Published On: Tue, Jun 2nd, 2015

Birth defects

Jacob Gelt DekkerThe bloody mess of May 30th, 1969, was only an early abortion preceding the eventually birth of the new microstate of Curacao. On 10-10-2010, a hundred years after the romantic notion of formation of nation states became popular in Europe, the island of Curacao became an autonomous country. Whereas the world trend was already towards formation of alliances, Curacao voted for isolationism and nationalism based on a frail platform of ethnic-linguistic identity. How serious could the birth defects of the new nation State be, one wonders?

The island’s condition today certainly looks very worrisome. Institutions of the micro State were inherited from the Netherlands, the former colonial power. Most institutional structures were carbon-copied; only small adaptions of size and titles were applied and those seemed somewhat appropriate. It remained very odd that a city-administrative structure of northern Europe became the blue print for Caribbean tropical island rule. Neither physically, ethically, linguistically nor economically and culturally, the two territories had anything in common.

The initial interest of the Republic of the Low Lands, in 1632, was, “making a fast buck” and not exporting ideal State institutions to the other side of the world. At that time a trading franchise with contractors, like with the WIC, was favored; it was sufficient, cheap and quickly realized. The fast profit illusions of Holland were short lived. Only after 1658, some heavy investment was realized on the island, but misfortune forced the WIC into bankruptcy, in 1674. Thereafter, the WIC lost its asiento of the Spanish colonies, in 1713, and had to yield its trading monopoly altogether, in 1733. It filed for bankruptcy again, in 1794. Ever since, the trading post of Curacao became part of the expenses, of calculated losses of the Republic, and, after 1813, of the Kingdom.

With Kingdom budgets very tight, new fickle franchise agreements looked attractive again. Thus, local island families obtained licenses and soon, island-rule became a patrimonial bureaucracy, with weak checks and balances, and even weaker accountability and oversight institutions. Privilege was inherited among ruling elite. Equal opportunity and meritocracy were nothing but lip service and window dressing.

Thus fertilized, the newly born State of 10-10-2010, developed as a severely handicapped child. Not only were the State institutions heavily bloated and not functional for the little island and its tiny population, but none produced transparency, equal opportunity and a level playing field for all. The institutions became tools for the benefit of the ruling elite. Favoritism, cronyism and nepotism became the rule. And briefly, after the magic inception date of 10-10-10, State rule turned into a wild kleptocracy.

With an ever-increasing risk discount factor in business, all rents were extracted from, and exported out of the local economy, immediately. An estimated 30% of all businesses transferred transactions to the shadow economy, far beyond the claws of the greedy non-functional State.

So economic growth has been dead for a long time and has no chance to revive. The island, as profit dominion for the benefit of former colonial powers or modern European States, no longer plays a role, not even as financial services and off-shore. An anemic discount tourist market sprang up and appears to be the islands only hope of economic survival. Most of the educated middle class quickly ventured out off the island and massively migrated to Europe and USA, leaving behind a large, poor, unskilled, disenfranchised population, and an island in shambles at the mercy of organized crime. How the island will manage to exist in the future with its congenital handicaps is an ongoing discussion with very few remedies. Prosthetics in the form of alliances seem inevitable.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker, opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.

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