COLE BAY--On behalf of the Monument Council, chairman Patrice Gumbs expressed their “profound sadness and anger” with the destruction of parts of historic Diamond Estate.
Gumbs confirmed that the land and any ruins at Diamond Estate are not listed as monuments in the monument registry. Despite this, the site was on a list of proposed monuments dating back to 2008. It was not until a chance rediscovery in the summer of 2022 that the location of the ruins came into the public domain.
Since then, the Monument Council and the Department of Culture, in the person of department head Clara Reyes, have been in discussion with the owners of the property about the designation of the ruins as a national monument.
“In the past, monuments were unilaterally declared such by the Government, which caused many problems legally as well as financially for owners, many of whom are pensioners. This sitting Council [of Ministers – Ed.] did not want to go that route and instead opted to continue designation in consultation with the owners. Unfortunately, before a tangible solution could have been reached, we heard the unfortunate news,” Gumbs said.
As a way forward, the Department of Culture, in consultation with the Monument Council, will issue an advisory document to undertake a survey of the property to determine the full historical scope of the site and the ruins that are still present.
“The destruction of the Diamond ruins is just a manifestation of the rhetoric that we as Monument Council have heard over the years from owners who would rather ‘bulldoze’, ‘set a fire’, or ‘let rot’ their monumental properties when they are not given the green light to do as they please. Until we see the intrinsic value of monuments, as well as the economic possibilities of having these sites protected, we will continue to see this type of behaviour, which is often reinforced by political interference and grandstanding,” Gumbs said.
He said that “rather paradoxically”, the destruction of parts of Diamond Estate comes at a time that light is being shed on the role of the Netherlands in slavery.
“We on St. Maarten are beginning to have the often-difficult discussions around slavery. The role that Diamond Estate played in the fight for freedom was often mythical, but its rediscovery made more quantifiable this shared history. Therefore, its destruction, particularly in the current discussions around identity, as well as the continued wonton development of St. Maarten, is an act of immeasurable discord.”
The Monument Council, as it has done over the years, reiterates the need for zoning and building regulations. “Property may be private, but that does not give persons the right to devalue the property of another in pursuit of their own interest, nor does it give the right to persons to destroy elements of a history or identity that we are now beginning to understand and accept,” said Gumbs.
The council “again” calls on the government of St. Maarten to move forward with the establishment of the Monument Fund, a recommendation made by this sitting council immediately after the passing of Hurricane Irma in 2017. The fund would help to assist monument owners, many of them unable to have their properties easily insured or afford the specific materials to remain in line with monument regulations, the Monument Council stated.
Along with Gumbs, the Monument Council consists of Marla Chemont, Natasha Richardson, Emmalexis Velasquez and, until recently, the late Alfonso Blijden.