Published On: Mon, Oct 15th, 2012

Schotte: The people want me

WILLEMSTAD - This Friday there will be elections in Curacao: a new test for the deposed Premier Gerrit Schotte. Last week it leaked out that he wanted to give a Sicilian Mafia boss an important job.

Gerrit Schotte thrives on controversy. The louder he shouts for colonizer Netherlands not to interfere with Curaçao, the greater the applause of the people who want independence. The harder he kicks against the shins of the political elite of the island, the stronger the support of his young supporters. The more there are rumors about his private life, the more it humanizes him in the eyes of many in Curaçao.

And the louder the school dropout screams about his success and moves around in suits and expensive cars on the island, the warmer he is welcomed in the poorest neighborhoods. The question is what is the effect of the new evidence that former Prime Minister engages with the Italian mafia. And if he can be Prime Minister again, said Emilie Outeren of NRC Handelsblad.

This Friday there will be elections in Curaçao and Schotte gets his "score of the people", as he puts it in an interview via Skype. Schotte has called the elections of 19 October when his cabinet lost support of parliament late July. Two members of his coalition walked over to the opposition. But Schotte sits no longer in the government fortress. Three weeks before the election, he was still deposed as the demissionary prime minister. The new majority in parliament had forced an interim government to replace his cabinet.

Schotte struggled against it by entrenching himself in the Fort for 24 hours and called the action a "coup", but surrendered when defeated. "My party has need of me outside," he explains. That fact does not mean that he has accepted the "illegal and unconstitutional interim government".

It is exceptional that Schotte allows this interview. He likes to send detailed speeches and press statements, but rather not talk with Dutch media. First, he has nothing to gain from a charm offensive. Curaçaoans who emigrated to the Netherlands, lose their right to vote. He also sees Dutch journalists and politicians as the driving force behind a "smear campaign" against him. A smear campaign since his departure from the fort is fueled every day with new evidence of mismanagement and nepotism in the government-Schotte in the past two years.

"Ten times they write a lie and eleventh time it's the truth."

Last week a letter which Schotte had sent to the Italian Minister of the Interior in May 2011 leaked. He asked the Italian government for "a note on the reputation" of Francesco Corallo: a Sicilian Mafia boss who runs a casino empire in St. Maarten and Curacao. Schotte did not ask for his file to accelerate any criminal investigation. He asked for information which can confirm the "absolute fitness" of this "respected businessman". Schotte was actually planning to appoint him to "a prestigious and important institutional" function in Curaçao. A year ago in a leaked internal memo from the Curaçao security release stating that Schotte "would have links with various lenders (both locally and abroad), which would maintain close ties with figures like Francesco Corallo".

Schotte says that not only the stories, but also the content of the documents are "all rumors". A conversation with Schotte on this week leaked correspondence:

How do you defend yourself against what was leaked, for example about your relationship with an Italian who is wanted by Interpol?

  • "What we have done: we have requested information from the Minister of the Interior of Italy and we've received an answer."

In your letter you stated that you wanted to appoint him to an important position, which position was this?

  • "There was not a position, it was because of allegations that I had a relationship with a criminal. So we wanted to just get information about him. That's governance. We received answers from ministers in Italy that he is clean."

You also got reply from the Dutch embassy in Rome [through which this kind of diplomatic requests belongs] stating that he is involved in international drug trafficking and money laundering.

  • "He doesn’t have a criminal record.”

In your letter you say that you had a job for him.

  • "Yes, we thought of something.”

On what? Rumors are that you wanted to appoint him as commissioner at the Central Bank.

  • "There wasn’t any specific job. There were too many allegations about the relationship with him.”

What is your relationship with Francesco Corallo?

  • "He is someone who has businesses in Sint Maarten and also in Curacao.”

And someone who finances your campaign?

  • "He is someone with a Dutch passport.”

But is it also someone who finances your party?

  • "I believe it is someone who has financed different parties in the last times.”

That is not an answer.

  • "He is someone who doesn’t live here.”

Is he someone who finances your party?

  • "He has in the two years that my party MFK exists is not bought tickets for the fundraisings we hold.”

I still don’t think that’s an answer to my question.

  • "We hold fundraisings in Curacao and he never bought tickets for any of those fundraisings.”

You don’t receive money from outside Curaçao?

  • "We hold two fundraisings per year.”

Besides that, you don’t receive money?

  • "This person has never has purchased tickets since the existence of MFK.”

Gerrit Schotte is just 38 years old, but already an experienced politician. Prior to 2010, before he began his own Movementu Futuro Korsou, he won impressive numbers of preference votes on the lists of other parties. Why he is so popular, he cannot otherwise explain it: "the people want me." Every criticism he gets he brushes off with reference to the upcoming elections. "Then the people of Curaçao will act. I know that I am blameless, despite what the newspapers write."

But Gerrit Schotte is much discussed since the first day of his premiership two years ago. That is, he says, because he is permanently opposed by the old rulers, behind the scenes helped by Netherlands, that since the autonomous status interferes more in Curacao than ever before."

One of the agreements for the autonomous status was that the Netherlands would take over almost 2 billion Euros of the Netherlands Antilles’s debt in exchange for control of public finances. This summer the Netherlands has placed Curacao under guardianship due to the rising budget deficit. Shortly thereafter two MP’s from the coalition broke away from Schotte’s coalition. The former Prime Minister is sure they were paid by his political enemies. "They also tried to bribe three other members of my group." Now is Schotte, a week before the elections, at home, while the interim government is trying to thwart him. By leaking documents about his practices and his cabinet, but also by a new screening for ministers which is seems to be personally directed against him. That should prevent him from becoming prime minister again.
„If the people want me to become Prime Minister, than I will become Prime Minister”, says Schotte to the NRC reporter.

He does not think about who he is pushing forward if he does not meet the screening requirements. He thinks to make a quick end to "legislative opportunity to dupe someone" after the election. And then he wants true independence from the Netherlands? "That's your proposal. We look at October 19 what voters have chosen and then decide what to do. "

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