US hurricane assistance major reason for Defence agreement

US hurricane assistance major reason for Defence agreement

THE HAGUE--Joint trainings and assistance of the United States (US) Defense Department in case of a hurricane are the most important reasons for securing a multi-annual agreement between the US and the Dutch Kingdom regarding the (legal) status of US Defense personnel in the Dutch Caribbean.

Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok emphasised this in his written reply to concerns and questions of the Socialist Party (SP) in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament earlier this week. The SP has been critical of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the presence of US Defense particularly in Curaçao, also in light of its proximity to Venezuela.

Blok assured that the SOFA in itself did not give permission for the presence of US military personnel, and that it only secured their legal status when present in Curaçao. Special permission is still required for US Defense personnel to be on the island.

There already has been a SOFA for the other Dutch Caribbean islands since 2012. The current law proposal being handled in the Second Chamber serves to expand the agreement to include Curaçao. A former Curaçao government, under then-Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, did not want Curaçao to be part of the SOFA. Voting on the current law proposal was delayed last year because the Second Chamber wanted more clarity.

With a SOFA in place for Curaçao, the facilities on this island can be used by US military personnel in case of a hurricane. “Curaçao has broader facilities than the other Caribbean parts of the Kingdom. The presence of and the assistance by the US is also useful because of the size of the US ships which can play a role in the evacuation of US citizens,” stated Blok.

Also, more advanced and integrated trainings of Dutch Defence in Curaçao will be possible with the US and French units. Curaçao has the larger facilities to do so. The other Dutch Caribbean islands are too small for trilateral trainings.

Trainings such as these benefit the relations with the Dutch allies, stated Blok, who noted that the trainings and the hurricane and other natural-disaster-related assistance fit in the policy of Defence within the Kingdom.

For both Curaçao and the US, the visits of US ships are valuable. Without a SOFA, ships’ visits are only possible for repair reasons. Expenditures by US Defense and its personnel will result in additional revenues for Curaçao’s economy.  

Blok explained that the SOFA contains conditions regarding, among other things, privileges and immunities, import and export of equipment, liability and the wearing of uniforms and carrying of weapons. According to the minister, it is important for both the conveying state and the receiving state to have clarity on the rights and obligations of personnel present in the territory of another state.

The SOFA does not unilaterally arrange permission to enter the Dutch Caribbean territory. Permission needs to be given by (local) authorities prior to every visit. The SOFA on its own also does not regulate the activities in which US Defense personnel can engage while in Curaçao.

Only the personnel’s legal status is secured during the agreed-on activities, including ships’ visits, trainings and assistance-related activities. “A scenario where activities are engaged in that are undesirable in the opinion of government will not happen,” stated Blok, who added that the Kingdom would never approve the use of its territory for activities that violate its interests or international law.

Responding to a question by the SP party about US authorities’ use of Curaçao as a hub for humanitarian goods for Venezuela, Blok explained that this was determined in a separate agreement with the US dated March 15, 2019, and that the SOFA had nothing to do with that.

As to the humanitarian goods, he clarified that four pallets with first-aid kits consisting of medication and medical goods had arrived in Curaçao on April 3, 2019. The goods could not be directly transported to Venezuela, as the border with Venezuela is closed and distribution is only possible under peaceful circumstances. Consequently, the US moved the relief goods to Panama on June 10, 2019. The Curaçao hub has been empty since then, Blok said.

The Daily Herald

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