Although Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath initially objected to the conditions and way these were set by the Netherlands for further coronavirus-related liquidity support last week, Curaçao’s Council of Ministers cut their salaries by 25 per cent. More needs to follow, but a majority of Parliament also backed government in accepting the requirements provided it does not violate the rule of law.
Aruba had already conceded to the demands despite some local resistance. The Wever-Croes cabinet has been proactive in that sense throughout the pandemic, with the local tourism economy at a complete standstill since mid-March.
St. Maarten too depends almost completely on its hospitality industry. The latter will take some time to rebound under difficult “new normal” circumstances and until then financial assistance is indispensable for both the public and private sectors, also to help prevent mass layoffs and widespread deep poverty.
During Tuesday’s Parliament meeting on the issue one could hear the frustration over The Hague once again imposing its will when the Dutch Caribbean country has its back against the wall, just like after the devastating passage of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs had earlier called the latest proposal by the Kingdom Council of Ministers “indecent”, but later acknowledged to elected representatives that other short-term choices are few and far between.
That the timeline for certain austerity measures is unrealistic may be correct especially where legislative processes are needed, but often the decision-making before regulation and execution can show enough serious intention to seal the deal. Discussions on loss of autonomy and the like can be held in the future, but right now – and perhaps more than ever before – it is about survival and protecting the people’s livelihood.
At the end of the day these are unprecedented grim circumstances that call for extraordinary actions worldwide. And as a well-known saying in Spanish – freely translated – goes: “Freedom with hunger is like a flower on a corpse.”