Not a burden, but a chance!

Apology to our readers in Saba and Statia
Maybe we should include more stories in English to better inform Sabans and Statians. And we will in future. In this special edition, however, we choose to convey our message mainly in Dutch for the simple reason that it is of the utmost importance that our message comes across in Holland. This ARCO-edition will be distributed among all politicians in Holland, as well as the Dutch press. We wish to make them see that BES (Bonaire, Eustatius and Saba) are an opportunity for Holland, not a burden.

Right of self-determination

First of all, we point out that each Antillean island has the right to self-determination. So whatever happens during the talks with Holland, we do not have to submit to pressure. And we will not do so.

But we do not come to the table with an obstructionist attitude. We ‘negotiate’ (which is a wrong word really) to reach a fair and balanced deal. We do so constructively. These are not Collective Labor Agreement negotiations, where the employer and the unions view each other as enemies. Holland is not our enemy. They are our friends!

What’s more, they are our allies and will be our compatriots even. It is very important from the start to understand our completely new relationship with Holland. BES will become part of Holland. We will be a few extra islands added to the territory of Holland. So we have to change our attitude toward Holland and the Dutch people. We have to flick a switch in our minds from ‘red alert’ to ‘green and safe’. We leave the past and all animosty behind, as the Dutch themselves have done toward the Germans. After all, life is not about war; it is about peace.

From obstruction to construction

It is true that Statia has not opted for integration into Holland. Statia was happy with the Antilles and did not see the need for change. So this idea of integration into Holland may for Statia be somewhat of a pill to swallow.

On the other hand, the other islands have all rejected Statia’s stance, leaving Statia to fend for itself. Nobody wanted to dance with Statia, except for Holland. So even Statia has good reason to accept the offer and be constructive, even though the love may not have kindled yet.

Saba’s position is somewhat ambiguous. In the past they were the first to suggest a ‘direct link’ with Holland. During the 1993/1994 referenda they were severely critisized for that. This time around, they have chosen to interpret their winning referendum option to mean that Saba wants an associative link with Holland instead of integration. ‘Association’ would mean a link similar to the present link between the Antilles (or Aruba) and Holland. We must assume that - upon reflection - Saba has realized that association is impractical. In any case both Saba and Statia have signed the Final Declaration (= ‘Slotverklaring’), which is crystal clear in this res-pect: BES will integrate fully into Holland. If you integrate, you should do so wholeheartedly. So BES should keep an open mind and be constructive during the talks. Anything less, would be bad faith.


For readers to understand all this better, we give some background-information. Following World War II, the need for decolonization and the right of self-determination were formally accepted and formulated in UN-resolutions and treaties.

Art. 1 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political rights formally proclaims that ‘all peoples have the right of self-determination’. Now, pay attention! Is says ‘all peoples’. Are Antilleans a people? Or do the people of each Antillean island form a separate people? Are we 6 peoples, or 1 people composed of 6 island-communities?
A very good case can be made that only the (Netherlands) Antillean people are a ‘people’ within the meaning of the UN Covenant. This would mean that the islands individually do not have the right of self-determination at all. Only the Netherlands Antilles as a whole has this right.

We believe the latter view to be legally correct. From an international point of view the individual islands do not have the right of self-determination. The Antilles has this right. However, a mistake was made in the past. Aruba claimed the right and all islands agreed. Eventually, Holland also agreed.

Ever since, all parties within the Kingdom have reiterated that each individual island has the right of self-determination. Where everybody agrees to scramble an egg, you cannot unscramble it afterwards. So, although legally incorrect, we must for practical purposes assume that the right of self-determination of each island has been recognized. If not internationally, then at least within the Kingdom. And then the Kingdom will have to explain this afterwards abroad, which is not so difficult really, as we all agree internally! It’s a wrongly scrambled egg, but there it is.

An integrative link

Bonaire has been clear as of the referendum in 2004. It has opted for integration into Holland. It did so purposely, because it is the only option which must result in equality between Dutch and BES citizens in accordance with the law, as we argue extensively in this special ARCO-edition.

Bonaire is conscious of the consequences of this choice, and is willing to accept them. These consequences will be further explained in this edition. On page 10 of this edition we quote a section of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bonaire Referendum-ordinance as evidence of Bonaire’s conscious choice in this respect.

Who was conscious of what?

It can always be argued that the people did not (fully) understand and could not foresee all consequences at the time of voting, or were wrongly informed by the politicians. And this argument will always be true, for there were only very few people who fully understood everything. And it is impossible to explain everything (correctly) to everybody in all its details. The subject matter is simply too complicated. However, the 9 Bonaire Island Council members were supposed to understand. After all, they are our elected leaders.
Direct Link
And six of them backed and propagated the ‘Direct Link’ integration option, which was chosen by the people. So we must presume that Bonaire has consciously voted for integration. And though we all may have some second thoughts now, basically we have no regrets. For none of the alternatives is realistic.

Some more background

These matters are complicated. But it is important that as many people as possible understand the basics. That way people will have a better idea of what is going on during the present constitutional talks, like why they stalled in November 2007, when State-Secretary Mrs. Ank Bijleveld visited Statia.

Following World War II the United Nations General Assembly adopted a number of resolutions to determine in what ways decolonization could take place.

Now, Holland likes to argue that the decolonization of the Netherlands Antilles was completed in 1954, with the voluntary adoption by Surinam and the Antilles of the Kingdom Statute in which these entities were granted a substantial measure of autonomy. The UN subsequently discharged Holland of its obli-
gation to report to the UN about these territories, which means they were no longer considered to be ‘Non self-governing territories’ (look up art. 73 UN Charter on the Internet).

Holland concludes that decolonization was therefore then completed. However, this argument is flawed for various reasons, the most potent being that within the Kingdom itself, Holland has repeatedly declared to respect the right of self-determination of both Surinam and the Antilles. Indeed, even of each individual Antillean island.

And in line herewith, Holland did fully respect Surinam’s right to self-determination in 1975, when this country opted for full independence. So the inescapable conclusion is that the decolonization of the Netherlands Antilles has not yet been completed, despite the Kingdom Statute, which should be seen as the first step. Therefore, what is happening now is part of the still ongoing process of decolonization, even though Holland’s influence in the Antilles and Aruba is limited by the Statute (as was the case also in Surinam until 1975).

UN-decolonization resolutions

According to the UN, decolonization is completed when a former colony has opted for and realized one of the following:
a) full independence;
b) association with another state;
c) integration into another state (usually the ‘mother-country’).
Look up the UN-decolonization resolutions on the net, particularly: Resolution 1514 (XV), 1541 (XV) and 2625 (XXV).

It is generally accepted that a referendum is needed for options b) association and c) integration.

As said, Bonaire’s 2004 referendum was valid in this respect. Saba’s referendum is uncertain and Statia’s referendum is certainly not valid as a decolonization referendum, as the Statian people did not vote for integration. However, both islands have agreed to integration by signing the Final Declaration (‘Slotverklaring’).
Nevertheless, this ambiguous situation probably leaves both Saba and Statia with a legal right (as a kind of ‘reservation’, if you will) to consult the people once again before sealing the deal with Holland. Whether this is practical or desirable, will not be discussed now.

So why are BES a chance for Holland, not a burden?

It’s all in the mind. So far - at least since 1969 - Holland has viewed and treated the Antilles as a burden. This is certainly also partially due to our own obstructionist attitude, which is usually not openly declared, but all the more felt whenever contacts take place, both on a government and a personal level.

We strongly recommend to leave this to Curaçao. See how far it will get them. So far they have made less progress than BES. Not only is an obstructionist attitude ethically incorrect (what gives us the right to obstruct?), but it is also impractical. After all, Holland has no pressing obligation to reach a deal with us either. So, we’ll have to compromise from time to time, as must Holland also.

In other words, we must seriously try to reach a ‘win-win’ deal. Ideally both Holland and BES should leave the negotiating table with the feeling that new opportunities have been created for both parties.

Exclusive Economic Zone

In this respect we mention the Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding the Antillean islands. The area which may be claimed by the BES-islands is vast. Particularly Saba and Bonaire are surrounded by large EEZ-areas. It is unknown whether any valuable minerals or oil can be extracted from the zone’s seabed. But if so, it would require huge amounts of capital and technical know-how. BES have neither. Of course, this could be provided by private companies, but we believe the protection and assistance of Holland would be of value to us. So there is a potential opportunity for both Holland and BES here.

Also, with the extension of Holland’s territory in the Caribean Sea, new opportunities for Dutch trade and industry will open up. To accommodate potential investors Bonaire intends to construct a container port with adjacent industrial/economic zone. Statia could develop similar initiatives.

So we must compromise and reach a fair and balanced deal. However, there is one principle which cannot be compromised. And that is the principle of equality as defined in the law. Holland should not even ask of us to compromise on this principle.