Published On: Mon, Jul 22nd, 2013

Independence? The islands and the U.S. don’t really want that

1002859_10200171661684353_1820284956_nCompletely independent? We can arrange that easily, says Prime Minister Rutte to the Antillean politicians. But it’s not that simple. The U.S. is against it.

Content wise was Rutte’s message to politicians in the West Indies not so special. If the Caribbean islands wants to be fully independent, they are free to do so. Netherlands cannot kick them out of the Kingdom, but they can get out of it themselves. Under international law, the choice is up to them.

"If you want out, and a majority of your population supports that, then that is possible," said Prime Minister Mark Rutte during his trip to Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. He mentioned this behind the scenes during "robust discussions" with local administrators and then repeated in this paper. So far no controversy.

But the way Rutte spoke out, is remarkable. To politicians who may want to cut the ties he said, "you just call me and we will arrange that." Like it's nothing.

It also led to reactions. Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66 and former Minister of Kingdom Relations, called the statements on Radio 1 "for the historian Rutte inappropriate and for a Prime Minister also little diplomatic". He accused the Prime Minister of "populist tendencies". Rutte made that comment just to be popular in his own country, but with it he ignored 400 years of history between the countries.

Rutte also stressed that the Netherlands is no longer prepared to reach to its pocket if the Caribbean islands get into trouble. There is the image that there are still too much Dutch money that goes to the six islands, but that's no longer the case since 2010. Three years ago the country the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and Curaçao and Sint Maarten gained a country status, like Aruba, within the Kingdom. The smaller islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius became municipalities of the Netherlands. Netherlands paid the arrears of the Antilles, nearly 2 billion, but is discontinuing subsidy programs. They did keep a watchful eye on the finances and administration of the islands.

That last one became an issue, especially in Curaçao,  which was placed last year under guardianship by the Netherlands because of financial mismanagement. Politicians in Curacao, the late Helmin Wiels first, used a possible independence from the Netherlands in their campaigns. They acted against the old colonial power, but in fact no one has acted on the exit from the Kingdom. Since Wiels' independence party became the largest on the island, he pushed the idea of independence decades ahead. After he was shot in May, the topic was completely forgotten.

Referendums have shown that most islanders do not want to separate from Netherlands. They distrust their politicians and they cherish their Dutch passport, even though the bill initiative presented by member of Parliament for VVD, André Bosman makes access to the Netherlands difficult for the people of the former Netherlands Antilles.

Rutte, who visited the islands for the first time during his premiership, made ​​it sound simple to cut off ties with the Netherlands. But the great ally, the United States will try to prevent that. The Netherlands is responsible for foreign policy and defense of all the islands in the kingdom structure. Nowhere outside the Netherlands are there more Dutch soldiers than on the Caribbean islands, especially to combat the drug trafficking between North and South America. The fear is great that the drug mafia will take over all the islands if the Netherlands is no longer responsible for them.

By: Emile van Outeren (NRC)

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