PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — “The apology has been issued and with as much remorse as you could get in a situation like this, also with the acknowledgement by Prime Minister Rutte that he personally had it wrong all along”, was MP Sarah Wescot-Williams’ reaction, after being present at the “ceremony” at USM on Monday, December 19th.
“Having been present at the location on St. Maarten where firstly the statement of the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte was transmitted and then the Dutch Minister of Health Kuipers translated the prime minister’s speech and went over to make a couple of remarks specific to St. Maarten, a few first initial thoughts”, stated MP Wescot.
“For many months, the discussion has been on the Dutch government’s reaction to the report by the Dialogue Group, secondly you had the issue of the timing of this apology and the about-face by the Dutch government, and thirdly you have the issue of the apology itself and whether it was acceptable or not.
“I don’t share the view that one should judge the apology on only the content and or sincerity of the presentation, I don’t even think that too much time should be spent on deciphering whether the apology complies with some criteria for an apology. We have passed the stage of redoing the apology and should now focus on the “what now”, was the candid reaction of MP Wescot-Williams.
MP Wescot: “Like it or nor, fact is that the Dutch government took it upon itself, following the dialogue group’s report that I referred to earlier, to issue this apology. The Dutch government has also given an indication that between the apology and next year’s 160th commemoration of the abolition of slavery, much has to happen. I consider the apology by the Dutch government the first step, a step not without controversy, but a step taken nevertheless and so the timing thereof for me is water under the bridge”.
In answering the “what now?” question, it is important to analyze the words that reference how we move forward from this precarious position of today, words like strengthening the kingdom, unity, support, recompense, understanding, tolerance, respect, knowledge etc. etc.
“I’m understanding now that a slavery dialogue group will be put in place for St. Maarten, a development which, albeit late, is a development that I welcome, but it must be a true representation”, the MP continued.
“The report of the dialogue group has been around for more than a year, and what I see now is that St. Maarten is trying to “embrace” several matters. However I think because of the many serious and urgent issues that St. Maarten needs to deal with, we should not be burdened with having to react and prepare on so many fronts simultaneously. This is not only to say with respect to the apology issue, but also with the matter of the relations with the Kingdom and specially with the Netherlands”.
“I concur with the view that reparation is a tedious and deeply-rooted process and can’t be compensated or equated with the matter of recent loans from the Dutch government to the countries, if that is the intention”.
“Imagine, on the very issue of the apology itself and the semantics used, already there is an issue of ‘can or should we use the word recovery rather than reparation’.”
In MP Wescot’s opinion, reparation has a history behind it and recovery is much too broad and general. “By the same token, as far as St. Maarten is concerned, we too should be clear on where we want to go and how we envision getting there socially, economically and politically.”
“When we’re clear in our minds what it is that we want, then the trajectories, be they apologies, be they decolonization, be they the effects of coloniality within the Dutch Kingdom or the effects of slavery on current generations, will be rooted in the strength of a people who know what they want.”
“For St. Maarten, that is now in a stranglehold financially speaking where our debt situation is concerned with a climbing debt to GDP ratio, fact is that the biggest part of this stranglehold is owed to the Dutch government”.
And when we speak of a national reparation committee, it should be noted that Caricom Reparations Commission is made up of primarily representatives of national committees for reparation.
MP Wescot minced no words in stating that no national dialogue on slavery and or reparation is complete without the broader dialogue of who we are as St. Martiners, now, back then, and in the future. That is a larger picture that should also provide the positive side of being who we are, despite the shackles and shadows of slavery.
“I think we need a paradigm shift and this paradigm shift needs to come especially in the traditional education, as well as more general education to the public at large. To understand this, one has only to look at the role and part that promoting and instructing good citizenship play the Netherlands. No effort is spared!
“We need to ask ourselves and find answers to the question why is it that we’re still today talking about the right format and the right curriculum for teaching our history and our culture in in our schools”.
Why is it that after all these years we still seem not to be able to get the necessary accreditation for the University of Saint Martin and why can’t the initial vision for the University of Saint Martin to be a regional institution be fulfilled?
We have some hard questions to ask ourselves. There is a lot to be done and if we can articulate a true nation building process, everything else will slowly but surely fall in place, concluded MP Wescot-Williams.