Myanmar moving on with refinery without Guangdong Zhenrong: lessons for Curaçao


Since visiting Myanmar late 2016, I’ve written extensively about the failure of Guangdong Zhenrong Engergy (GZE) to deliver on promises made to this Asian country to build a refinery as part of China’s imperial One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision. GZE was eventually kicked out of Myanmar because of serious financial breach. Notwithstanding this information, Curaçaon (political) authorities were blinded by GZE’s flashy computer presentations promising not only a refinery here, but also casinos and a Las Vegas-style strip! Albeit too late, Curaçao desisted from continuing with this adventure.

It caught my attention that Myanmar has recently announced plans to build a large state-of-the-art oil refinery in Magwe Region, near an existing oil facility. This means that, if the refinery is built, it will not uproot thousands of local farmers and inhabitants as would have been the case had GZE continued with its plans. Environment and social impact of this project now play an important part after the GZE’s plans ended up being investigated by the United Nations.

The Government of Myanmar is expected to finance the refinery project in cooperation with the private sector and is moving ahead without GZE notwithstanding its relationship with China which is as “close as lips and teeth”. Undoubtedly the Burmese authorities are also aware that a whopping 234 infrastructure projects announced in the OBOR countries since 2013 have so far hit major problems. The huge Ituango dam in Colombia is a case in point.

Myanmar has revamped its energy policy by putting in place an energy data collection system; assigning highly qualified staff to government departments responsible for energy policy; sharpening the regulatory environment; investing in innovation technologies and an attractive fiscal framework for the sector.

Construction is expected to take between 3 and 5 years. There’re currently just two old oil refineries in the country – both of which are state-owned. One is currently non-operational, while the other is unable to produce fuels that comply with quality standards. Myanmar has vowed to be transparant in the  new refinery process and to steer away from political mudslinging, shady and ‘black box-like’ circumstances that led to the hasty MoU with GZE one day before the military Junta stepped down. The investigation and prosecution called for by the international community to investigate and prosecute the Burmese military leaders may shed more light into this matter.

Myanmar is the poorest country in Southeast Asia and shares a border with China. Not exactly comparable with Curaçao. Yet there are some lessons to be learned here. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Diego Garcia’s population may get justice, regardless disdain from US, UK and EU for human rights


It reads like a novel. Yet it has proven all too real for the people involved in one of the most incredible abuses committed in the 20th century by two self-proclaimed human rights advocates, the US and the UK.

There was once a population that lived in peace for generations on Diego Garcia, a paradise–like coral island midway between Africa and Asia. Until the entire population was forced to leave and go live 1,600 km away, while their island was turned into a secret military base. When the people protested, their dogs were slaughtered and were threatened with the same fate if they did not leave quickly. This was in 1971, not exactly the dark ages of colonial aggression. The inhabitants have not been able to return to their island, their homes. In 2016 I wrote an article on  how the US and the UK stole a nation and got away with it.

There may be some hope however for these inhabitants. In 2017 a Mauritian-backed resolution to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal status of Diego Garcia was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. With a margin of 94 to 15, delegates supported this resolution. A total of 65 countries preferred to remain silent on this matter by abstaining to vote. One of those who abstained was The Netherlands, always trigger happy to condemn everyone else of human rights violations, failed to send a message that it is against one of the greatest travesties of justice during the last 50 years.  I have Dutch nationality and I’m deeply ashamed by this coward action.

Judges at the ICJ  began hearing arguments on the legality of British sovereignty over the Diego Garcia. The final ruling however could take weeks or months to be delivered. A ruling in favor of the Mauritius-backed resolution could finally mean the return of the Diego Garcia’s population. A positive ruling would formally condemn the US and the UK for the atrocities committed against a defenseless population. It would also teach those that preferred to be complicit to the crimes committed by their European friend, that a real champion of human rights walks the talk and does not walk away. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Hasi Boneiru i Isla Riba dependiente di Kòrsou i Aruba: proposishon di 1969


Den kurso di añanan polítikonan semper a (laga nos) kere ku nos problemanan ta falta di e struktura gubernamental. Si no tabata Nieuwe Unie, ta UPG, LGO+, Mankomunidat, Provincie, Antia Restrukturá i Nieuwe Antillen ku mester a resolvé tur kos. Mi ta sigur ku mi lista ta inkompleto. Ami semper a gusta loke e Presidente di Koloniale Raad a bisa promé ku esaki a desaparesé na aprel 1938 pa traha espasio pa Staten: “E kalidat di hende pa manehá e struktura ta mas importante ku inventá un struktura gubernamental ku bo ta kere ta perfekto”. 

E artíkulo aki ta memorá un kambio estatal kurioso ku sierto polítiko di Kòrsou a proponé medio siglo pasá, pero ku ni historiadónan a lanta for di tera.

Despues di e susesonan di 30 mei 1969 ku a pone ku Gobièrnu di Antia a baha, a organisá elekshon nobo riba 5 sèptèmber 1969. A surgi un kombinashon di lista di tres partido (promé biaha den nos historia) konsistiendo di Partido Radical di Pueblo (PRP), Akshon Sosial Progresista (ASP) i Union Sosial Kristian (CSU) ku e siguiente lista: 1. Leoncio Yanez; 2. Eric Vinck; 3. Wilson Mariën; 4. Hermigildo de Palm; 5. Virginia Martina; 6. William Reet; 7. José Veeris; 8. Ostacio Winklaar; 9. Carlos Goeloe; 10. Elias Bronswinkel; 11. John Riley.

PRP-ASP-CSU via di su bosero, Sr. Bronswinkel,  komo punto di lansa kier a eliminá e asientonan den Staten di Boniero i Islanan Ariba. E  tabata haña ku Boneiru i Islanan Ariba no tabatin e peso pa tin asiento i voto den nos parlamento. E a proponé pa e dos nan aki tin solamente un “adviserende stem”. Mas a leu PRP-ASP-CSU a proponé pa mas outonomia i mas responsabilidat pa Aruba i Kòrsou mientras ku e tres teritorionan di Isla Ariba i Boneiru mester a bira mas dependiente di Aruba i Kòrsou. Segun Sr. Bronswinkel, eliminando e asientonan di Staten di Boneiru i Isla Ariba ku tabata stroba gobernashon, lo a pone ku nos pais porfin por a keda bon goberná.

Polítikonan di Isla Ariba i prinsipalmente di Boneiru a kaba ku e proposishon aki. Den esaki polítikonan a hasi bon uso di e echo ku Sr. Bronswinkel tabata pancho di karnaval na 1964 i ku e tabata yama su mes un spiritista ku por a papia ku defuntu a hasi bofón di tantu e proposishon di kambio estatal komo e bosero di e plan.

PRP-ASP-CSU a haña un total di 1,023 voto ku no tabata sufisiente pa saka un asiento den Staten. Ku esaki tambe e plan pa Boneiru, St. Maarten, St Eustatius i Saba bira dependiente di Aruba i Kòrsou, sin representashon den Staten, a pasa pa historia.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Curaçao’s demographic crisis


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.

Willemstad, Curaçao

The warning bell, tolling again


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.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Time doesn’t heal, it lessens the pain: Year two


Exactly two years ago I lost my mother. And then, after a few weeks, I lost my younger sister. What I’ve learned is that time doesn’t heal all wounds as is commonly assumed. Time however lessens the pain of loss. Over time I’ve seen a shift in the way I grief. It’s not less hard, but a different kind of grief in which I mourn for both loss and acceptance. No wonder it took me more than a year to clean out my mother’s room and closet.

When I was around four years old I understood that things changed with the death of a first-degree relative. My mom, with the passing of her mother, started wearing only black. I remember her telling me that according to the church (she was a devout Catholic) the first year after death of a close relative, is referred to as deep mourning. Only all black or all white dresses were appropriate. Half mourning is the next period of six months of mourning. Black with white trim, or white with black trim, is considered the standard for dress. Light or second mourning, also lasting six months, is the final stage. Clothing is characterized by mild colors, including greys, mauves and other soft pastel colors. 

As a child I noticed the colors, not her sadness. She was very brave as was most probably her mother when she went through the same hard times. I guess that’s why mothers are so special and loved. I also know now that no church or person can tell you how you should feel or how long you should mourn the loss of loved ones. I had the opportunity after the passing of my mother and sister to go on assignment in various Asian and Pacific countries. Being away from it all was therapeutic. For others who have had a loss, it may not have been. 

You shouldn’t compare yourself with those whom you know have had a loss. The coworker who’s smiling at happy hour only a few weeks after his wife died? He may have been crying every day on the way to and from work. The family member who thinks that you should “move on” after a few months has no idea what this loss feels like, or what feels right for you. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to quickly recover. Be patient with those who don’t understand. At the end of the day I’d rather feel this pain than feel nothing.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Moshon di deskonfiansa kontra Minister Plenipotensiario:1950


Den un reunion di Staten di Antia Ulandes riba 30 yüni 1950, un moshon a keda entregá pa frakshon di Arubaanse Volkspartij (AVP) pa baha e Minister Plenipotensiario na Ulanda, Sr. Michael Gorsira. Segun e miembro pa AVP, Sr. Geerman, e no tabatin konfiansa den e Minister Plenipotensiario ni tampoko den su kapasidatnan pa representá Antia.

Rason pa e deskonfiansa tabata segun AVP e echo ku Sr. Gorsira tabata komportá su mes komo un partidario di Democratische Partij (DP) i ku e no tabata na altura di e berdadero deseonan di kada isla pa loke ta trata struktura estatal. Segun Sr. Geerman, Sr. Gorsira lo a hasi deklarashonnan indebido na Ulanda bisando e.o.: “Staten di Antia Ulandes no ta representativo”. 

Miembro di Staten pa Katholieke Volkspartij (KVP), Nicolaas Debrot, a sali na defensa di Sr. Gorsira i a yama e moshon: “.. een prul, je reinste kolder en ongemotiveerd.” E a kòrda AVP ku e posishon di un Minister Plenipotensiario no ta polítiko sino unu netamente atministrativo pa kua Gobernadó ta responsabel. Lider di DP, Sr. Jonckheer, a bisa ku Sr. Gorsira no tin nada di haber ku DP i ku no por tin kuestion di partidismo. 

Algun dia despues, na momentu ku mester a trata e moshon, hopi miembro a bandoná e sala di reunion di Staten ku konsekuensia ku no tabatin korum pa votashon. Mester remarká ku e susesonan rònt di Sr. Gorsira a tuma lugá den un periodo sumamente tumultoso den nos demokrasia parlamentario. Na Kòrsou e rivalidat entre di Dòktor da Costa Gomez i Efraim Jockheer tabata kandente i oposishon di e otro islanan pa ku Kòrsou tabata hopi visibel te na e ekstremo ku tabata kompará Dòktor ku Hitler. 

Pa loke ta trata Sr. Gorsira, esaki a bisa ku Staten no tin nada di bisé. “Mijn positie is geen andere dan die van een ambtenaar. Ik ben door de gouverneur benoemd en ben alleen aan hem verantwoording verschuldigd. Men kan een ambtenaar van wat men zou kunnen noemen de diplomatieke dienst nu eenmaal niet in een parlement wegstemmen.” Sr. Gorsira ta keda den su posishon te ora e keda nombrá na 1951 komo e promé Gezaghebber di Kòrsou. 

E kaso di 1950 ta kasi idéntiko na e kontroversia ku e Minister Plenipotensiario durante di e gobernashon 2012-2016. Konstitushonalmente Staten no por kore ku un ámtenar, tampoko e representante na Ulanda. Na 1950 Gobernadó ku ta esun ku a nombra Sr. Gorsira a opta pa no kit’é. Durante 2012-2016 esun ku ta responsabel pa e Minister Plenipotensiario, e Minister Presidènt, tampoko a opta pa tuma medida. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Fuente: Het Nieuws: Algemeen Dagblad, 5 juli 1950; Amigoe di Curaçao, 11 juli 1950; Historisch Archief Curaçao