June 14, 2021 WILLEMSTAD - Is the new MFK government, which will be sworn in on Monday, pushing Curaçao again into political chaos and resentment with the Netherlands? Or is intended Prime Minister Gilmar 'Pik' Pisas going in a different direction than his predecessor and party founder Gerrit Schotte? Pisas' first words sound conciliatory, both towards The Hague and towards the Dutch taxpayer.
‘No arguing, but mutual respect’
"We have not come to quarrel with the Netherlands, but to come to solutions for Curaçao in mutual respect," Pisas said recently in the Fort Amsterdam government center. He presented his list of seven ministers to Governor Lucille George-Wout for the cabinet he will form together with Partido Nashonal di Pueblo (PNP).
Pisas (49) is a former cop who grew up in the Curaçao countryside of Bandabou (western side of the island). Among his supporters, he is considered a hero, because he rose from a poor family to the premiership. On the website Caribbean Network, local journalist Oscar van Dam describes Pisas as 'diligent and hardworking'. He also states: “Pisas likes to win. He is performance-oriented.”
The economy is in shambles
The new prime minister will need to be diligent and hardworking because Curaçao’s economy is in shambles. Thousands of people on the island lost their jobs due to the pandemic, many became dependent on food assistance programs. Tourism is starting up, but the oil refinery, once a major employer, has been inoperative for a year and a half. "We know that the situation is precarious," Pisas admits.
Ten years ago, Curaçao became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Movemento Futuro Kòrsou (MFK) was allowed to appoint the prime minister for the first time. That turned out to be one of the most turbid periods between Curaçao and the Netherlands; with a looted treasury, flirting with the Venezuelan regime and deposing Schotte as prime minister. Schotte eventually disappeared in jail from late 2018 to November 2020 for money laundering and official corruption.
"The atmosphere is expectant"
Never again, hopes many people from Curaçao. "The atmosphere is expectant," columnist George Lichtveld said in a telephone conversation. Many new Members of Parliament and ministers have hardly any administrative experience, he notes. And the choice of Chester Peterson and Rutsel Martha as formateurs – both outspokenly anti-Dutch – does not bode well. In an opinion piece, Lichtveld even called it 'a disguised declaration of war' against the Netherlands.
The first split point is already emerging: the Netherlands assisted several times financially during the corona crisis. To monitor how that money is being spent, Minister Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) made agreements with the previous government about a Caribbean Agency for Reform and Development (COHO). This should ensure proper spending of Dutch aid money. But the new prime minister sees this as a violation of autonomy.
"Heard too long that we can't do it ourselves"
Pisas wants to 'rethink' COHO. The coalition agreement is full of words like 'less Kingdom'. During the election campaign, he told his supporters: "We've heard for too long that we can't do it ourselves."
The desired curtailment of Dutch interference makes Pisas attractive to Dutch citizens: "It is not the intention that the Dutch taxpayer, nor those of Aruba and Sint Maarten, should pay for the funding of Curaçao."
That will be music to the ears of many Dutch people. But at the same time, The Hague does not benefit from a new period of mismanagement and looking away. Knops, therefore, stands firm: the rules surrounding COHO are not tampered with. Moreover, as an extra condition for the payment of new corona support, the outgoing undersecretary demands that the salaries of ministers in Curaçao be reduced by a quarter. The previous government did not meet that requirement.
'What is Schotte's influence?'
One of the biggest questions on Curaçao is: what will be the influence of Schotte on the new cabinet? Officially, the MFK founder may not hold any administrative office for several years. But even when Schotte was behind bars, he regularly called his MFK faction in parliament.
In 2019 Pisas told Rick Hart of Radio Hoyer 2: "The political party belongs to him; we cannot deny that."
A possible aversion to the Netherlands and the strengthening of ties with Venezuela, where dictator Maduro rules on the ruins of Hugo Chavez, is also a cause for concern. In 2011, the Korsou Fuerte & Autonomo (KFO) foundation, of which Chester Peterson was co-founder, wrote:
“We are on our way to eliminating every colonial figure or institution from our image of the state. The lieutenant governor has already left and now only the governor, Sinterklaas and the queen have to follow.”
The same Peterson wrote the coalition agreement for the new cabinet.
Initially, Rutsel Martha, former minister of Justice for the Netherlands Antilles, also contributed to the formation. His ties to the Maduro regime are close. Caracas asked him last summer to assist a businessman friend arrested in Cape Verde against extradition to the US. This Alex Saab, the international handyman for Maduro and large-scale trader with the Venezuelan regime, is suspected of money laundering. Martha must save him from extradition.
"People underestimate me"
“I hold my breath,” says Lichtveld. "If Pisas listens too much to these people, then that's a problem." The future will tell. Perhaps the former cop from the poor Soto district has already separated himself from his old comrades much further than Curaçao expected. Pisas himself said during the March elections: “All my life people underestimated me. But time after time I achieve my goals, time after time I deliver good performance. Even now.