can’t assume others will stand still as we sort things out. Yet, in Curaçao we’ve been telling the world for too long: “we’ll get back to you when we’re done”.

When the world was getting ready in 1994 for the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules-based global trade, we doubled down on inward-looking protection policies. Today we still don’t comply with WTO and have zero trade agreements. When we had a chance in 2006 to become an associate member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), we told Georgetown we’ll get back to them. When we finally did, we found out that becoming an associate member became more complicated than before.

Since we became a country in 2010, we’ve promised to change the name of our currency. We still use Ang, the currency of the non-existing Netherlands Antilles which makes certain transactions difficult (ex. Ang doesn’t appear in the U.N. bank system). We complain about the Curaçao-St. Maarten monetary union but haven’t decided if we want to terminate it or introduce the much needed macroeconomic coordination mechanisms for it to function.

After 8 years we still don’t find the country option “Curaçao” in many online (payment) systems. We want a referendum, but don’t care that we don’t have a referendum law. We still don’t see the importance of phytosanitary regulation or technical barriers to trade which means that practically anything can be imported into our country whether it’s dangerous or not. Anyone in Curaçao can call himself a veterinary and while the world uses sanctions to punish those who commit atrocious human rights violations, we remain ‘unconvinced’ of the usefulness of amending the Sanctions National Ordinance. I could go on. 

Where does this idea that Curaçao is the center of the universe come from? Probably no one knows. What I do know is that this behavior doesn’t happen overnight; the seeds are sown deep within our institutions, both public and private. What’s also obvious is that this kind of behavior hinders us to take advantage of our society’s huge potential for growth. 

The world moves on. It’s dynamic, not static. Ain’t no one going to wait for us. Now more than ever, we need to reset our development button. We must recognize the urgent need for frank conversations on a new approach and to do things differently.

Istanbul, Turkey

Referendum yes, but not without a referendum law


It’s amazing how some Dutch Members of Parliament (MP) keep busy these days. Some can be found promoting cartoons that insult the Prophet  Muhammad. Others dream up proposals for the introduction of two types of passports and two different categories of Dutch citizens. So I guess it should be no surprise that a MP recently submitted a proposition making it possible for Curaçao to become independent without holding a referendum or a 2/3 majority in Parliament for that matter. This may get the juices flowing among the nationalists in The Netherlands, but changing our constitutional status will only be decided in Willemstad by the people of this island, thank you.

I won’t waste time discussing this meritless proposal. Let’s realize that while it’s correct to demand a referendum before any status change, Curaçao currently doesn’t have a legally defined referendum process. One that’s transparent and able to withstand political manipulation and bullying. We need to change that.

First, constitutional status change is not limited to independence as some want us to believe. It equally applies to becoming part of The Netherlands territory (province model) or an EU ultra-peripheral regions (UPG) or merging with another state such as Venezuela. In my opinion, our constitution should be amended and state that any change of constitutional status must be decided by referendum. 

We need to determine how a referendum may be initiated. Options are: (1) the legislative referendum whereby Parliament refers a measure to the voters for their approval; (2) the popular referendum, a measure that appears on the ballot as a result of a voter petition (conditioned upon a minimum of valid signatures), or (3) both the legislative and the popular referendum.

We need to define the types of referendums. 1. the mandatory referendum i.e. if a proposal passes, the Government or appropriate authority is compelled to implement it: 2. the optional referendum whereby the consequences of the vote may or may not be legally binding or 3. both the mandatory and optional referendum.

It’s very important that the referendum process be in the hands of an independent electorate authority. The future referendum ordinance should also specify per type of referendum: (1) when a referendum is valid, i.e. establish the minimum amount of valid votes; (2) what margins should be upheld for a proposal to pass (simple majority, 2/3 or 3/4 of the votes) and (3) who can cast his/her ballot.

This is by no means a complete blueprint. It’s the beginning of a meaningful conversation. I’ve proposed both a referendum ordinance as an independent electorate authority back in 2012.  Let’s hope politicians will picks this up.

It’s correct to say that a referendum is needed to change our constitutional status. We must be aware however that we need a clear referendum process anchored in our constitution. One that’s transparent, not open to multiple interpretations and certainly not prone to manipulation by politicians and other groups. If that’s not the case, what’s the value of having a referendum?

Istanbul, Turkey