Curaçao is watching the developments in nearby Venezuela with suspicion. The Caribbean island wants to provide a helping hand but does not want to fall prey to the unrest.
The tough Anacondas are right on time. The new off-road vehicles from the Dutch Ministry of Defense arrived in Curaçao last week. In a few days they will receive a proud press presentation. Also in Aruba and Sint Maarten, the other autonomous Caribbean countries, the Anacondas will soon be on the road.
But wait. That the Netherlands within the kingdom has both Foreign Affairs and Defense for its account, so also for the Caribbean islands, that is known. But the defense in 'the West' is still a matter of Coastguard ships? And is it mainly about the fight against international drug traffickers?
In quiet times though. But for the so-called ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) these are anything but quiet times. Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs recently informed the Dutch House of Representatives that the Netherlands is 'prepared' to defend the Caribbean parts of the kingdom if President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela were to do something bad.
And maybe even the other way around. The ABC islands are only a few dozen kilometers from the Venezuelan coast. Curaçao has an American air base, officially meant as a weapon against Latin American drug trafficking. Should Donald Trump have military plans for Venezuela, the Netherlands will also have to deal with the Caribbean part of the kingdom directly.
Curaçao, the autonomous island with about 160 thousand inhabitants, prefers to keep the peace. In recent centuries the country has had enough to contend with military adventurers and self-proclaimed revolutionaries who thought the island was a springboard to make amok in Venezuela. The current government, of Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath, is pretty nervous because of the rising tensions with the big neighbor.
This is apparent, for example, in the discussion about the role that Curaçao can play as a 'humanitarian hub' for aid to Venezuela. Last week, the Rhuggenaath government stated that it was "even prepared" for this. But when several media recalled this weekend, the government came late on Sunday evening with a new declaration, in which it stated that it was not yet involved in any form of humanitarian aid at all.
'Certainly not in a confrontational atmosphere with the intention to provoke a reaction from the Venezuelan army,' added Rhuggenaath. Curaçao also has more than enough to contend with the problems on the other side of the Caribbean.
Every day on the island not only hard drugs but also illegal Venezuelans arrive. Nobody knows their precise number, but the Curaçao government continues to say that it cannot offer these people asylum and that they have too few resources for temporary shelter. A deepening of the crisis in Venezuela gives the Caribbean island 'great worries' in that respect, especially because of 'the consequences that we currently feel in our own society', according to the government.
Civilian activists, such as Ieteke Witteveen of the organization Human Rights Caribbean, insist that Curaçao has to take on its responsibilities and not, as now 'every day, five people' are forced to return to Venezuela. "You would hope that people would be more flexible now," says Witteveen, "but the policy is really terribly repressive."
The Venezuelans living legally on Curaçao also believe that the Dutch kingdom should be more compassionate. 'I'm really angry,' says Kees van Santen, a man with a Dutch passport who lived and worked in Venezuela for 35 years before joining the Caribbean island with his Venezuelan family two years ago.
"Of course, you cannot just open all the doors of Curaçao," says Van Santen. "But when things went well in Venezuela, it delivered a lot of dollars to this island. And now people are being wiped away from everything. I am not saying that Curaçao has a place for a million Venezuelans. But a few thousand, for a while, until the weather improves, surely that should be possible? "
When it comes to Venezuela, Curaçao is currently only interested in oil. However, due to the crisis in the Latin American neighboring country, the economically important refinery is on the island, which until the end of this year was operated by the Venezuelan state oil company PdVsa, has been quiet for some time now. The latest US sanctions against Venezuelan oil revenues are extraordinarily bad for Curaçao.
More than two weeks ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave his Curaçao colleague support by visiting Curaçao with a sizeable business delegation from the Netherlands. It was balm on the tormented economic soul of the Caribbean island. But almost immediately, strikes broke out in various sectors, in actions that, according to the experts, were coordinated by very diverse trade unions and the political opposition as very conscious disruption.
And if all that is not enough, Curaçao now also fears the arrival of tropical diseases that have not occurred in the region for a while, but which are resurfacing due to the virtually collapsed medical care in Venezuela and the easy passage of such diseases 80 kilometers away to the island. That would impose an extra burden on their own population. But it would also affect tourism, the only economic sector that is currently experiencing growth.
More than enough reasons for Curaçao to follow the developments in Venezuela tense. "We know that our neighbors in Venezuela are very passionate people," the government says. But also: "The government of Curaçao will always stand up for the interests of the people of Curaçao." The Caribbean island wants to end on the right side of history. Without going under.