(Curaçao Chronicle)

I am writing this in English so that my friends in St. Maarten can understand it too, because it seems that the kids we "adopted" here after hurricane Irma had a problem going to school here because they don't understand Dutch or Papiamentu.
Oops, sorry our mistake, but we are working on it to correct that problem. Maybe it's the result of introducing Papiamentu in schools because when I went to school we were forced to speak Dutch and from Dutch we learned the other "living" languages resulting in our ability nowadays to switch from one language to another without a problem. But that's not the point.
Since Hurricane Irma ruined St. Maarten, everybody on the sister islands and in Holland, moved heaven and earth to help even before the hurricane struck St. Maarten. The Dutch marines here were already preparing a week before it hit the island.
In Holland they were collecting money, here the schools, the Chinese community, the wholesalers, supermarkets, even KLM put up extra flights to evacuate people. Curoil paid for the fuel to fly the evacuees over, radio stations Easy 97 and Laser 101 were providing information for the families here.
Everybody was concerned and was involved in helping because direct or indirectly we were connected either by friends or family or by trade. We saw the video clips of the unbelievable devastation and the helpless people and the terrible loss of property and lives. We were all moved and sprung into action.
We also saw the looting and when we realized that people were not taking food or water but flat screen tv's, fridges, scooters and stealing gas from abandoned cars, and our hearts sank. The Dutch marines were the first there after the hurricane hit to reestablish law and order to avoid complete anarchy.
On Facebook somebody put up a video clip claiming to have been kicked out of the place he was staying by the Dutch marines so they could stay there. I knew it was fake the minute I saw that but, there were enough people that used that to air their frustration and make it a racial thing. Later it turned out that I was right and that it was fake and the man was lying.
What really hurt me is, that when I was watching the news on a Dutch channel the prime minister of St Maarten was claiming that the Dutch marines did not do enough and somewhere else I read that they claim that the help came too late and was not enough compared to what the French send over to their part of the island. The two hairs on my head stood straight up and I was really mad, because why don't they mention that if it was not for the Dutch marines, who they have would called for help, the Ghostbusters?
I have learned in my life that no matter what you do to help people there will ALWAYS be some form of criticism on whatever you do to help. I have done so many charity projects and every time I swear that it was the last one because every time I get kicked by bystanders with their hands in their pockets watching me struggle to help others..
The same people that are complaining about the help the Dutch offered and still is offering are the ones that are screaming for the independence of St. Maarten. Now ask yourself where would you be if it wasn't for the Dutch. You should be kissing the ground these people walk on instead of being so ungrateful.
I am sad and disappointed because I know the people of St Maarten are not like that but it is a small group of people that are looking out for their own interest in the middle of this chaos and turmoil. Be strong, remember we are all right behind you, including the Dutch people and marines.

By Arthur Donker

Dear Editor:
It is heart-warming that people from Curaçao and the Netherlands together have raised millions of euros to show their compassion for and solidarity with St. Maarten. What happened on St. Maarten is most serious and devastating. We know the stories insofar as they can be known: about 90 per cent of the buildings is damaged, other houses and shacks are completely taken by the storm, there is rubbish everywhere, shops and private houses are looted and people feel on a large scale unsafe. Hence, all help is most welcome!
In the short term, the Red Cross seems to be the designated organisation to offer that help. The money that has been donated to “Giro 5125” is governed by the Red Cross and hopefully these donations will enable the Red Cross to deliver food, clean water and other resources to those who have no access to them, so that their primary needs may be met as well – until the infrastructure has been rebuilt to a sufficient level. The assistance of the Red Cross is of course very welcome. However, I do want to raise some critical questions on the political context of the help offered.
Conflict between Dutch and St. Maarten governments seems greater than the need of victims
First, I remark that it is at least very sad that the help is not directly coming from the Dutch Government. Apparently the step is too big to say “Sorry, St. Maarten government, there are lives at stake. We realize that we may have our differences in how to deliver the help you need, but we first acknowledge the lives at stake and in the second place our differences. When we talk about structural measures, we can have our differences again and we will listen.”
That is sad for numerous reasons, but I shall highlight three. One: the conflict between the St. Maarten government and the Dutch government seems ‘more important’ than the human lives at stake! Two: the Dutch state has potentially access to more and greater resources, both in personnel and materials, than the Red Cross and we now settle for the potentially lesser option; that is to say, the option of the more limited resources. Three: both St. Maarten and the Netherlands – at least – implicitly accepted that the help from a non-governmental organisation (NGO) was favoured over the help from a democratically legitimated and controlled institution: a government.
Of course, the Dutch state has delivered help to St. Maarten, as did other Kingdom partners. The power to maintain the public order and to defend the states against threats from outside is solely vested in the state, at least constitutionally speaking. That assistance is being offered, but furthermore the help seems to mainly come from the Red Cross.
For completeness, the hesitation from the Dutch government to “jump in” and deliver spontaneous help seems understandable, however unfortunate it is (!). Due the bad relationship between the countries in combination with this disastrous and stressful situation, it seems very difficult to deliver adequate help on the one side and not be accused of too much interference on the other.
Such was illustrated by the comment of the prime minister of St. Maarten, who noted that the Marines had not stopped the looting. Without judging this comment, it has been argued in the Trouw (by Marno de Boer, September 19) that indeed there was insufficient staff to prevent this. But then the question might be: what if at once 500 Marines entered the island, would it then be too many and would it have given the impression that the Netherlands took over control (and aimed at re-colonising St. Maarten)?
Unfortunately, the relationship between the Netherlands and St. Maarten has been too fragile to respond adequately at once. The Netherlands may have needed to bear in mind that it could have been accused of re-colonisation or at least potentially coped with the fear thereof.
Some critical remarks: rather help via a non-democratic organisation than via a government
It is striking that an NGO plays such a big role, given that the task is most important and, at least in the longer run when resources are closer to exhaustion, will require that policies are being made: for instance, on how to distribute the limited resources. How to prioritize? Will first the elderly be helped or rather the children? Is clean drinking water for all more important than sanitation for fragile groups of society? etc.
After all, the Red Cross is, if it is at all, only accountable to a limited extent, whereas governments are at least accountable to a representative body. The Government, accountable to Parliament, will have to justify their policies and the choices they made with regard to the distribution of the food, water, etc. If Parliament feels that certain groups are not looked after sufficiently, it can influence the Government to reconsider choices.
Through democratic elections the politicians are ultimately accountable to the people of St. Maarten, and so by involving the Government to a greater extent, the people can have some influence or another on the process of rebuilding the country and the distribution of limited goods.
Luckily the confidence in the Red Cross is widely shared and uncontroversial, so that at least those in need may be served. However, it does demonstrate that people are rather willing to set aside democratic values than to trust one another’s government. St. Maarten does not want to appear to be re-colonised and the Netherlands does not wish to be accused of it and realizes that it is equally irresponsible to “just donate” the necessary recourses to the St. Maarten Government.
How to look at the future? Which problems must be resolved in order to stay in line with constitutional values?
At the moment, the Red Cross offers emergency help. The question is, however, for how long? One must guard that it takes too long, because then the emergency help becomes structural and the Red Cross will inherently act on the basis of policies (on how to distribute resources, etc.), which, as said, are preferably made by a democratically legitimized and controlled government – or Parliament if the Government lacks a legal basis to act upon.
At some point – hopefully in the very near future – the Government of St. Maarten will be able to take over these tasks and work on the rebuilding of the country - if, of course, the Government has not yet been able to have started that process effectively already.
For the rebuilding of these infrastructures money from outside will be necessary. It lies well within reason that the St. Maarten Government will have to accept supervision on how this public money is being spent, given (among other legal provisions) the Kingdom Act on Financial Supervision. If the supervision will be carried out by the Kingdom government, it might lead to more friction between the governments, and that will only make the rebuilding of St. Maarten more complicated.
However, given article 43 paragraph 2 of the Charter, and the Kingdom Act on Financial Supervision which stipulates that the Kingdom Government may give directives in certain events, it appears that the Kingdom Government will indeed play a role in the supervision. Hence, the countries will need to improve their relationship or come up with an adequate solution.
In sum: Having taken all of this in consideration: It is of the utmost importance that governments find a way to perform their tasks without conflict in the interest of those who need their help so much at the moment. This will be in the benefit of the St. Maarten people (access to resources), St. Maarten’s democratic system (accountable government/involvement parliament), and the Red Cross can focus on other tasks they specialize in and are so badly needed to be fulfilled, such as bringing families back together, or informing family members that their beloved is not (yet) found (they too have limited resources).

Irene Broekhuijse
Irene Broekhuijse LLM PhD obtained her Ph.D. in Utrecht in 2012, on the Constitutional Equality between the Countries of the Kingdom. Afterwards she has worked as a legislative lawyer at the Council of Advice in St. Maarten. She returned to academia in the Netherlands in 2013 as an Assistant Professor Constitutional Law at the Open University and now is an Assistant Professor Legal Theory at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Free University in Amsterdam). Dr. Broekhuijse has continuously published on Kingdom Relationships and conflict resolution.

Dear Editor,
The passage of Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc on the island of St. Maarten and in its wake has transformed the island’s landscape. Sections of the island now bear a spitting resemblance to a disaster zone with buildings and houses severely damaged and in some cases completely obliterated. Key infrastructure and installations continue to be affected and as a result of extensive damage with some roads still impassable at the time of writing this letter.
However, I am constantly reassured that collectively the people of St. Maarten are very resilient and sooner rather than later that resilience will serve as the catalyst to propel this beautiful island back on the road to recovery.
While some experts have intimated that the destructive power of a hurricane the likes of Irma in one day is equivalent to the detonation of 800 atomic bombs, what was equally and continued to be even more worrisome was the state of lawlessness, moral decadence and anarchy with which sections of the society descended into during the passing and aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Pilfering and looting were widespread almost every- and anywhere the opportunity presented itself and subsequently became the modus operandi for acquiring property, food supplies, vehicles and other material comfort.
Did this behavior mimic a state of nature? Did we render null and void Jean Jacques Roseau’s “Social Contract” in which he articulated that for the concept of society to be upheld its subjects must surrender certain public freedoms and rights in exchange for security and order? Thus far, living within the walls and confines of society seems to be preferred to a state of nature. At the most fundamental level, is this who we are as human beings that if exposed to the right stimulus the beast in us would want to go back to the woods – that primal appeal we all share as human beings of wanting to escape the cognitive mode of experience?
What really motivated some among us to act and behave the way they did? I there a biological basis for behavior that we seem incapable and powerless to control in certain circumstances? In the absence of hard evidence or proof I am of the opinion that it is reasonable to conjecture that there were quite a lot of people whose moral compact pointed them in the right direction and they in turn took a position not to plunder and ravage these businesses and properties simply because their conscience dictated it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Incidentally, though, I am also of the opinion too that some folks weren’t the “holier than thou” kinds in that they had no religious justification for their decisions but just the sheer weight of their conscience, which ironically was the case with many of the sanctimonious hypocrites who were seen entering and exiting looted premises. These are the kinds of people who will sing “Hosana” with you in the morning and in the evening they say “crucify him!”
There are quite a lot of well-meaning people in this society that can be considered as model citizens with a heightened sense of what is right and what is wrong and certainly not morally bankrupt. What, then, are the factors responsible for the moral superiority of the beings? Again I am unable to say conclusively, but what I can say with some degree of certainty from the available evidence is that nurture seems to be leading and dominating nature.
Was reason – that strict untiring governess – convicted of inadequacy, resulting in the savage-like behavior of looters who found immediate gratification at the expense of long-term benefits and implications more appealing?
If one were to examine his or her intended actions prior to a dispassionate way prior to engaging in the act of looting it would have become clear, of not partially clear, that the cost of one’s actions would have far outweighed the benefits, the extent of which this was difficult to deduce I am unable to say.
Those many among us who chose not to go “shopping” during closing hours without either cash, plastic or even accompanied by the Mr. Credit allowed good sense to prevail and understand the implications for themselves, businesses and the island of St, Maarten as a whole. It was very sad and heart-rending to learn that some of these businesses were victims of individuals they have been supporting and sustaining for years, whether in the form of direct employment or indirectly through other services they routinely required. Sad! Very sad!
My hope is that we will desist from biting the hands that continue to feed and provide for the wellbeing of ourselves, families and this beautiful island of St. Maarten. I am very much aware that one should not be judged by his or her worst moments, because as human beings we all have the capacity for change, so let’s use this time to reflect on our actions and inactions going forward.

Orlando Paatterson

Dear editor,

I am standing in line - or rather in a disorganized congregation of desperate souls - in the parking lot of St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport, once the second busiest airport in the Caribbean, now a shell of sheetrock, concrete, metal and glass; the main terminal building is completely gutted. My partner is some feet away, seeking shelter from the searing mid-day sun in the shadow of a delivery van flipped unto its side, all its windows blown out and its bonnet lying across the street.

On the van’s bent fender a parrot is inexplicably perched, ogling the some one-thousand people filling the parking lot with desperate chaos, trying, like us, to evacuate ourselves or our loved ones out of St. Maarten. The island is still reeling from the one-hundred and eighty-five mile per hour winds and subsequent civil unrest brought upon by one of the strongest hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, a storm with a name that will live on in infamy in the collective psyche of every Caribbean community from Barbados to Cuba; Hurricane Irma.

Dutch Marines are handing out hot bottled water to people congregated in different sections: one section for US citizens with US Embassy staff running around with clipboards; one section for Dutch Citizens evacuating to Curacao and then onwards to the Netherlands on military transport aircraft; one section with EU Citizens, getting pink and then purple under the blazing Caribbean sun and looking wide eyed at the destruction around them; and us, desperate Caribbean Nationals (Michelle is Jamaican and was visiting me on Sint Maarten) trying to find word on whether people will be evacuated to Antigua and then onwards to Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Kitts...anywhere. We are all Caribbean Climate Change Refugees.

A week before, as holidaymakers were disembarking their flights on jet bridges now twisted like foilpaper, a low-pressure system started to develop off the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic. Three days later, as cruise ship passengers meandered out of the Majesty of the Seas unto Front Street, our main tourism center, that low developed into Tropical Storm Irma. By the next day, when she hit unusually warm sea surface temperatures not far from the Lesser Antilles, Irma became a Category Three storm. The day after that Category Five, intensifying more rapidly than any other storm on record. Tomorrow the Majesty of the Seas will be docking here again, not to have her passengers buy jewelry and electronics on Front Street but to evacuate three thousand people off of the island. Besides, the jewelry and electronics were looted clean even before the storm stopped raging.

Irma struck on Wednesday morning. The day before Marine Park Staff helped to secure various boats in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. We tied our patrol boat down and together had what we knew would be our last cold beer for a while. Predictions weren’t looking good. While we hoped that Irma would head north the various weather models had the storm hitting us directly. We knew we were in for trouble. We secured our houses, bought our last supplies and hunkered down. By four on Wednesday morning Michelle and I, two dogs and a cat were riding the storm out in our guest bedroom, then kitchen, then guest bedroom again; the pressure popping our ears and the concrete building shaking as if in an earthquake.

The storm humming and sucking like a living, breathing, thing, a thing upset at the very presence of humanity. At one point our ceiling flexed as if being pushed and pulled from above. At six the eye passed and we fled to our downstairs neighbours. Our windows blew out and ceiling caved in. By twelve the storm was done. As I stepped out on our balcony and witnessed the destruction I thanked God; we were lucky to be alive. Ninety percent of all buildings were flat. Not a single leaf was on a tree, and hundred-foot ships lay across the street as if placed there by a giant child playing Battleship. St. Maarten had been decimated.

Unfortunately this will be the increasing reality of our situation here in the Caribbean. This paradise of fun and merriment, of frozen beverages and beautiful beaches, of music and sunscreen, will increasingly be faced with disasters brought upon us by a warming climate. As industrialized nations discuss and meet and hold Fora and COPs deliberating the consequences of a warming earth, as the US President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords (while ironically having a house on French Saint Martin that was completely obliterated by Irma), as the world struggles with our addiction to fossil fuels and their impact on the climate, we are trying to put the pieces of our lives back together as Caribbean People. We are trying to adjust to the New Normal: to our new status as Caribbean Climate Change Refugees.

Barbuda, where I did fieldwork surveying the health of their coral reefs just a few months ago, has been declared uninhabitable; the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda ordering mandatory evacuations off of the island. A whole community displaced because of the effects of climate change. Anguilla, one of the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean, has been leveled and Necker Island, home of billionaire Philanthropist Richard Branson, has been destroyed. And, as I write this, a lady is washing her two children in brackish well-water. Adversity brings equality.

In the aftermath of the storm local governments, especially on Sint Maarten, struggled to control law and order and the island descended into lawlessness. First people looted water and food, and then they emptied out electronic stores, jewelry stores, anything. I saw one guy dragging his barely clad children behind him with three flat screen TV’s on his head. The island likely will not have power fully restored for months. Rumours spread like wildfire of armed gangs pillaging whole neighbourhoods, emptying hotel rooms, robbing at gunpoint. Whether true or not the news spread around the world and our island will be eternally scarred. People have been frantically waiting for a government in disarray to feed and water them. The Dutch Military has arrived to restore law and order, placing us under martial law. There are now armed marines patrolling streets that, just a week ago, were lined with bars, restaurants and strip-joints.

While working in the conservation field we have been continuously preaching sustainable development to Caribbean Governments. We have been advocating a structured social welfare system, a sustainable economic plan not totally reliant on tourism, and the protection and management of our natural resources. Resources like coral reefs or mangroves, which not only provide goods and services like tourism and fisheries, but which also protect our vulnerable coastlines and critical infrastructure from the damaging effects of hurricane storm surge. Because of the decline of both coral reefs and mangroves and because of Irma’s unabated twenty foot storm surge I have had to do a diving survey of the Simpson Bay Lagoon earlier today. There is a sunken boat every five meters. The water is more diesel than salt. We will be diving again tomorrow to see if there are any bodies to recover.

Long time neglect by most Caribbean Governments of their natural areas has reduced the ability of island ecosystems to be resilient enough to recover from disasters; to allow for the nature of these islands to return to its beauty, the reason why tourism is so popular on all of the islands hit by Irma. Our islands are now changed. Forever.

We are at the head of the line now. We have said our hurried good-byes, tearful and fearful, wondering when and where we will see each-other again as Michelle is hurried away by the Dutch military to her waiting evacuation aircraft. As I stay and watch the tiny plane leave for Antigua two women are chatting about which school in the Dominican Republic they will now have to send their young daughters to since all schools on the island are damaged. A few feet away, in the shade of the upturned delivery van where just an hour ago we sought shade, two of the girls are trying to teach the parrot to say a word. As I walk towards my truck I hear it squawk “Irma”.

Tadzio Bervoets
Ebenezer Estate,
St. Maarten

we preparing fo she te come

But in we heart we praying

fo she not te come

Meteo France tell we one thing

and the Weather Channel

saying another thing

but one thing ah know

fo sure

Irma on she way

and nobody know way

she coming going

but she coming

sometimes it take the worst

of Nature

To bring out the best of human

it is only in  these moments

of physical stress

And emotinal duress

That we find our true strength

and that we are at our best

when we have less to mind

and are put to the test

Is when we take time to be kind

so everybody waiting

And we praying

we praying like we never

pray before

r Helligar  

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