While vacationing in Curaçao in 1991, I visited Landhuis Brievengat for drinks and live music. As I settled down on a bench outside, I was approached by an unknown local man who told me that he had come that night to “familiarize himself with the culture of The Netherlands since a lot of Dutch people frequented Landhuis Brievengat which came in handy because in four days he was emigrating there to get welfare and hopefully a job”.
He was one of many who abandoned Curaçao at that time. The expatriation wave to The Netherlands went from 36,000 to 76,000 between 1980 and 1992 according to the Dutch Taskforce on Minorities. It’s been well documented that many of those who left were unskilled. Unfortunately, discussions here centered about the constitutionality of the Dutch regulations to curb these emigrants instead of a substantive conversation about creating more opportunities for our people, especially the disenchanted group.
As we face a new wave of emigration (Central Bureau of Statistics) we’re in dire need of a meaningful conversation about a sustainable population policy, something I proposed back in 2010. What’s different this time is that more people of intermediate and high skills are leaving the island. The research group TAC reported in 2013: “Curaçao suffers from significant brain drain of its qualified personnel, which may actually exceed the Caribbean average.”
There’re more nefarious consequences. Women outnumber men in Curaçao by 8% while worldwide men outnumber women by 0.8%. This huge gender imbalance makes it difficult for women to find a partner/husband. An increasing number of women who can still conceive, are abandoning Curaçao to look for a partner. If we consider that there’re more female than male students at Curaçao universities and that women increasingly more responsible for our GDP, our demographic problems suddenly appear to be worse than expected.
If we do too little to address the demographic challenge, we risk becoming a greying society with a strained pension and healthcare system, losing vitality with our young people leaving for opportunities elsewhere. I’m not saying however that we should indiscriminately take in immigrants beyond what we are able to accommodate. We must plan well ahead in order to expand and optimize our land use and infrastructure to overcome our current strains and congestion, and accommodate a larger population. Additionally, key decisions regarding our education system and reforms of our antiquated structures that make any economic development impossible, must be taken.
Though exaggerated somewhat but not implausible, we could be pushed to brink of extinction. It would not be the first time that entire societies have disappeared from the face of the earth. Hopefully our decision makers, especially the politicians will start doing more of what’s expected of them, namely shaping our future.