PHILIPSBURG — “What I do know is that there are no direct benefits for St. Maarten to remain within the kingdom,” Dr. Rhoda Arrindell told StMaartenNews.com. She emphasized that the debate about independence ought to take place publicly.
“To me it comes down to: are you for or against independence. That’s it. All the other stuff is political.”
Arrindell, who was the first minister of Education after St. Maarten became an autonomous country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010, said that the One SXM Association is looking forward to a referendum about the independence question. “People deserve to be in a position where they can choose,” she said.
Arrindell does not believe that poverty is unique to St. Maarten and since poverty exists in all countries, including the Netherlands (which St. Maarten is a part of), it is not a determining factor for independence. The most important factor, she believes, is that St. Maarten people will be in charge of their own destiny. “That is the most important factor because poverty exists in St. Maarten, but also in the USA and St. Kitts.”
“I agree that places like Haiti will not give up their independence because all countries have their challenges, including France, from which Haiti took its independence.”
Then there is the perception that many people do not want to give up their Dutch passport. On a ranking of best passports, the Dutch passport ranks seventh. CNN published a 2022 passport-ranking where the Netherlands holds the fifth position together with Austria, Denmark and Sweden, though Arrindell points out that other organizations use different metrics and therefore arrive at a different ranking. The Dutch passport and that of Austria, Denmark and Sweden allows visa-free travel to 188 different destinations.
Arrindell challenged the passport-issue: “What does a Dutch passport have that a Kittitian passport does not have?” she said, adding that many countries allow multi-nationality. “If St. Maarten becomes independent and you want to keep your Dutch passport, just keep it.”
According to information published on the website of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) it is not that simple.
“You are not allowed to have a double nationality if you are a Dutch citizen. If you take another nationality you automatically lose you Dutch nationality. That is established in the law, though there are exceptions.”
Arrindell points out that in her opinion passport holders have to settle the nationality issue with the Netherlands. “Other countries do not make it so, and an independent St. Maarten would not make this an issue.”
People who voluntarily take another nationality automatically lose their Dutch nationality, according to the IND. But they are able to keep the Dutch passport if they are born in the country of which they take the nationality and if they also live there.
Arrindell, and rightly so, prefers to put all the facts in front of the people of St. Maarten and let them decide in a referendum whether they want independence or not.
The former minister said that in case of a disaster (like Hurricane Irma in 2017) St. Maarten cannot take aid from the outside. “You must go with the kingdom and then you get loans that you will be forever paying back.” Never mind that, because of the good credit rating of the Netherlands, these loans are extended with a very moderate interest rate. Borrowing on the international financial markets would come at a significantly higher price.
Arrindell is also critical of developments on the BES-islands that have become Dutch public entities. As an example, she referred to what is happening on Bonaire. “People are replaced by Europeans, their administration is commandeered by the Netherlands and the language of instruction in the schools has been reversed to accommodate Europe. These are the things that serve their interest and this is happening in St. Maarten as well.”
“What are the benefits for the people in St. Maarten in terms of their livelihood? If you analyze it, you see that this structure is not in their interest.”
Arrindell noted that the One SXM Association is looking forward to an independence-referendum. The last referendum about the island’s constitutional status was held in 2000; it resulted in the autonomous status St. Maarten obtained in 2010.
In that referendum, voters could indicate preference for maintaining the present status (as a member of the Netherlands Antilles), becoming a part of a restructured Netherlands Antilles, becoming a country within the kingdom of the Netherlands or becoming independent.
There were 16,193 votes cast, a turnout of 55.7 percent. A majority of 69.98 percent (6,212 votes) chose for becoming a country within the kingdom. Independence scored 14.44 percent (1,282 votes) followed by remaining a part of a restructured Netherlands Antilles (11.82 percent – 1,050 votes) and keeping the present status (3.72 percent – 332 votes).
Arrindell says that the outcome of that referendum is no longer relevant. “There was also a referendum in 1994 with a different outcome. I feel that there is justification for a new referendum because a whole generation of St. Martiners did not have a say. They deserve to say whether they agree with the current direction the island is heading and whether this should be their fate.”
In the January 2020 parliamentary elections there were 23,106 registered voters and the turnout was 59.56 percent. A total of 13,361 valid votes determined the distribution of seats in parliament – almost 3,000 votes less than those cast more than twenty years ago in the referendum.
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