Sint Maarten accuses Netherlands of racism, neocolonialism in UN complaint

PHILIPSBURG, THE HAGUE - The parliament of Sint Maarten lodged a complaint against the Netherlands with the United Nations rapporteur on racism. According to the island, the Netherlands is being "neocolonial" and "racist" in its provision of coronavirus aid and it asked the UN to investigate and reprimand the country for human rights violations.

According to the complaint, the Netherlands is using the pandemic and previous hurricane devastation to force Sint Maarten to give up sovereignty in a "neocolonial" way. In return for 30 million euros in coronavirus aid, the Netherlands set up a supervisory body - with three members appointed by the Netherlands - to check whether Sint Maarten was implementing sufficient reforms. If not, the aid can be halted.

Sint Maarten, which has been an independent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 2010, wanted to arrange a loan on the international capital market itself to avoid Dutch interference. But the Dutch government put a stop to that, calling the loan too expensive.

The complaint stated that there has long been racism in the relationship between the Netherlands and the Caribbean Dutch. According to the island, the Dutch government spends much more on education and care for European Dutch than Caribbean Dutch. This is "in line with the ubiquitous racism and xenophobia in Dutch politics of recent years," the complaint read, referring to Zwarte Piet and the childcare allowance scandal in which parents with dual-nationality in particular were targeted. 

"We welcome the reforms, most of which we agree with. But here is the tricky thing: three deputies are going to run Sint Maarten, and we have no say," Grisha Heyliger-Marten, parliamentarian and one of the initiators of the complaint, said. 

"You cannot claim sovereignty in exchange for debt," the lawyer assisting the Sint Maarten MPs said to the newspaper. "In the pandemic, are they doing the same with Dutch companies, local governments, aid packages for European countries, aid to other countries? The answer is no. Why then with this predominantly Black population in the former Antilles?"

The Dutch government believes that far-reaching reforms are needed to tackle a series of problems on the island and to make Sint Maarten more resilient to the next crisis. In return for aid, State Secretary Raymond Knops of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations therefore instructed the island government to cut spending and lower salaries, make the labor market more flexible, collect taxes more efficiently, and tackle the influence of the underworld. 

Knops indicated that he was "unpleasantly surprised" by the UN complaint. This is "incompatible with earlier statements by the same persons", he said. He asked the Sint Maarten government for clarification. "I have had to conclude that Sint Maarten cannot bear its own autonomy at this moment. I repeat again: I do not want to take that autonomy away from them, but rather help them to ensure they can fully bear it over a number of years. That is why we will help Sint Maarten with the necessary reforms in the coming years."