Fellow St. Maarteners, Brothers and sisters, Family all.
Many rains ago, when I was a teacher, I asked my class to write about what St. Martin Day meant to them. One shy, little boy, whose name I can’t remember now, wrote in his assignment the following: “St. Martin Day is the day for the people of this island to come together as family and enjoy each other and remember those who have gone before us.”
That simple answer stuck in my mind up till now because it captures the essence of what we are supposed to be celebrating today. In fact, this was without doubt, the original intention of the founding fathers of St. Martin Day: a celebration of the people, by the people, and for the people of our beloved island. That is what coming together as family means. It was not conceived as a day for elected and appointed officials to give speeches about unity, and go on about their separate business as soon as the day is over or sometimes even before it ends.
I choose, therefore, to speak to you today, not as William Marlin, Prime Minister of St. Maarten, but as William, a proud St. Martiner, and member of this ever-expanding, all-embracing St. Martin family.
Unity is the foundation of every family. This is even more so for us on this island. But Unity is not a one day celebration. It is important for us to see this territory, despite its official division into French and Dutch, as ONE island, with ONE people, and ONE destiny as Lino Hughes of “Lino and the Hardways” famously sang. This must be reflected in every policy decision the authorities on both sides take.
Brothers and sisters, family all; do not expect me to be hypocritical or to sugarcoat the truth, because it is when we get together as family that we reveal the truth to each other. Families are not perfect. They fight. They have family feuds. And family secrets. In view of what is happening today, when the French authorities take unilateral and arbitrary actions, claiming that Oyster Pond North is their territory, despite the fact that we have agreed to let the status quo remain at the Quadripartite meeting concerning the demarcation of borders, can we in light of this honestly look each other in the eye today and say we are indeed united?
We must be real and accept that the unity we preach especially on St. Martin Day is a farce, at least at the official level.
The administrations of both halves of the island live and behave as if we were two separate islands. That is not unity. That is not togetherness. That is what at best can be called living TWO-gether.
Of course, I recognize that at the family level, at the people level, we go about our business together as one. This is because, no matter the differences in our official constitutional structures, we are one people . As the legendary patriot Felix Choisy put it, “above the French and Dutch nationality is the unity of the St. Martin people.” That unity, brothers and sisters, is under serious threat with the latest acts of aggression surrounding Captain Oliver’s restaurant at Oyster Pond.
We brag about St. Martin being a borderless island, yet we have right now what can be described as a serious “border dispute” triggered by actions that cannot be justified on any grounds, especially seeing that the four partners in this case, the French Republic, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the local administrations in Marigot and Great Bay, have agreed to leave matters such as territorial borders at status quo until an agreement is reached. How can we then talk of unity when we don’t even consult each other before taking such drastic actions?
Fellow St. Martiners, residents of our beloved island, the family is where bitter truths can be told without bitterness, after which we can sit down, eat and drink together and possibly get in a game or two of dominos or cards. I want to assure you, however, that in spite of these developments which I just mentioned, we in the South harbor no bitterness and will never turn our back on our brothers and sisters in the North, regardless of the actions of those who want to continue to divide us and who do not always understand how deep-rooted our bonds are.
When we say “blood” we mean family. For us, family comes first. – That is what has defined us as a people from the very beginning. We were family before the Treaty of Concordia or The Partition Treaty, which divided our island when our ancestors were still considered “property”. We were family at the salt ponds, where we bled and gave birth to this nation of strong, resilient, and hard-working people. We were family on the plantations where we toiled and ran away to freedom as often as we could. We were family at Emancipation, even though it was the slave owners who got compensated handsomely while we are still demanding reparations for centuries of free labor under dehumanizing conditions. And despite all efforts to divide us, we are still family today in the hotels and restaurants where we continue to build our island, one tourist at a time. That is the unity we should be celebrating today. Alas, we cannot in good conscience pretend that all is well and sing kumbaya.
The student I quoted earlier said on St. Martin Day we should remember those who have gone before us. Indeed, as Alex Haley, the celebrated author of “Roots” said, “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” Every November 11th, we lay wreaths at monuments to remember the fallen in the first World War. It is also Armistice Day, a national holiday in both France and The Netherlands among others, a day established to commemorate the end of hostilities between the Allies and Germany.
Some of our own sons (and perhaps daughters) fought in that War to free the world of tyranny. Maybe, we should also lay another wreath on St. Martin Day to honor our brave ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears laid the foundation for our freedom and unity today. Unfortunately, this cannot happen under the ominous clouds hanging above our heads.
We cannot hug up, kiss up, drink champagne and say cheers, when authorities in Marigot, without any consultation, basically annex a portion of territory that they agreed to leave alone until negotiations are finalized and a settlement is reached. Do agreements we have reached in negotiations have no meaning?
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. As good neighbors and as family, I would like to seek that silver lining in periodic consultations between the administrations of both halves of the island. The leaders of government in Great Bay and Marigot should be able to meet monthly, starting from now, to coordinate policy, to inform each other of the priorities we are pursuing and to synchronize action wherever possible. This is not a new idea, but it is one which we have not executed well enough.
At the people level, I would like that silver lining to be reflected in redefining what we mean by “national”. National, I humbly submit to you, should embrace both halves of the island. We should be able to have “national” teams in sports such as football, cricket, baseball, basketball, tae kwondo etc. I am sure we would have much stronger teams that would be able to take on any other teams from the region and beyond. This may be happening already to some extent, but if the sporting associations on both halves, with the active support of government, could come together for this purpose, I am sure the results will be very gratifying to all of us.
The same thing could happen in Culture. A National dance company should bring together talent and groups from both sides of the island. We can already see the results that our young dancers have been achieving in dance competitions in France, for example, through the efforts of the National Institute of Arts, NIA.
We also see this in the fast-growing St. Martin Book Fair which attracts international authors annually.
There are many other areas of cooperation that have already been identified, but I want to highlight cooperation in, for example, education, (particularly in the area of improving language learning, etc), environmental issues, energy where we can think of the possibility of GEBE and EDF being on the same grid, and in a coordinated Emergency preparedness plan because, as Choisy also said, “the gale does not stop at the border.”
Brothers and sisters, family all. We have done this before. We built this island together before it became attractive again for people from other climes. On a day like this, we are called to renew our faith in ourselves and in the indivisible nature of our cohabitation as one family on this our beloved island. It is a day on which we should invoke the spirit of Jollification to guide us in all our endeavors, because from Freetown to Middle Region, from Reward to the Springs, from St. James to St. Peters and from Lowlands to Guana Bay, this island is our home. And if home is where the heart is, we should be able to speak straight from the heart and let our hearts beat in unison as we say Happy St. Martin Day to one another.
May we continue to strengthen our bonds of familyhood today and always.
Happy St. Martin Day!
I thank you.
Prime Minister William Marlin on St. Martin Day