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Rutte softens Mauritshuis criticism as ‘statues to slavery’ row rumbles on

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Prime Minister Mark Rutte has tempered his criticism of the Mauritshuis’s decision to remove a statue of its founder from the foyer after the museum’s director said there were no plans to write him out of its history.

Rutte weighed in on the row on Friday after it emerged that a plaster copy of an original bust had been taken away in September. In his weekly radio interview the prime minister warned against ‘iconoclasm’, adding: ‘We should be careful not to impose the perspective of today’s society on history from a long time ago.’

‘If you take away the statue of your founder, you need to change the name,’ said Rutte. Over the weekend museum director Emilie Gordenker said the statue had been removed because it was unnecessary.

An original bust of Johan Maurits van Nassau, a 17th-century governor of the Netherlands’ Brazilian colonies who built the Mauritshuis using the fortune he made from the sugar cane trade, remains on display and several portraits of the museum’s founder hang on its walls.

‘Modern eyes’ Rutte acknowledged in a tweet on Sunday that his choice of the Mauritshuis to illustrate his point was misjudged. ‘My argument was and is that we shouldn’t judge history from long ago through modern eyes,’ he said.

Gordenker said it was a pity that Rutte had not made the short walk from his office behind the Parliament building to the Mauritshuis to acquaint himself with the facts. She added there was no reason to change the museum’s name.

‘As governor in Brazil he [Maurits] did fantastic things, which is why he’s regarded as a hero there,’ she said. A press release issued by the museum earlier in the week said the removal of the statue was a response to the ‘growing debate in society’ about the Dutch role in the colonial slave trade.

JP Coen

Last week Amsterdam’s Elementary School triggered a similar row when it announced it was changing its name. The school in the capital’s Indische Buurt is the last in the country to bear the name of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who as governor-general of the Dutch East Indies earned the nickname the ‘Butcher of Banda’ for his violent and bloody conquest of the Banda Islands.

‘We don’t want to be associated with this man,’ headmistress Sylvie van den Akker told AT5. ‘He murdered a lot of people.’ The decision was criticised by Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma.

‘As if you become a better person by knocking down statues and changing names. As if you can erase the past and forget that our identity has its origins in our history,’ said Buma.

‘JP Coen is part of our history. If you relativise everything you end up with nothing left.’ (DutchNews)


Hub-spoke airlift in the Caribbean

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN - A hub-spoke distribution network is a system of connections arranged like a wheel in which all traffic moves along spokes connected to the hub at the center. Since we are dealing with airlift, we are obviously talking about distribution of passengers.

The hub and spoke model relies on perfection. When all is working in harmony and streamlined, then the entire system can be very efficient. Passengers arrive with the larger aircraft on long haul flights at the hub.  They are transferred, and take off again for their end-destinations.

The hub airport should have transit facilities and immigration waiver arrangements. That may already a one problem in the Caribbean, because often these are not available. The hub may care less; they prefer passengers who stay overnight anyway. Understandable.

The airlines on their turn may react by not using that particular hub and prefer a different better and more flexible hub. Also understandable. Passengers may not like the hub and spoke system because of the transfer and the extra time it takes. Again, understandable. So, why not just flying point-to-point?

Airlines don’t do favors.  They are shareholder companies that aim to make a profit and subsequently pay dividends to their shareholders. With very few exceptions, they are not publicly owned.  Regardless of its ownership, in order to be profitable, they aim to fill the planes to the brim and operate as efficient as possible.

Any territory dreaming of a large airplane of a major airline coming to their “Oh, island in the sun” may be dreaming. The airline perspective is very simple. Fill the plane and fly it to a hub. That airline is off the hook. From there on, passengers for various end-destinations, will transfer to smaller planes of a regional or local air operation that flies them there. That smaller flying machine may also be filled to the rim then, which will fulfill the desire of that smaller airline to be profitable and efficient.

The purpose of the hub-and-spoke system is to save airlines money, regardless whether it is a small or big operation. Aircraft are their most valuable commodity. Every flight has certain set costs (crew, cabin cleaning, ground handling, maintenance, etc.). Each passenger seat represents a portion of the total flight cost. For each seat that is filled, an airline can lower its break-even level.

That is the seat price at which an airline stops losing money and begins to make a profit. What in the eyes of a tourism authority is considered an ultimate paradise, from the airline’s viewpoint it may be seen as an undesired destination, since they would have to fly their planes half empty. It doesn’t make revenue dollars and not a lick sense to make deliveries without filling aircraft to capacity.

Courier services use the hub and spoke design worldwide. All packages go through a centralized system with strategically located distribution hubs. It works almost perfect. Packages arrive overnight and or if it absolutely be on-time. Although… Recently I received a comment from the Caribbean executive of one of the major international courier services: “There are pressing issues within the Caribbean aviation sphere – for example the need for infrastructure upgrades, modernization of customs regulations, etc. and other basic and imminent needs.” So, even that segment needs some more attention in the region.

Hubbing may be ideal for packages, however, passengers are no packages, and do not wish to be treated as such. But at least we can learn from the logistics and the punctuality of the system.

One would hope that despite the complexities and inconveniences of hub and spoke airline operations, flying would be more readily available at affordable prices in the Caribbean. The inter-island air traffic in the region has a distinct problem. 

Flying from one island to another that is only 1-2 our flying distance away, may take up to 11 hours with 1 or 2 stopovers. The fare may cost US$ 1,000 plus. Ridiculous? No, it may not be the rule, but it is no exception and it is no exaggeration either. Flight schedules and frequencies are part of that problem.

Many small territories try to hold on to what they believe to be their exclusive rights. It’s like wearing an exclusive fancy necktie but suffocating oneself with it.  The governments don’t have much to hold on to anyway, so they try to hold on to whatever they’ve got.

It fits in their category of ‘protection’. Therefore, they implement restrictions. Those could be landing rights. Levying passenger taxes is not a restriction, yet, it is an exclusive right and it is a repellent.  Yet, Tourism Ministries and their agencies are virtually screaming and yelling like merchants on a fish market to get airlines to come. And if airlines don’t come, those are perfect scapegoats to put the blame on.

It would be a good idea to work on a “Open Skies” or at least on a “Friendly Skies” concept for the region. Does ‘deregulation’ ring a bell? One word describes best what the biggest hurdle for progress is: ‘clinging’. Without restrictions on route entry, some airlines could be able to enter markets previously closed to them. It could bring more passengers. It could stimulate inter-island activity and commerce. Lowering, or preferably eliminating passenger taxes, can lower airfares and attract more passengers.

Mind that every tourist has a vacation budget limit! But what the heck? As a humble column writer without a hidden agenda, nor having a commercial interest, one tries to provide ‘food for thought’. When pointing out that there is an opportunity, it’s seldom acted upon. When there is none, one is often expected to come up with witchcraft.

By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert


Why is the Caribbean not a BRICS-M nation?

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - The cruise industry makes half of its $40 billion in the Caribbean, Digicel makes over $3.5 billion off of its Caribbean pan America investments, the Caribbean airline industry share is about 7% (+/-$50 billion) of  $720 billion, and the banking industry, the oil industry – refineries, Caribbean international resort chain partners is an average $45 billion industry, rum, alcohol beverages, and beverage business, agricultural and natural resource export products – bananas, citrus, rice, flower, coffee, salt, cocoa, etc. etc., educational product – students who go off to study and an estimated sixty to eighty percent never come back.

And finally in looking at the GDP of the major BRICS nations will also give us an indication of what it takes to be within the top echelon of global leaders - Brazil GDP-1.796 trillion USD (2016), Russia- 1.283 trillion USD (2016), India-2.264 trillion USD (2016), China-11.2 trillion USD (2016), South Africa-294.8 billion USD (2016).

Starting a discussion on the subject of the Caribbean becoming an independent nation of islands brings a subject up that has been on the minds of the region and the world for many years. The main question that everyone wants an answer to is why has the Caribbean not united as yet or what is causing the Caribbean to continue to stagnate and never fulfill a clearly observed and obvious fact.

Multinationals, developed nations, international investment agencies, professionals, retirees, and migrating persons and families are all very active within the Caribbean region for many years now. Another very serious statistic is the fact that a large percentage of Caribbean citizens leave the Caribbean to further their studies in multiple developed nations and never return - the brain drain syndrome.

And finally essential to consider is the fact that many have voiced that there is no convincing regional vision that exists that can show a path forward giving the Caribbean nations and international partners a clear perspective as to its future intentions.

What is the way forward? Should the Caribbean consider the path of the global giants by considering appealing to the criteria that is needed to become a BRICS nation by becoming a developing or newly industrialized country, which must have large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs and must be a member of the G-20.

Or should the Caribbean nation of islands go with its natural mega regional multi leveled social, cultural, environmental, and economic dynamic. Another path that can be traveled is for the Caribbean to continue the way it has been going and simply go with what ever wind of change the world comes up with, like the chaff that fades away, and allow those inventions, projections, developments etc. to come and pass through our Caribbean showers, what ever sticks - sticks – and or what ever does not work disappears and is never to be seen again.  

Using this moment to recount the many failed and successful initiatives that have passed through and are still active in the Caribbean is not the intention of this article, but what is essential is that we recognize that condition and agree or disagree as to what we as a Caribbean nation of islands want to do going forward.

Like giants casting their proverbial shadow, so are the many and multiple agents of multinationals, global development entities and organizations that are standing on the parameter of the Caribbean mega region. Some questions come to mind. What does the Caribbean need to do to encourage strategic island and regional growth, regional innovation and entrepreneurship? What will it take to have leaders of the nations of the Caribbean sit together and explore the opportunities that they can exploit by being a united region? 

And finally when will the Caribbean nation of islands hoist its flag of Identity to the world, by no longer adhering to the many miss representations and philosophical distractions of the Caribbean’s true social and cultural belonging? Without a solid foundation to start from the Caribbean, as a whole, will be continually a loosed region or nation – a nation divided cannot stand. It is time for the Caribbean nation of island leaders to assemble and define their corporate foundation so that the coming generations of great Caribbean leaders, PHD recipients, innovators, entrepreneurs, and Pulitzer Prize winners will know why and what they are building.

By ir. Damien Richardson


Storm damage to Dutch homes and cars put at over €90m

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Thursday’s severe storm, which battered the Netherlands with winds of up to 130 kph, has caused at least €90m worth of damage to private homes and cars, the insurers association VvV said on Friday.

The figure does not include damage to company or government property, the VvV said. In some cases the storm blew off entire roofs and dozens of cars were damage by falling trees, roof tiles and other debris.

The death toll in the storm was initially put at three, but this may be revised down to two. Police say they are not certain that the third death – which happened when a man fell through a plexiglass construction – was storm-related.

Health and safety experts are now investigating. Thursday’s storm is likely to enter the record books as one of the worst 10 to hit the Netherlands since records began in 1990. (DutchNews)


Dutch continue to read less, but paper still rules: report

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Just four in 10 teenagers pick up a book to read for leisure, as do just 49% of people aged 20 to 34, according to a new study on the reading habits of the Dutch over the last 10 years by the government’s social advisor SCP.

In 2006 65% of teenagers and 85% of young adults regularly read books. The trend away from reading physical books and newspapers is apparent across all age groups.

The number of people picking up a book or paper and reading at least 10 minutes at a stretch every week has fallen from 90% in 2006 to 72% a decade later. Paper is still preferred to screens, mostly by women, older people and people with a lower level of education, the researchers said.

Some 90% of the over 65s still read regularly. The SCP calls the trend ‘worrying’ because of the ‘loss of personal and social benefits’ associated with reading. While the time squeeze influences reading behaviour but that does not explain the differences in reading habits between teenagers and older people and people with higher and lower levels of education, the SCP said.

However, youngsters who take to reading, read almost as much as elderly readers, with men reading more than women, the researchers said. Paper still rules, the SCP found, despite the ubiquitous presence of screens and screen-based reading material.

Screen reading is often combined with other media activities, which the SCP suggests may impair people’s capacity to read at a stretch for longer periods of time. Some 45% of the time spent on screen reading is combined with some other form of other media use. (DutchNews)


Three people are killed as winter storm batters the Netherlands

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Two people have been killed by falling trees in the Netherlands as winds of up to 120 kph battered the country on Thursday morning.

In Enschede, a 62-year-old person was killed when the car he was driving was hit by a tree brought down in the gale force winds. And in Zwolle, a 62-year-old man died when he was hit on the head by a branch, news agency ANP said.

In Lingewaal, south of Utrecht, a 64-year-old man was killed and another injured when they were hit by what police said was a ‘plexiglass construction’ which fell down on a private industrial estate.

In Limburg, a woman pushing a buggy had a narrow escape while out for a morning walk.

Dozens of people have also been injured by falling trees and flying debris. The centre of Almere was closed off to passersby because of the danger posed by flying glass. Eyewitness Vaiibhav Mugundan told DutchNews that he had seen several ambulances coming to take away injured people.

Schiphol airport was closed for a time because of the strong cross winds but services began to pick up speed again in the early afternoon. All rail services remained suspended at 13.30 but some trains were running in Groningen and Limburg.

Several NS stations have been damaged by the winds, and the train operator said storm had caused major problems to some overhead cables. Trees and other debris have also made it impossible to run normal services.

The emergency services have reported dealing with more than 1,600 damage reports between 8.30am and 12.30pm, when the winds began to die down. (DutchNews)

dutch containers blown over

PHOTO CUTLINE PHOTO BELOW: Missing panes of glass on Almere station. Photo: Vaiibhav Mugundan

Almere station 560x420

PHOTO CUTLINE: In Rotterdam, falling trees damaged both cars and trams. Photo: Peter Hilz / HH  

fallen tree rotterdam 560x374



No ‘Spanish blood’ in short dark-haired Dutch, say researchers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Short, dark-haired Dutch and Flemish people are often told they must have ‘Spanish blood’ following ‘sexual agression’ during the 80 years war with Spain, but there is no basis in fact, according to research by the University of Leuven.

According to the geneticists at the Flemish university, whose paper The black legend on the Spanish presence in the Low Countries:  Verifying shared beliefs on genetic ancestry, was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, genetic testing among 1,300 Dutch and Flemish men showed they had no more Spanish DNA variants than their French or British counterparts.

Or as the researchers say, ‘sexual aggression did occur in the 16th century, but these activities did not leave a traceable “Spanish” genetic signature in the autochthonous genome of the Low Countries’.

‘It’s not to say that Dutch and Flemish women did not have children by Spanish soldiers but not so many as to influence the population’s DNA,’ geneticist Maarten Larmuseau said in an interview with the NRC.

So why, from the sixteenth century on, has the idea of ‘Spanish blood’ been so pervasive? The myth lives on because of a very effective propaganda exercise, Larmuseau says.

Painting the Spanish as a band of rampaging rapists helped create a national identity and the label stuck. It is not battles and kings that leave their trace in human DNA but migration, he claims.

The Viking colonisation of Northern England and the Phoenician trade colonies along the coast of the Mediterranean, for instance, have left their mark on the genetic make-up of the present day population.

It seems people like the idea of having Spanish ancestors, however they came to be. Larmuseau, who lectures on the subject, is often asked by people if they could be of Spanish descent. ‘The French, the Austrians and the Germans also occupied Flanders but no one is interested in them,’ he told the NRC.  (DutchNews)


Airline KLM scraps dozens of flights on Thursday due to forecast storm

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Airline KLM has scrapped dozens of European flights ahead of Thursday morning’s forecast storm. Winds of up to 120 kph are expected to batter the Dutch coast on Thursday and the KNMI has issued a code orange weather warning for the central provinces and Zeeland.

A code yellow warning applies to the rest of the country. The height of the storm is expected between 10am and 12am. ‘It will be a very blustery day,’ KNMI spokesman Harry Geurts said.

‘This is the second serious storm of the year.’ The temperature is also set to drop in the north of the country, which could lead to snow flurries rather than rain, the KNMI said. (DutchNews)


Methodist Church representatives meet to discuss the role of climate change

SINT MAARTEN/ANTIGUA – Representatives from the Methodist Churches in the Leeward Islands (Sint Maarten/St. Martin, St. Eustatius, Anguilla, St. Kitts & Nevis), Dominica, U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Aruba, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, The Netherlands) gathered in Antigua over the weekend at the 212th Meeting -2nd Triennial Conference of the Leeward Islands District of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.

The conference will run until January 24 where approximately 117 delegates will discuss what role the Methodist Church can play in reducing the impact of global warming in the Caribbean which has resulted in climate change and causing catastrophic weather events such as the September 2017 hurricanes.

Conference delegates will have the opportunity to share information about the impacts of the hurricanes in their jurisdictions on the lives of their members, church infrastructure and surrounding communities.



The Caribbean needs incubators!

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Wow, why, what? Is there an upcoming baby-boom? Is it related to this year’s carnival? Why don’t they distribute contraceptives? Those are questions that I don’t have answers for. But I had something else in mind anyway. I believe that the Caribbean needs Business Incubators.

Unemployment rates in the region are too high; especially among young persons. There is no such a thing as opening up a can of jobs.  The problem does not get enough attention. Well, attention maybe, if one considers ‘talk-talk’ to be attention. In some cases, measures are taken, like providing extended education for young people.

However, how does having another education certificate help, if one is still not able to find employment, because jobs are just not available. There is a distinct difference between providing a job and keeping persons entertained for another one or two years. Yet, it is meant well, so one should not criticize too much.  The basic thinking behind it is not wrong but it is not creating jobs. Jobs are created by businesses.

Then let’s create businesses. Start-ups. Some young talented persons or spirited members of an earlier generation may be able to get an operation going. So, let’s make special loans available at attractive soft conditions. That’s positive thinking. It may work well if the operation is retail related because a turnover of products could bring revenues fairly quick.

What about the entrepreneurs-to-be who are into offering services that need more lead time to bring in revenue. Some professionals in their own right are just not typically salespersons to market their services.  Their activities may be valuable but are too specialized for a quick start.

Just imagine how their startup-up funding may be used. First renting an office space; usually one or two month rent deposit is required. Buying office furniture and equipment. Acquiring telephone and internet connections. Secretarial services may be needed.

Every startup may have different needs. Listing all those may look like dramatizing things. Thus, I stop here. One thing should be mentioned though is that the young entrepreneurs may lack some experience in running an operation, like marketing, accounting or other skills.

What if a Business Incubator was available? A facility that would have space to accommodate several startups. The individual units would be fully furnished. Telephone connections through a central system. WIFI signal throughout the building. Central secretarial services. In principle one facility administration takes care of all, including things as hiring services ranging from cleaning to accounting. Management training could be included in the incubator concept. It would be a truly professional and motivating environment to operate from. Since there are several start-ups with different services in the same building, it is very well possible that the incubatees could cooperate and initiate joined activities. The model of the Incubator can be shaped to the needs of a particular territory, or for the typical professional needs of a certain group of startups.

Taking part in the Business Incubator should in principle be free. Of, course there will be conditions and agreements before being accepted. The funding for the facility could be provided by a government agency (e.g. Development Authority), Chamber of Commerce, or an International Development Bank. An incubator could be part of, or associated with a college or university.

In 2009, a Caribbean Business Incubator Association was launched by representatives from 10 independent Caribbean countries. Some had business incubation programs, other were preparing implementation of such programs. It was in the line of thinking being a part of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The organization announced that it was member of a global organization of more than 300 incubators in 86 countries. But the organization is not operational anymore. The Association is dormant due to lack of funding.

On a local level, the idea of a Business Incubation deserves a closer look. The idea of a Business Incubator is not new. It is a catalyst tool for economic development.  It can be part of the solution to develop new native businesses that encourage self-employment first, and when the new operation is successful and grows, it can provide employment for others. A bit of a multiplying effect.

Business Incubators can be shaped for any need or seize. They could be as big a technology parks. Let’s not go too far though with our imagination and keep both feet on the ground considering where we are. But then again, when reaching out for the stars, one will not end up with a hand full of mud. Mind that my columns should only be considered as ‘food-for-thought’. I’m old and wise enough to know how I myself would handle a circumstance if needed to. But who am I?  Yet, an old fox knows more tricks to get a rabbit out of a hole than a puppy with a degree. I just do my writing to help others with ideas.

Caribbean territories should focus more on the potential of entrepreneurs as drivers of economic growth and play an important role in job creation. A study has shown that there is no specific geographic trend in terms of where innovative entrepreneurs can be found. There is no evidence either that developed countries have a higher rate of novel product-market combination. So…, let’s get going here.

By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

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