Minister Blok needs to act in the Oyster Pond border conflict

Dear Editor,

  The border conflict involving Oyster Pond has been lasting for more than four years and the end does not seem in sight for a good while. During Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Maggi Shurtleff lost the Captain Oliver’s restaurant. Since then, she has been trying to rebuild. But that is being hindered because of fear for arrests by the French side Gendarmes. France no longer acknowledges the border. Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs fails in helping Maggi. I have asked Minister Blok for clarity, but he keeps dodging the French.

  Upon the inception of Captain Oliver’s in 1983, the French considered this area as a part of the Kingdom, but that changed when in 1996 France started to claim the land. French police did several raids and subjected the owner to nasty questioning. Maggi did not receive much protection. Not from the St. Maarten government and not from the Dutch government, which is responsible for guarding the borders of the Kingdom.

  Maggi Shurtleff cannot rebuild her restaurant as long as it is unclear in which country her property is located. From written questions that I submitted last year, it became clear that France and the Netherlands in 2014 agreed on a status quo as long as there was no definite decision with regard to the border. France violated that agreement in 2016 by arresting the owner and workers of Captain Oliver’s and subjecting them to interrogations. This French action “went against the agreement,” the Dutch government recognised. Blok acknowledged that Maggi’s fear is rightful. The minister stated that “it cannot be excluded” that the French will again intervene when the restaurant is rebuilt.

  From the reply of Minister Blok to my recent request to provide an update, it also became clear that in 2016 preparations started for negotiations with the French, but that these have yielded no results so far. France send a “technical mission” to Oyster Pond in September 2019 – three years after the start of the preparations! We don’t know what this has yielded, because the French still have not shared the findings with the Kingdom. That means that after four years the negotiations still haven’t started. The Netherlands earlier asked the French to come with a practical solution for Captain Oliver’s so Maggi can still rebuild her restaurant. However, France has so far put this request aside.

  I don’t know what has gotten into the French to make so much fuss about such a small piece of land. I also don’t understand why the Dutch government allows itself to be bullied in such a manner. How would the French respond when we would suddenly demand a piece of France and arrest French citizens? France is not an enemy state, but an ally in the NATO. We are in the European Union together. But in Saint Martin, Paris behaves as if we are still living in the 17th century.

  France has violated the 2014 agreement to maintain a status quo about the borders and has kept the Kingdom waiting for four years to even discuss the matter. I don’t understand why Minister Blok is allowing himself to be fooled like this. Let the French know that we have had it with these political games. Give Maggi Shurtleff the opportunity to finally rebuild her restaurant.

 

Ronald van Raak,

Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament for the Socialist Party (SP)