Why write about the need for equal rights?

Need for equality obvious
Some ARCO-writers wondered why we should write about this at all. ‘Isn’t it obvious?’, they protested. The BES-islands are going to be part of Holland. This has been agreed in the ‘Final Declaration’ (‘Slotverklaring’).

Art. 1 Slotverklaring reads:
‘BES krijgen in de toekomst een staatsrechtelijke positie binnen het Ne-derlandse staatsbestel’.

So, obviously, as part of Holland,
article 1 of the Dutch Constitution (= ‘Grondwet’) must apply in Bonaire, Eustatius and Saba (‘BES’), when the new si-tuation enters into force. Art. 1 Grondwet prohibits discrimination in all its forms. So equality is a given. There is no need to write about it. The law is the law. It’s that simple!

So why dedicate a special edition to this isssue then, i.e. the need for equal rights between citizens of Holland and of BES? The reason is that it is not so obvious to everybody. Many people in Holland, both in politics and on the street, do not find it obvious that equal rights should be introduced. They insist that the BES-islands should accept inequality for its citizens.

Social and economic rights

First of all, it’s important to make clear what we are talking about. We are referring to eqaulity in basic social and economic rights. Things like: the minimum wage, Old Age Pension (known as ‘AOV’ in the Antilles), unemployement benefit (known as ‘WW’ in Holland) and rent subsidies (in Holland tenants receive a subsidy to be able to pay the rent, if their income is very low; this is known as ‘huursubsidie’ in Dutch).

The constitutional talks have now reached a point where it has become clear that Holland is objecting to equal rights for BES-citizens. Virtually this means that Holland wants us to accept a status of ‘second class citizens’ for our people, not within the Kingdom this time, but within Holland itself.

Why does Holland object?

Now before we start condemning Holland off-hand, we should examine their reasons. Holland fears two things. Firstly, if equality is accepted, they fear that the BES-islands will become ‘magnets’, attracting a flood of immigrants. Secondly, they fear that equality will be ‘disruptive’ in the sense that it will cause the welfare level in the other islands (i.e. SXM, Aruba and Curaçao) to become much lower than in the BES-islands. This will cause envy, strife and (massive) migration between the islands.

Well, let’s analyze these objections and fears.

First of all, Holland is a great magnet itself. Immigrants from all over the world flock to Holland. This may cause some problems, but nobody in Holland is suggesting that the social and economic rights of its citizens should be lowered to stop Holland from being such a great magnet! As long as any country is relatively rich, it will always be a magnet for migrants. This is only natural, because people are born with a desire to improve their lot and to enjoy life. This is called the ‘pursuit of happiness’, a God-given human right.

It is very unjust to ask of people not to pursue happiness. It is wrong to expect of BES to remain poor, or to accept a lower welfare level, just to avoid outsiders from coming in. To be honest, this is absurd. We do not seek to offend Holland, but we cannot follow their logic here. Holland itself would not dare suggest a lower welfare level to its own people to avoid immigration. We are confident Holland will - upon reflection - understand that this is simply a false argument. We are confident for - contrary to popular belief in the Antilles - the Dutch are reasonable people. In fact, they may even rely on reason a bit too much. But either way, if we did not have the confidence that they were reasonable people, we should not even ask to become a part of Holland. But we have asked and, therefore, we presume their good faith. And we will not be disappointed.

And the second objection?

And what about the ‘disruption’ argument? The Council of State (= ‘Raad van State’) expressed this argument, using the Dutch word ‘ontwrichting’ = ‘disruption’.

It is true, of course, that the Dutch welfare level is much higher than the Antillean one. That is why so many Antilleans have gone to live in Holland. So, yes, if the Dutch welfare level were to be introduced in the BES-islands, the other islands might indeed be envious.

But why should this lead to ‘disruption’? What is going to ‘disrupt’, we ask? Aruba’s welfare level is higher than Bonaire’s, but that has never ‘disrupted’ anything. There was no serious increase in inter-island migration. There was quite a lot of migration from Curaçao to St. Maarten when the latter island was booming, but it did not cause any insoluble problems either.

So ‘disruption’ is not really an argument. It is just a word. Higher welfare does not pose any insoluble problems. When there is a rich man living in the street, it does not disrupt the street. People know and accept that some people are better off than others. That is a fact of life.

And if some Antilleans should decide to move to BES because of these islands’ higher standard of living, this should be welcomed. After all, it is preferable they migrate to BES instead of Holland, a country which often they do not know.

Inequality leads to disruption

So, upon closer examination we see that ‘disruption’ cannot be an argument to deny citizens their equal rights. On the contrary, history has shown that a legal system based on unequal rights always causes disruption sooner or later. The BES-islands (except Statia) have opted to
become an integral part of Holland. In any
case, this has been agreed to in the Final Declaration. So, therefore, the BES-citizens have a fundamental right to equal treatment before the law. It would cause disruption if this were denied.

St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao (let’s call them ‘MAC’) have opted to become a ‘country’ (= ‘Land’) within the Kingdom, separate from Holland. They will not become an integral part of Holland. So clearly, as the Kingdom rules have been interpreted during the past 50 years (although incorrectly!), they will have to determine their own welfare level.

Reference point

During the past 50 years Curaçao was the reference point for the welfare level in the BES-islands (art. 110 Island Regulation = ‘Eilandenregeling’). In the new situation this reference point will be gone. BES will no longer be part of the Neth. Antilles and the Island Regulation will no longer apply to BES. The only possible new reference point will be the Dutch welfare level, as BES will become a part of Holland.

It would be very unreasonable to arrange things so that Curaçao would remain the reference point for the BES welfare level, as in the new situation the BES-islands will have no political say in Curaçao at all. So BES cannot be bound to a situation, they cannot influence in any way.