ISLA doesn’t need a dead horse


The North American Dakota Indians have a saying: “When you’re on a dead horse, get off it”. Here, some people seem to have another strategy however: Invite the dead horse over to your house to have him repeatedly say “somos hermanos” and then deliver promises that he will suddenly get healthy so we can all ride off into the sunset, just like in the movies.

This is exactly what happened this week. With the Venezuelan state owned PDVSA’s contract to run Curaçao’s refinery (Isla) expiring at the end of 2019, Mr. Manuel Quevedo, Venezuelan Oil Minister and president of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, during a blitz meeting at Isla made some vague promises about starting up of the Curaçao refinery -lack of crude shipments has left Isla largely inactive- and the interest of PDVSA to remain as the operator after 2019. Those present applauded like giddy school kids and then he left. No one questioned him, no one pressed for details.

Fact is that PDVSA is currently held together by some duct tape. Economic mismanagement of the company and large scale corruption has meant that Venezuelan oil production has collapsed. Deteriorating infrastructure, lack of investment and PdVSA’s inability to even pay some of its workers has led to mass resignations in recent months. PDVSA’s financial disarray is even putting future crude oil supplies at risk. Do we not know this?

Fact is also that Venezuela’s bff, China, is about to drop PDVSA from a planned $10 billion oil refinery and petrochemical joint project in southern China. The reason is the deteriorating financial status of PDVSA over the past few years.

Do we not remember that in mid-2016 our Prime Minister went to Caracas on what should have been a high-level summit about Isla’s future? Instead he was humiliated, left waiting for hours without being able to talk to anyone. Later, the Venezuelan Energy Minister declared that PDVSA had no money for Isla’s upgrade.

Did we not wonder how PDVSA is going to keep its promises while it’s barely surviving? Do we not see how some groups, unions and individuals are playing cahoots or even worse, are colluding with Caracas to keep PDVSA operating as a bastion of support for the corruption-riddled failed Chavez/Maduro socialism? What’s wrong with us?

If these people are given a free pass, the future of our refinery will be compromised. It‘s therefore imperative that the process of finding a responsible partner for Isla not be derailed. We need sanity, transparency and accountability, not dead horses.

Willemstad, Curaçao

The African man who planned to go to the moon in 1964


This weekend we were reminded that 50 years ago Neil Armstrong took his historic first steps on the moon. But I bet you didn’t know that the Zambia Space and Astronomical Research was founded in 1960 in order to make Zambia the first to put a human being on the Moon and then on Mars.

US President Kennedy promised in 1961 to land an American on the Moon by the end of that decade. However, Edward Mukaka Nkoloso, a Zambian grade-school science teacher also had space ambitions. He was a man with a dream who refused to see Africa as substandard and envisioned a space-age Zambia. He set up camp for training on an abandoned farm. He rolled his space cadets down a hill in a forty-gallon oil drum to simulate the weightless conditions of the moon. “I also make them swing from the end of a long rope,’ Mr. Nkoloso told a reporter. “When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope. This produces the feeling of free fall”.

Mr. Nkoloso planned to send his rocket, named D-Kalu 1, into space on 24 October 1964, the very date that Zambia would gain its independence. Specially trained Matha Mwambwa, a 17-year-old girl, two cats (also specially trained) would have been the first ones to blast off to space. Unfortunately Matha became pregnant and left the space program. Later Mr. Nkoloso claimed that D-Kalu 1 was ‘sabotaged by foreign elements’. And like that, his space dreams were put on hold. According to The New Yorker (11 March, 2017) nearing the end Nkoloso reportedly told a reporter: “I still feel men will [one day] freely move from one planet to another.”

Mr. Nkoloso’s larger than life aspirations unfortunately are not widely known. I just couldn’t resist writing about him when I saw his story at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Even though he did not succeed, he showed us that we should never be afraid of dreaming and saying, why not. This year he would have turned 100.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Iglesianan a uni pa antagonisá i sembra odio



Na lugá di pasifiká boso a skupi odio. Na lugá di prediká kompashon boso a skohe pa demonisá e grupo LGBTQ ku ta lucha pa trato igual komo hende. Esaki ta e mesun lucha ku e katibu a hiba, mesun lucha ku hende di koló (t)a hiba i e mesun lucha ku hende muhé (t)a hiba. No tin diferensia.

Boso ta na altura kuantu di boso sirbidónan ta LGBTQ? Boso ta na altura kuantu di boso sirbidónan tur dia di nobo ta metí den abuzu seksual di mucha bou di edat? Klaro ku boso sa pasombra boso ta dominá e arte di bira kara, bari e problema bou di tapeit òf pòst’e pa otro parokia. Ta p’esei boso no a papia ora un pastor lokal a bai prizòn pa abuzu seksual. Mesun silensio ora e postema di abuzu a baster na Chile, Merka, Costa Rica i Vatikano. Pero boso ta kla pa subi tarima den Punda i husga otro sin wak den spil promé.

Bèrdat ta pará den e buki religioso Kristian, Beibel, ku homoseksualidat ta un piká i ku esaki mester keda prohibí (Leviticus 18:22). Pero riba e mesun blachi di e Beibel tin mas prohibishon i piká severo e.o.: tatuahe na kurpa (Leviticus 19:28), bisti paña ku ta trahá di dos òf mas material (Leviticus 19:19) i kòrta bo kabei i/òf barba den un forma rondó (Leviticus 19:27). Mi punto ta ku ta masha fásil pa bo ‘cherry pick’ net e puntonan ku ta sostené bo pensamentu ku abo tin mas derechi ku otro i bisa:  “Beibel ta  bisa ku…”. Pero ta ken a dunabo e poder pa usa bo interpretashon religioso selektivo i kumbiniente pa papia na mi nòmber? 

E spektákulo ayera no ta un sorpresa. Mi no a fèrwagt otro di un grupo ku ta moralmente bankarota.

Finalmente, bo no mester ta un hende muhé pa sostené trato igual pa muhé. Bo no mester ta Hudiu pa kondená Holokosto, bo no mester ta un LGBTQ pa sostené trato igual pa hendenan ku un preferensia seksual ku nan a nase ku n’e pero ku no ta meskos ku esun di bo. Loke nos komunidat mester ta mas hende ku ta drei wak nan bisiña i bisa nan:”ken ami ta pa diskriminá bo i kita bo derechi riba igualdat a base di bo koló, sekso, orígen, religion, kredu, status ekonómiko i preferensia seksual”.

Loke e iglesianan a hasi ayera na Alameda ta tipifiká lokal ta putrí den nos komunidat: alimentá intoleransia, diskurso di odio i mentalidat di “nan kontra nos”. Ta opvio ku bo no por unifiká na mes momento ku bo ta dividí. Bo no por evangilisá na mes momentu ku bo ta antagonisá.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Saying goodbye to beloved Tiara


As a final act of love and compassion, we stood yesterday around Tiara, talked to her, scratched her head and caressed her paws just before the veterinarian administered the final drug by injection. And then, her eyes could no longer see us standing in the room she must have become used to during the last few months.

Our much-loved family member had grown frail and weak because of kidney disease. She took a turn for the worse right about the time her partner in crime, Candra, had passed a few months earlier. Reluctant to eat and drink, she had to be forced fed and put on IV daily. Yesterday she was released from pain and grief. We didn’t want to selfishly buy her a few days or weeks of uncomfortable and painful life. It doesn’t make losing Tiara any easier but as the tears rolled down our faces, I sought solace in thinking that she must have trusted our decision to peacefully have her cross over to the other side.

Tiara, I hope you felt like we did everything for you during the last 15 years because you surely did everything you could for us. You gave us unconditional love,  happiness and laughter especially when you did your ‘Bichon blitz’ and diva shows to establish that the whole household, heck the whole world revolved around you. I also know that dogs can smell human emotions, so thank you for being there, pressing your wet nose on our knees and licking our hands when we were feeling down. It was a privilege being part of your whole life. Again I’m reminded by what a Cherokee Indian once said: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” See you later our little soul.

Willemstad, Curaçao

The Two China’s Ready To Rumble In The Caribbean

9ECCCEAD-2714-4B2B-81FA-CECE22E8DA5C.png Memorial Hall Sun Yat-sen, first President of Taiwan. Taipei, Februari, 2017

Pay attention because this week the Caribbean will be the venue of an old dispute between the “two China’s”. Two China’s? Since 1949 two countries with the name China exist. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) also known as Taiwan. The PRC claims Taiwan as its province but doesn’t control Taiwan as part of its territory. Taiwan is recognized by only 17 countries of which 8* are situated in the Caribbean Basin.

The PRC over the last 10 years has spent USD billions in aid to the those countries that recognize Beijing. The PRC doesn’t engage in diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan. The PRC has been able to use its wallet to convince many countries over the years to dump Taiwan including the Dominican Republic and Panama. Taiwan is however tenaciously holding on to its influence.

Adding to what I’ve described as the New Cold War in the Caribbean, enters Taiwan the stage. Taiwan’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen will spend four nights in the US during her trip to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti from 11-20 July. This has angered the PRC which urged the White House not to allow her to visit.

Taiwan’s visit to this area must be seen in a bigger perspective. First, we must consider America’s re-commitment to Taiwan under President Trump. Trump’s very first telephone call to a foreign leader was with the President of Taiwan. Taiwan’s presence here could be a jab at the PRC at a time when Washington is pushing Beijing in the South China Sea and is frustrated with trade negotiation with the PRC, concerns regarding Hong Kong and PRC’s unfettered support of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. Additionally, the US is preparing to sell Taiwan USD 2 billion of military equipment.

How this will play out, remains to be seen. Taiwan understands very well however that with Washington’s commitment, now is the time to re-engage the Caribbean Basin and shore up its diplomatic alliances.

Willemstad, Curaçao

*Curaçao recognizes the PRC



Our Population Crisis and Its Consequences


The latest government figures that came out show that we need a sense of crisis as our population continues to shrink and age. Our depopulation is due to rapidly decreasing births per woman which went from 2.1 in 2006 to only 1.7 in 2018 and made worse by significant levels of emigration. Rather than examining why depopulation takes place (for this, see I’ll discuss the impact thereof if this trend continues unabated.

According to popular wisdom, smaller populations mean “more to go around” for everyone. Whilst this may be true at your birthday party when you cut up the cake, in the real world it’s another thing. Additionally, abundance doesn’t lead to more wealth for everyone, equitable wealth distribution does. Depopulation diminishes economic growth. Consider these 6 points which are not meant to be exhaustive.

A statistically significant negative relationship exists between population decline/aging and productivity growth.(1) It should be no surprise that an aging workforce is less productive and creative than is the case for younger people.

The research group TAC reported in 2013 that Curaçao suffered from significant brain drain of its qualified personnel. This means that as a nation we are becoming less competitive.

As the population gets older, consumption drops because household income is usually lower after retirement than before retirement. A shrinking population makes economies of scale impossible which consequently affects our competitiveness. Some countries revert in that case to more export, but remember, we have zero trade treaties.

Going forward, larger shares of GDP will be spent on public pensions and public health care placing extreme pressure on public finances. As I’ve said in Parliament in 2015, we cannot expect to keep raising the retirement age which is already 65 years, to guarantee our pension funds.

Diminishing population also increases the likelihood of inbreeding which can result in increased spending on healthcare and undesirable social situations.

Finally, 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. Consequently more women are abandoning Curaçao to look for a partner abroad.

Our demographic problems suddenly appear worse than expected.

What can we do? The ability of public policies to control birth rates appears limited. We need to take in young immigrants in phases to allow us time to expand and optimize our land use and infrastructure to overcome current strains in order to 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.

I’m aware that allowing more immigrants remains a politically sensitive issue. I’m also aware that sitting quiet is not an option. Hopefully our decision makers will start doing more of what’s expected of them, namely shaping our future.

Willemstad, Curaçao

(1) Hisakazu Kato, professor of economics at Meiji University (Japan)