Much has been said about the demonstration last week against restricting public access to Curaçao’s shoreline at a luxury resort that ended with the destruction of two gates as well as an invasion of the premises by protesters who intimidated both personnel and tourists by yelling: “This is our country and foreigners must hit the road”. For the record, I defend the right to protest. I also believe there’s a case to be made for better regulation and clarity regarding public access to our coast. I condemn however the destruction of private property, trespassing and racial xenophobia. The Office of Public Prosecution correctly is looking into the alleged criminal acts committed by some protesters. No one should be above the law.
There’s a bigger issue here however. One that will not be resolved by just finding a solution for last week’s protest or locking up those who may have committed criminal acts. The demonstration last week clearly showed that a group of protesters was galvanized into action because of deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments with social conditions that have become unbearable.
Our history is marred by inequality of opportunity because of gender, class, skin color, sexual orientation and religion. It did not disappear with the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, political autonomy or the civil unrests of 1969. Inequality hasn’t dissipated because we have been unwilling to tackle them by having a genuine and robust discussion at the outset of any attempt to resolve grievances. In 2007 there was a serious attempt to install a Reconciliation Platform due to unrest regarding constitutional changes. I helped design the set-up due to my UN experience in the reconciliation process in Central America. This initiative was pronounced dead at birth however when discord among proposed members regarding the plan of action escalated. No wonder large groups on this island are tired of broken promises.
Our fight is not with the tourist or foreign investor. We need a forum where historical and new grievances can be raised and discussed in a mature and sensitive fashion. Reconciliation is a key objective in building sustainable peace and development. If we continue to only scratch the surface we are guaranteed to have a relapse into conflict and an all out civil unrest. Let’s consider what happened last week as warning bells. Let’s do something about it.