Reinventing Western Democracy

If you go beyond the vile racial slurs of white supremacists you can clearly hear a profound manifestation of fear. It’s the fear of individuals, communities and sometimes entire countries feeling that their identity is being threatened. “We will not be replaced”, chanted marchers in Charlottesville. In this case “we” stands for the white Christian identity. These movements are referred to as identity politics.

However not only whites are fearful. The Myanmar Rohingyas, a tiny Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly buddhist country are being persecuted because of a perceived danger to the ‘Burmese buddhist way of life’. In South Africa -ironically nicknamed the Rainbow Nation- xenophobic attacks are on the rise as locals feel threatened by growing multiculturalism.

Identity politics are not isolated. They are part of a historic process of social change. We are reminded of Mr. Johannes Hamelberg who on behalf of the white Protestant minority in Curaçao claimed last century that universal voting rights which meant that the colored, mostly Catholics could vote, would lead to cannibalism. Ironically there is an increase of ‘homegrown Hamelbergs’ who are now predicting celestial calamities when it comes to equal rights for the LGBTQ. Sadly, as we travel to new horizons of equality and empowerment, identity politics may become more popular.

Fortunately many countries are committed to policies of respecting diversity and are slowly building more inclusive societies. One country, Singapore, is taking a much bolder, but not uncontroversial stance. It believes that multiracialism, multi-religion and multiculturalism must be engineered, even imposed. Singapore, situated in Southeast Asia -the most racially and ethnically diverse region in the world- has never shied away from questioning Western concepts of governance.

Before going on, it’s necessary to debunk a flagrant lie being told and retold by some white nationalists and politicians: “only white countries are forced to accept multiracialism, multi-religion and multiculturalism”. No question these people are playing the victim card for political gain. They are obviously unaware of what’s really happening. According to the Pew Research Centre, of the twelve most religiously diverse countries six of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, five are in Africa and one is in South America. Additionally, not a single ‘white country’ figures in the first 35 countries on the prestigious Fearon’s cultural/ethnic diversity index.

Back to Singapore. To maintain racial harmony and prevent ethnic ghettos, it has implemented housing policies that require the composition of public housing blocks to reflect the nation’s racial composition of the majority Chinese, and the minority Malay-Muslim and Indian groups. Regarding legislative elections, Singapore introduced the Group Representation Constituencies that call for teams of candidates consisting of at least one minority member. Last year Singapore took its nation-building journey a step further. It decided that the presidential post would be “reserved” for a particular racial group if that group has not occupied the presidential office for up to 30 years. This means Singapore soon will have its first Muslim president. Muslims make up about 15% of those eligible to vote. According to the Singapore’s Prime Minister: “The president represents all Singaporeans… We must have a minority president from time to time…and then people see that, ‘Yes, someone like me can become the head of state'”.

Singapore is being accused of circumventing democracy in order to preserve racial peace and inclusiveness. For its leaders the end justifies the means. It is clear that Singapore’s system falls short on many conventional criteria of Western-style democracy. But is Western-style democracy a good reflection of Asian (or other regions’) realities? No. I firmly believe in the United Nations’ take on this matter: “the democracy a nation chooses depends on its circumstances – countries will necessary be ‘differently democratic'”. But most importantly, is Western-style democracy required to deliver the life, liberty and happiness all (groups of) citizens want? Looking again at Singapore we can affirmatively state this not to be the case. This country, while challenging the democratic norms in the West is a marvel to behold and has been called the 20th century’s most successful development story. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 84% of Singaporeans are satisfied with their government whilst this is 35% in the U.S., the stronghold of Western democracy. Lastly, the Western-style democratic system has undergone very little reform since the days it inspired the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Challenging the idea that Western democracy is the best form of government is an idea whose time has come. I look forward to a lively, but mature debate on this matter. Also in my country, Curaçao, where we are often at odds with European Netherlands as to what constitutes democracy and good governance on a small island in the Caribbean. In part two on this subject I will dedicate more attention to our particular situation.

The girl, two cats and the Zambian space program

Chances are you never heard of Mr. Edward Mukaka (1919-1989), a Zambian grade-school teacher who taught science. Yet this man’s story and larger than life aspirations are on display in many science and space exhibitions around the world. After learning about this peculiar yet fascinating man last month at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, I just couldn’t resist writing about him.

Mr. Mukaka, during the height of the space race between the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) and the U.S., founded the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Astronomical Research in 1960. He hoped to beat the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and make Zambia the first country to put a human being on the Moon and then on Mars. This man refused to see Africa and Zambia as substandard but capable to dream big just like the rest of the world did. He saw a “Zambia of the future as a space-age Zambia.”

He set up camp for training on an abandoned farm just outside of the Zambian capital, Lusaka. 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. Musaka told a reporter. “When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope. This produces the feeling of free fall”.

Mr. Mukaka planned to send his rocket, named D-Kalu 1, into space on 24th of October, 1964, the very date that Zambia would become an independent country. 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 Ms. Mwambwa became pregnant and left the space program. Additionally the rocket was claimed to have been sabotaged “by foreign elements” and the Zambian government distanced itself from Mukaka’s endeavor. Mr. Mukaka ended his space program in 1969 and he retired in 1972. In one of his last interviews before his death he told a Zambian reporter according to The New Yorker dated 11 March, 2017: “I still have the vision of the future of man. I still feel man will freely move from one planet to another.” Mr. Mukaka is definitely a reminder of the power that space travel had and still has in the popular imagination.

LESSONS FROM MYANMAR

On September 15, 2016, just two weeks before elections in Curaçao, I sat in the first row for the signing ceremony of the MoU between the Government of Curaçao and the Chinese state-controlled Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE). I had also hoped to finally learn some details about the memorandum. Unbelievably Members of Parliament at that time were not given any information regarding the contents of the MoU so I had no idea what was being signed. No wonder I called the whole GZE matter a blackbox during an earlier parliamentary debate. Before the ceremony the public was shown a Chinese communist propaganda-style film about the progress being made in Myanmar where GZE would construct its first ever refinery. And boy did everything look peachy! Villagers were happy and doing construction work. Never mind that in the village in question 90% of the people are farmers or fishermen. The environment was going to be taken care of and believe it or not, even the dogs in the film seemed to have an extra spring in their steps. Little did I know at that moment that 8 weeks later I would be in Myanmar looking into a project about governance and human rights.

Quickly I found out that the Chinese film failed to mention that the GZE project was hastily approved just days before the first free election in 25 years in Myanmar was held. Yes, China was the most important ally of the brutal Myanmar military dictatorship. The protests against the GZE because of environmental perils and the perceived Chinese neglect of this issue, were not shown. Nor were we informed of land confiscations and other human rights violations on behalf of the Chinese mega projects with little or no consultation, compensation or redress. As a matter of fact, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar referred to these infractions in his statement earlier this year on 21 July. I am looking forward to his full report which will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October. We didn’t get to see an interview conducted by Deutsche Welle on 19 August, 2016 with one of the leading experts on Myanmar, Mr. Robert Taylor, about the lack of local jobs and the unwillingness of the Chinese to integrate into Burmese society which has strained people-to-people ties between the two countries.

Lessons from Myanmar
Without any clear demonstration that China’s conduct has significantly taken a break from the past, Curaçao should be cautious of the Chinese intentions. The Nigeria Central Bank Governor said it best when he warned the world to shake off this romantic view of China and accept Beijing as capable of the same exploitative practices as the old European colonial powers. A Burmese delegation I spoke with in Yangon spoke of “yellow exploitation replacing white exploitation”. Point is that the sooner these lessons are learnt by the decision makers in Willemstad, the better for us all. The sad fact is that there is a group that seems to be driven by an unhealthy thirst to score politically and considers the GZE as the celestial saviors of our stagnant economy. We cannot afford to have people behaving like a deer in headlights when negotiating with the Chinese. In fact we should accept that sustainable economic growth is achieved with sound and flexible policies, not a money bag from Beijing. The Netherlands is said to be very worried about the current state of affairs and according to some sources who do not want to be identified, it is not unconceivable to have The Hague intervene in this matter. It would not be the first time that we got it wrong with this refinery. In the past we leased the oil facilities for a song to Venezuela and gave tax exonerations for promises of thousands of jobs that were never created. To put in my two cents based on experience in Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia, Curaçao should not underestimate the following:

1. Transparency: Complete transparency in each stage of the GZE project is a must. From the tender, bidding to standards, ethics practices, scope, scale, timeline and impact relevant information should be available.
2. Outreach: We cannot become aware of this project when the bulldozers show up. Outreach to all stakeholders and giving the community the opportunity to voice concern is key.
3. Corporate governance: China should recoup the amount invested but, the staggering inequity of past projects, especially employment of Chinese nationals instead of using local people, and breach of labor rights cannot be repeated.
4. Social responsibility: Parties should reduce distrust and hostility on both sides and increase responsible and mutually beneficial programs. Integration, acceptance of local laws, culture and customs should be high on the Chinese agenda.
5. Balance: Curaçao should carefully balance its position to ensure embracing one foreign partner does not come to the detriment of another.
6. Leverage: We should maximize the presence of China and look into other mutual beneficial activities. An obvious one is a double tax treaty between Curaçao and China which will greatly benefit our international financial sector.

 

 

 

 

Verkeersveiligheid verleent voorrang aan politiek

Deze week (21-25 augustus 2017) staat in het licht van veilig verkeer op Curaçao. Er zijn verschillende aspecten die bepalend zijn voor de verkeersveiligheid. Op 11 oktober 2005 heb ik als minister van Economische en Arbeidszaken een nota gestuurd naar de Raad van Ministers (RvM) met als titel: “Technische invoerregelen op het gebied van normen en technische voorschriften ter zake de invoer van autowrakken en motorvoertuigen met rechtzijdige stuurinrichting”. Ik heb dat gedaan in het kader van de taak van de regering om de consument zoveel mogelijk te beschermen. Dit moest gerealiseerd worden door het invoeren van een aantal technische handelsbelemmeringen van de Wereldhandelsorganitie (WTO) waarvoor ik als minister van Economische Zaken verantwoordelijk was.

Het voorgesteld besluit van mijn notitie had als doelstelling: ‘het meten van de gevoelens van de RvM’. Deze werd door de meerderheid veranderd tot een simpele ‘kennisneming’. Feit was dat mijn collegas mij destijds geen steun gaven. Waarschijnlijk waren de politieke belangen grtoter dan ik had gedacht. Gelet op de thema van deze week licht ik een aantal zaken uit de eerdergenoemde nota toe.

Autowrakken
In 2001 is de Nederlandse Antilliaanse markt opengesteld voor de invoer van tweedehands motorvoertuigen waaronder schade auto’s en autowrakken cq. technische afgekeurde voertuigen. Het hoeft weinig betoog dat een voertuig dat technisch is afgekeurd meer risico’s met zich meebrengt voor ingezetenen v.w.b. letselschade vergeleken met een voertuig in een gedegen technische staat. Dit heeft vooral te maken met rechtgetrokken kreukelzones van het voertuig die in het geval van een technische afkeuring niet meer dezelfde resistentie en bescherming aan de ingezetene(n) bieden.

Rechtzijdige stuurinriching
Onze verkeersinfrastructuur is ingericht voor voertuigen met een linkszijdige stuurinrichting. Een aantal onderzoeken in de wereld heeft aangegeven dat voertuigen met een rechtzijdige stuurinrichting in een systeem als de onze, 40% meer risico’s voor ongelukken met zich meebrengen. Denk aan een konvoi met een rechtzijdige stuurinrichting die passagiers moet uit -of inlaten bij een bushalte hier op Curaçao. In verschillende landen, waaronder Sint Maarten (die mijn nota gretig heeft overgenomen) en Aruba heeft men de invoer van motorruituigen als voornoemd aan banden gelegd of zelfs gestopt.

Vergeleken met 2005 heeft de invoer van autowrakken en voertuigen met een rechtzijdige stuurinrichting een bijzondere vlucht genomen. Het is teleurstellend dat de politiek niet inziet dat de technische staat van ons motorvoertuigenpark mede bepalend is voor de verkeersveiligheid. Hoe lang nog voordat politici zich realiseren dat bescherming van een ieder in ons verkeer een top prioriteit is?

STRANDED IN ISOLATION

We have been through this many times before. Curaçao is and remains painfully isolated from the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere. Whilst the majority of our ties are with this region, we don’t have formal reciprocal bilateral economic relations with it. This is especially true for the U.S. which is by far our most important trade partner. We rely exclusively on unilateral preferences, the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the Overseas Countries and Territories (LGO) for exports to the U.S. and the E.U. respectively.

Most developing countries however, including our neighbors, have ceased to only rely on one-sided preferential programs because they have proven to contain too many complications, quotas and often exclude products which are of export interest to the beneficiaries. And these one-way programs are at the mercy of the donors as we have seen with the LGO. No serious trade policy can be based on LGO and CBI. This premise is proven by our dismal export figures and yet we persist in this erroneous thinking. We are in desperate need for mature and reciprocal relationships with the world. Our global and regional position is weak, isolated and frankly unsustainable. Simply put, we are missing out on opportunities -and not just trade- with our most important neighbors. For example, on December 16, 2016 President Barack Obama signed into Public Law the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 (CSEA) which calls for a new long-term strategy to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Caribbean especially in the areas of security, trade, economic development, energy, education and diaspora engagement. This ambitious program however is meant for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic. Moreover this is also the case for the U.S.-Caribbean Security Initiative which started in 2010 and is expected to run until 2018. Did our Government lobby in the U.S. to be included? I doubt it. What I do know for certain is that our private sector basically never even heard about CSEA. Another missed opportunity.

It is obvious that the strategic importance of the Caribbean region and Curaçao for the U.S. has grown due to a substantial increase of Chinese investments and interest in the region. The U.S. must also be aware that its policies that are responsible for the withdrawal of U.S. correspondent banks from the Caribbean can play into the hands of China that is eager to fill the void and have its currency, the RMB, play a central role in this region instead of the U.S. Dollar. This will mean more Chinese might. Going back to the crux of the matter, it is vital to work proactively with the U.S. and other Caribbean nations. Curaçao is more important than it might seem, at first glance, because of the quiet but strategically important security relationship it already has with the U.S..The dynamics of more Chinese interest in Curaçao is a chance to build on our historic relationship, economically, culturally and otherwise with the U.S.. We should not choose between the Chinese and the U.S.. Nobody expects us to do that. However we have to navigate wisely. But we have to start navigating and not remain stranded in isolation.

 

JOHN HORRIS SPROCKEL REPRESENTED CURAÇAO AT BIRTH OF UNITED NATIONS AND TRUSTEESHIP FOR NON-SELF GOVERNING TERRITORIES

The Charter of the United Nations (UN) was signed in San Fransisco on 26 June, 1945 by 50 nations creating a strong peace structure in order to build a better world. Unbeknownst to many of us, Curaçao had an official representative, Mr. John Horris Sprockel, both at the signing ceremony and in one of the preparatory subcommittees charged with drafting of the Charter. Mr. Sprockel, our first President of Parliament (1938-1945), was recommended by the Governor of Curaçao, Mr. Piet Kasteel, to represent our country in the delegation of the Kingdom of The Netherlands at the San Fransisco Conference. Mr. Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez who usually represented our country at such important international conferences decided to stay behind in Curaçao to prepare for parliamentary elections that would take place in November 1945. Mr. da Costa Gomez’s (and Sprockel’s) party, the Curaçao Roman Catholic Party (CRKP), was feeling the heat from the newly formed Democratic Party (DP) so it was decided that da Costa Gomez could not be missed for two months.

It was very fitting that while Curaçao was intensively engaged with The Netherlands to concretize self-government for the islands, Mr. Sprockel was appointed in San Fransisco to the subcommittee responsible for the drafting of the International Trusteeship System which goal was to promote the political, economic and social advancement of the non-self-governing territories and their development towards self-government and self-determination. Interestingly, the Australian delegation in San Francisco wanted to broaden the scope of the Trusteeship which would have possibly included Curaçao, Suriname and Indonesia. The Dutch delegation in the aforementioned subcommittee consisting of Mr. Boernahoedin and Mr. Moesa from Indonesia, Mr. Sprockel from Curaçao and Mr. van der Plas from The Netherlands (the delegate of Suriname never made it to San Francisco due to illness) contended that: “The Kingdom of The Netherlands was far more ahead regarding decolonization than what was the initial goals of the UN Trusteeship. This, according to the article by Mr. Sprockel: “Curaçao’s Belang bij San Francisco” (Curaçao’s Interest in San Francisco) which appeared in Amigoe di Curaçao, 28 July 1945.

With the independence of Palau in 1994, the Security Council in 1994 terminated the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement. With no Territories left in its agenda, the Trusteeship System had completed its historic task. Soon after he returned to Curaçao from San Francisco, Mr. Sprockel tendered his resignation as President of Parliament.

Photo (United Nations): Alexander Loudon signs the United Nations Manifest on behalf of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Behind him, second from the left, John Horris Sprockel.

STAND UP FOR DEMOCRACY IN VENEZUELA

Remember the Curaçaon left-wing populist politicians who flocked to Venezuela on Chávez’s plane to praise his ‘revolución’? Remember how they, together with some union leaders and opinion makers spoke wonders about Chavismo? Still clearly I remember how in 2011 a Member of Parliament of Curaçao picked up the Venezuelan Consul-general and did a 360° spin with her in the Parliament building just before the opening ceremonies of a new Parliamentary year. Yes, love was still in the air. Do these people who sanctified the ‘Venezuelan model’ owe us an explanation today? Just about all of the earlier disciples of Chavismo here in Curaçao have maintained a conspicuous silence in the face of the Venezuelan tragedy. Those who do speak up, rather than apologize for the Chávez-Maduro dictatorship, blame collapsing oil prices for the country’s fate. However these charlatans fail to explain why fellow OPEC member Indonesia has not seen similar unrests, but surprisingly fortified its young democracy during the same period Venezuela took a turn for the worse.

The legacy of the Venezuelan model reads like a to-do list on how to become a failed State. Today Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world, 678.60% while its economy will contract in 2017 with 11% (Forbes). Our southern neighbors have climbed the ladders of Transparency International lists as the only country in the Americas among the world’s 10 most corrupt. The country’s economic crisis takes heavy toll on public health, with infant death rate up 30%, maternal mortality up 65%, and malaria cases up 76% in 2016 according to statistics published by the Venezuelan government. Currently more than 450 investigations into human rights violations have been opened and there are 444 political prisoners in Venezuela according to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS).

If there was anything left of Venezuela’s democracy it was taken away by the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, who held a fraudulent election last weekend creating a new Constituent Assembly consisting of 545 seats, all filled with candidates hand-picked by Maduro’s party. The Constituent Assembly is empowered to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, expel members of the opposition from the current National Assembly, and consolidate all executive powers. To add insult to injury, Mr. Maduro had the two most important opposition leaders arrested and sent to a military prison.

What should we do? I hope that the world sends a clear message that the results of last week’s elections are not going to be recognized. As many as 40 countries, including the European Union on behalf of its members (i.e. also The Kingdom of the Netherlands) have already announced they will not accept the Constituent Assembly. I’m unsure at this moment whether the Venezuelan people should be slapped with sanctions that could worsen their already dire situation. History also teaches us that while dictators can be removed from abroad, it is impossible to impose democracy from abroad. The end of dictatorship in Venezuela will depend on internal Venezuelan pressure. The best way to keep the pressure on Caracas is for other countries to decisively act in defense of democracy. Precisely because the world has allowed the situation to deteriorate incrementally, but consistently, we are at the point where we are today. Very disappointing was the fact that a few weeks ago fellow Caribbean nations St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis voted against the OAS resolution to condemn Maduro’s intentions to convene a Constituent Assembly that would have required a 23-vote majority to become mandatory. I guess these islands’ love for cheap Venezuelan oil trumped doing something about a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

When it comes to Venezuela, Curaçao has always remained neutral and has abided by the non-intervention rule. Yet non-intervention should not be used to simply do nothing. I believe that the Government in Willemstad should express its regret that more than 100 people have died in the most recent unrests; its deep concern about the detention of two opposition leaders by Venezuelan authorities after Sunday’s elections; urging the Government in Caracas to immediately release all those being held for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly; appeal to all parties to refrain from the use of violence and voice its desire for a democratic solution. I also make a similar appeal to our local non-governmental organizations because democracy is a matter of all of us, not only the government. I know that we have strong historical, economical and often family ties with Venezuela. That’s a fact. However, these relationships should never be at the expense of the human suffering that is taking place in Venezuela owing to the fact that some people want to quell democracy.