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In defense of our common Heritage

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - “My people, mijn volk, mi pueblo, myn minsken, I have been elected into office to protect our heritage and defend you from them”. Surely this sounds familiar. You have heard it in one or more of the four official political languages of our Kingdom of the Netherlands—English, Dutch, Papiamento, and Frisian.

Like it or not, these days heritage is explicitly being wedded to formal politics. As is the case in the four corners of the globe, political elites throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands are claiming to be the guardians of heritage. By defending our heritage elected officials and aspirant ministers and members of parliament bellow in every public presentation that they are supposedly protecting our imperiled way of life, our honor, identity and collective survival. The protection “from whom” (the them) question needs to be preceded by the query of what exactly is our heritage?  

If heritage is a name for our collective inheritance, is there such a thing as a Kingdom heritage? Or is it wiser to be precise and namely ask, for instance, what is the heritage of Sint Maarten? Or should the question be St. Martin heritage as a Caribbean expression (given that the island consists of a Northern/ French and Southern/Dutch side in the sea of isles where the Gulf Stream originates)?

And extrapolating should questioning the heritage of the Netherlands not also be about Europe, since that is where that constituent state is located? Alternatively given that all constituent states in the Kingdom are ethnically diverse—you encounter expressions and ideas you can also come across in Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Venezuela, Colombia, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Morocco, Canada, the United States of America, France, Poland, Hungary, India, Israel, Lebanon, China, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana, etc., here—and heritage is not the same thing as exclusivist nationalism, should we not also critically cherish the multiple heritages of the old-and newcomers that inhabit our trans-Atlantic federation?   

Most political leaders in office will disagree. The flavor seems to be one of favoring the narrowest definition of heritage. Understandable, given that all formal politics is local. If you are elected on Sint Maarten or say the Netherlands it is from the electorate of these specific constituent states that you receive your vote of confidence or non-confidence.

It is a public secret that in all parts of the Kingdom many are hurting economically, many are uneasy with the emerging multicultural realities, and as a result many are weary about the future. Can those who aspire or crave political power ignore this! The opportunist air that Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, and Le Pen breathe is not so different from that which our main political leaders inhale and exhale.

When times are hard, and austerity is the name of the game, a scapegoat needs to be found. Whether it be the political leaders of another constituent state within the Kingdom that are accused of being neocolonial or kleptocrats, newcomers that are supposedly taking all the jobs and eroding the moral fabric of society, or fellow Dutch citizens who migrated from another part of the federation that are labeled racists or lazy, someone else is blamed for the state not fulfilling its obligation to redistribute. A “They” supposedly stealing our heritage is always assigned to blind the symbolic or demographic majority within the particular constituent states of our Kingdom. 

The counter-remedy ought to be a refusal to scapegoat by radically uncoupling heritage from exclusive nationalism. The admittedly imperfect creed that markets distribute while states ideally redistribute ought to be common consciousness throughout the Kingdom.

This article of faith ought to be understood as the reason for the existence of government in liberal democracies such as ours. The redistributive function of the state is to enable the working poor and their offspring to improve their economic situation, minimize inequalities between classes, and encourage public debates and programs that hopefully lead to more acceptance of diverse ways of livings.  

If what you have read makes some sense to you, should we not summon our elected representatives throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be defenders of our socio-economic, civil, and human rights? Isn’t this the common heritage that we should cherish most in these trying times?  

Dr. Francio Guadeloupe, President of the University of St. Martin/Lecturer & Researcher at the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Adnan Hossain, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Ester Alake Tuenter, Lecturer & Researcher at the Iselinge University of Applied Sciences.

Dr. Tine Davids, Lecturer & Researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen.

Drs. Erwin Wolthuis, Division Head at the University of St. Martin/PhD candidate at Walden University.

Drs. Jordi Halfman, Guest Lecturer at the University of St. Martin & PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam.

Drs. Khadija al Mourabit, Exchange Officer (International Office GSSS), University of Amsterdam.

Drs. Gregory Richardson, Lecturer at the Instituto Pedagogico Arubano/PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Drs. Sharelly Emanuelson, Director of UNIARTE Curaçao.

Drs. Tamara Keers, KU Leuven.

Mr. Josue Ferrol, Coordinator of the pre-USM program at the University of St. Martin.

Mr. Pedro de Weever, Chief Editor of the Commentaries Journal of the University of St. Martin.

Mrs. Oldine Bryson-Panthophlet, Chair of the SER Sint Maarten.

Mr. Gerard Richardson, Secretary General SER Sint Maarten.

Mrs. Lorraine Talmi, President of the Sint Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association.

Mrs. Sharine Allamby-Duncan, policy maker Culture Department, Sint Maarten.

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In 'post truth' era, leaders must defend objective, independent media, UN says on Press Freedom Day

SINT MAARTEN/INTERNATIONAL, 3 May 2017 – In a “post-truth” world with “fake news” on the rise, and media accountability and credibility falling under question, free, independent and professional journalism has never been more important, the United Nations today said.

“We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation. And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message to mark World Press Freedom Day.

This year's theme highlights media's role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies and builds on the theme 'Critical Minds for Critical Times.'

The 2017 commemoration comes at a time when “free, independent and pluralistic media has never been so important to empower individual women and men, strengthen good governance and the rule of law, and take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) said in a statement.

The agency is also tasked with defending press freedom and the safety of journalists, and is spearheading the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

“Far too often, murder remains the most tragic form of censorship,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message on the Day, noting that 102 journalists were killed in 2016.

She noted that “facing a crisis of audience identity, journalism stands before a horizon where old challenges are merging with new threats,” which include the Internet's blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial material, businesses pushing for profits and private censorship.

He wrote: “Only the independence, the character, the objectivity and the good judgment of the journalist and the media can overcome the terrible storms of the new world that threaten freedom of information everywhere.”

Ms. Bokova noted those words, written two years prior to his death, “continue to resonate today, 33 years later.”

She called for “original, critical and well-researched journalism, guided by high professional, ethical standards and a quality media education” and for audiences who “have the right media and information literacy skills.”

Press Freedom is marked annually on 3 May. UNESCO's main celebration of this year's edition of the Day will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1 to 4 May.

The programme of the four-day conference has been designed to raise awareness of the importance of free and fact-based journalism in promoting peace and justice, and supporting the efficiency, accountability and inclusiveness of institutions, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). The event is organized with the Government of Indonesia and the Indonesian Press Council.

During the event, Ms. Bokova will award the 2017 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Dawit Isaak, the imprisoned Eritrean-born journalist who will be represented by his daughter, Bethelem Isaak, during a ceremony hosted by Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia.

In Geneva, a UN human rights expert welcomed the granting of the prize to Mr. Isaak, and urged Eritrea to free him.

“The Eritrean authorities should stop the practice of arrests and detention carried out without legal basis instantly,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, in a new release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

A special event will be held at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday.

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War and terrorism top list of worries, May 4 & 5 still relevant: survey

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch are worrying more about wars and terrorism but less about refugees, according to the annual survey by the Comité 4 en 5 mei into how the Dutch rate international and national issues.

Four in 10 people are anxious about war compared to three in 10 last year, with war in Syria uppermost in people’s minds. Six in 10 people say they fear terrorism, the highest number since the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2002.

By contrast, people are now less worried about the influx of refugees.  In 2016 five in 10 people worried refugee numbers but this has gone down to a little over three in 10 this year.

May 4 (Remembrance Day) and 5 (Liberation Day) are still overwhelmingly regarded as important dates in the national calendar. Eight out of 10 Dutch people participate in the traditional two minutes’ silence on May 4 and six in 10 people watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on television or listen to it on the radio.

Eight in 10 say they experience ‘a strong national bond’ during the two days. Seven in 10 Dutch people think May 5 should be a day off for all working people. If that were to happen and another holiday is sacrificed in its place three in 10 people would opt for Good Friday. (DutchNews)

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Young Syrian refugees don't want pity; respect their rights and empower them – UNICEF Advocate

INTERNATIONAL, 28 April 2017 – Concluding a visit to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where he met with young people displaced from their homes, an advocate for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) underlined the need to respect their rights and empower them so that they can grow to their full potential.

“Young people who survive war have an amazing ability to persevere and become the champions for peace that are so needed, despite the horrors they have been through,” said Ishmael Beah, the UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War, wrapping up his visit.

“I know from experience that all that pain, that unimaginable suffering, and that sense of loss of humanity, can all be refocussed towards something positive […] especially when you have someone who believes in you, supports you and extends a helping hand” he added.

Mr. Beah – internationally renowned for his books, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and Radiance of Tomorrow, a novel – is a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, forcibly recruited at the age of 13. His parents and two brothers were killed in the brutal conflict.

During his three-day visit to Jordan, the UNICEF Advocate visited the Za'atari refugee camp and a UNICEF-supported centre for learning and psychosocial support operated in the Jordanian capital Amman to amplify the voices of vulnerable children and young people affected by the conflict in Syria, which is now in its seventh year.

More than 2.5 million children the war-torn country are now refugees, living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

“These young people have been teaching me a lot in return,” said Mr. Beah after the trip. “These young people don't want to be pitied, they want to have their rights respected and be empowered so that they can grow to their full potential.”

UNICEF together with its partners has trained young people who are refugees or vulnerable host communities as researchers as part of an initiative to freely allow young people – many of whom dropped out of school and started working to help their families make ends meet – to learn about their lives and aspirations.

The research, which is based on the premise that young people are more likely to be open about their thoughts and feelings with other young people, is meant to contribute to better access to education and vocational training.

The training also equips vulnerable young people with skills to address issues like early marriage, protection against violence and hazardous types of labour.

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One Belt One Road Initiative Beijing’s go-global strategy

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Preparations are well underway for a major summit that will further define the China “One Belt, One Road” (C-OBOR) Initiative.  The aforementioned includes the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ which covers approximately 65 countries spanning Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.

China is seen as the new engine of global trade and investment.  The country is dependent on international trade and imports of energy and resources.  The initiative has been valued at US$1.4 trillion and is said to make a bigger impact than the US Marshall Plan back in the 1940s/50s to build post-war Europe.

The initiative is a policy response of the Chinese Government in connection with the isolationism political rhetoric by the United States and Europe retreating to within their borders while China pushes to connect itself with Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world.  

China’s President Xi Jinping floated the initiative in 2013 and since then it has been moving full speed forward on many continents.  The initiative aims to revive the ancient land and sea trade routes and boost connectivity over land and sea between Asia and the rest of the world.

So far, 28 Heads of State and Government Leaders have confirmed their attendance at the Belt and Road two-day Forum for International Cooperation, which opens on May 14 in Beijing.  Other delegates include officials, entrepreneurs, financers and reporters from 110 countries, and representatives of 61 international organizations.

The C-OBOR initiative is all about creating new markets for Chinese goods, political influence, and security for China’s natural resources supply chain.  This initiative is over a century, and the current Chinese Central Government, has made it a priority to implement the initiative over the coming decades for current and future generations.

One of the hallmarks of the initiative is infrastructure development. 

Many countries around the world see the economic benefits which would translate into growth and improvement in the quality of life for their citizens.  China is now Canada’s second-largest trading partner, and it is becoming increasingly important in terms of bilateral foreign direct investment.

Almost three quarters of Canadian companies in China plan to expand their operations there, according to a report released by the Canada China Business Council and Rotman School of Management. 

Chinese investment in the United States in 2016 more than tripled from 2015 to $46 billion, with Chinese companies adding 1,300 new operations, according to New Neighbours: 2017 Update, a report on Chinese investment in US congressional districts, released by the National Committee on US-China Relations and the Rhodium Group.

Chinese-owned businesses now employ over 140,000 in the US, with companies increasing their presence in the South and Midwest of the United States of America.

Caribbean countries are also discussing ways and means with respect to Chinese investments.  The Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, just recently returned from China after meeting with representatives about public-private partnerships that can create a sustainable framework for economic development.

The BaoYu Investment group and Dominica representatives expressed optimism that public-private partnerships create financial models that can catalyze the flow of private sector investment into developing countries, to deliver long-term value for both shareholders and society.

The BaoYu Group told the Dominica delegation that they are committed to finding solutions for Chinese investors and China-based investment advisory firms to diversify their assets; adding that Investment in the Commonwealth of Dominica offers an exciting potential opportunity for overseas asset allocation.

Sint Maarten embracing opportunities that present themselves offers long-term sustainable economic security.  The One Belt One Road Initiative is once again an opportunity for the country to look into and assess the opportunities that could come out of such a strategy.

Roddy Heyliger

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Status of declaration on indigenous peoples' rights in spotlight as UN forum opens in New York

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2017 – Speaking at the opening of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, senior UN officials today underscored the need to do more to ensure that indigenous peoples are able to benefit from global development agenda, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Far more needs to be done to fully realize the human rights of indigenous peoples,” said Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Vice-President of the UN General Assembly, on behalf of the President of the Assembly, Peter Thomson, underscoring the importance of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

“Targeted strategies would ensure that indigenous peoples could fully participate in implementing those accords,” he added.

In his remarks, the Assembly Vice-President also highlighted that discussions were ongoing within the 193-member body on ways to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples within the Organization and urged UN Member States and indigenous peoples to participate in upcoming dialogues on a comprehensive draft text addressing the matter.

This year also marks the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a comprehensive statement emphasizing the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.

Underscoring the importance of the Declaration, Lenni Montiel, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, noted that as indigenous peoples continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty, discrimination and poor health care, the world “can do better.”

“[Indigenous peoples'] collective and individual rights are too often denied; this is unacceptable. […] we must do better,” he underscored.

Noting that indigenous peoples and UN Member States had requested increased engagement of the UN system, he spoke of the system's response, and cited further examples of efforts, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

Such efforts would continue through the new international development phase guided by the 2030 Agenda, noted Mr. Montiel.

Also speaking today, Cristián Barros Melet, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that while the 2030 Agenda made a commitment to “leave no one behind,” voluntary national reviews on implementation had shown the risk of indigenous peoples being left behind.

“[As] an advisory body of the Council, the [Permanent] Forum has an important role to play in providing specialized advice and recommendations. It is essential to review progress made to date and to consider what additional efforts were required,” he said.

The Permanent Forum should meanwhile continue its collaboration with other Council bodies, noted Mr. Barros Melet, underscoring that its recommendations would help ensure that provisions of the Declaration were promoted. He also expressed hope that it would provide advice and guidelines which ensured indigenous issues remained an integral part of UN's work.

Also today, the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, highlighted the importance of empowerment of indigenous women, noting that indigenous women and girls needed to be aware not only of their identity, but also their human rights, and they must claim those rights.

“No traditional culture or custom can be invoked to justify and perpetrate violence and harmful practices against indigenous women,” she said.

Highlighting the place of indigenous women and girls in the discussions and outcomes of the 2017 session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she said that the international community could no longer tolerate a situation in which such precious stakeholders and actors for sustainable development were not only left behind, but also the furthest to reach.

Within the UN system, the Permanent Forum is mandated to deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

It also works to raises awareness and promotes the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system; and prepares and disseminates information on indigenous issues.

Its current (sixteenth) session, the Permanent Forum runs until 5 May 2017.

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CAPT. DINO'S SIMPSONBAY CHICKEN SHACK

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Closed down, victim of a possibly outdated, easily circumvented Government policy on vending licenses. That policy states (and I am paraphrasing) that vending licenses can only be issued to unemployed persons who have no other means of income.

Capt. Dino does have a day job. But I suggest we do not go down that road.... how many persons with a day job including Commissioners (when WE were The Government) and now Parliamentarians, Civil Servants and other holders of jobs in the Public as well as Private Sectors did and do not also hold taxi, bus and/or other permits that are SUPPOSED to only be issued to persons with no other means of income?

I know, two wrongs do not make a right. But Capt. Dino in his latest FB rant has a point. Why should he and his wife, two local St. Maarteners, have to jump through hoops to show their ambition, their good intentions, their entrepreneurial spirit here on their own soil? Dino and his wife ARE ambitious.

They are local as can be. They have been allowed to operate their shack for the past several years now. Their Chicken Shack has grown to be a favorite hangout for locals as well as tourists.

They offer an excellent F&B product. Taking into consideration how difficult it is for locals to get financing from our local financial institutions, thanks to Capt. Dino's day job salary, he was able to start up and grow their now well-known Simpson Bay parking lot Local/Tourist hang out, thereby contributing in a positive way to our economy in general and our Tourism in particular.

Do I believe it could use some sprucing up and made to look more presentable for the area it is in? The answer is yes. Do I believe they should not turn the newly constructed public parking lot on the Simpson Bay strip into an uncontrolled-growth, open-air restaurant without running water and properly operating bathroom facilities?

The answer is yes. Do I believe our present and subsequent governments could at times look at individual circumstances and ensure that well intentioned local St. Maarteners, especially those with a positive personal track record, are not hurt by policies that with all due respect should have been put in place to PROTECT, rather than hinder and fight local citizens?

The answer here again is YES! So, I implore the Powers that Are, to find a solution, if need be by thinking and acting "outside of the proverbial box" to allow Dino and his wife to re-open DINO'S CHICKEN SHACK on the Simpson Bay public parking lot. Their ribs are DA BOMB!!

Michael J. Ferrier

COMMENTARY: The content is the sole responsibility of the author.

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Satellite tracking tiger sharks in the Dutch Caribbean. Tiger Shark ‘Quinty’ swims from the Saba Bank to Trinidad in four weeks!

COLE BAY - During an expedition last year, a number of tiger sharks were caught on the Saba Bank and fitted with satellite tags to study how these animals move around the Caribbean Sea.

This research provides invaluable information about shark migration and it is the first time that work of this kind has been carried out in Dutch waters. The sharks were tagged as part of the region-wide Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance “Save Our Sharks” project which is funded by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

The first tiger shark to be tagged with a satellite transmitter was named “Quinty”, after Quinty Trustfull, television personality and Dutch Postcode Lottery ambassador. Now Quinty’s travels can be tracked live by visiting www.saveoursharks.nl/shark-tracking.

“I am proud that the Save Our Sharks project was made possible by the participants of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. And what a special honor to have the first tagged shark named after me!” Quinty Trustfull commented. Quinty is a fully grown female tiger shark measuring 3.4 m and estimated to be about 15 years old.

“She was tagged on the Saba Bank in October 2016 and started transmitting data almost from day one. It was quickly apparent that of the five adult tiger sharks tagged during the expedition, Quinty was by far and away the most active.

“Since then she has travelled an astounding 1200 kilometers and crossed thirteen maritime boundaries on her journey from the Saba Bank to southern Trinidad. Clearly a seasoned traveller, it took her just a month to reach Trinidad and Tobago, where she stayed for three months before heading off for Barbados.

Trinidad is the center for the trade in shark fins and meat in the Caribbean. It is ranked the number six country in the world that exports shark fins to Hong Kong – the world’s largest shark fin market. In 2011 Trinidad and Tobago exported as much as 332,396 kg of shark fins to the Asian market.

As if spending time in Trinidadian waters was not dangerous enough, swimming from island to island can be a perilous undertaking for a shark. Of the 52 nation states in the Caribbean only three have so far established shark sanctuaries and have the necessary protection in place to protect these important apex predators: the British Virgin Islands, Bonaire - Saba and St Maarten. Whether she realized it or not, Quinty took her life in her hands as she traveled through ten different territorial waters in the Caribbean where she could have been legally caught and killed for her fins, meat, oil or cartilage, joining over 100 million sharks which are killed annually worldwide to fee the trade in shark fins which are considered a delicacy in the east.

Quinty’s journey highlights the fact that we are not doing nearly enough to protect these thrilling animals, which are essential to the health of our oceans and our endangered coral reefs. Regional-wide protection for sharks is needed now more than ever.

“We are thrilled that to be able to conduct this research, especially since it is unprecedented in this area,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Project Manager of the Save Our Sharks-project. “When looking at the long migration that Quinty is making, one realizes that local protection of sharks is insufficient, and shark conservation should be prioritized on a regional scale.”

During the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2016, five tiger sharks were tagged in Sint Maarten and on the Saba Bank with satellite tags, allowing scientists and conservationists from the Saba Conservation Foundation, the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation and the Shark Education and Outreach Organization Sharks4Kids to track the animals and to gather information about their migration patterns.

The tags were attached to the dorsal fin of the tiger sharks. Each time the dorsal fin breaks the surface, its location is sent to the satellite. Visitors to the Save Our Sharks website can follow the current swimming route of one the tagged tiger sharks, Quinty, has made since October.

Tiger sharks are one of the largest species of shark. They can grow up to 4,5 meters long and live for up to 50 years. They are one of the oceans’ most powerful predators and are known to migrate vast distances in search for food, a mate or breeding grounds.

Their diet includes everything from jellyfish to stingrays and seals. Tiger sharks are so regularly sighted on the Saba Bank that they have been adopted as the Saba Bank ‘mascot’. Unfortunately, they are classified on the IUCN Red List as “Near Threatened”.

Little is currently known about the status of shark populations in Dutch and regional Caribbean waters and tagging studies are a pivotal first step in determining which sharks are present, where they can be found and most importantly how best to improve regional management and protection of these important apex predators. 

Quinty track Caribbean copy 2

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Free plastic bag ban cuts demand 70%, shopkeepers say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch shopkeepers are handing out far fewer plastic bags since a fee was introduced at the beginning of last year, junior environment minister Sharon Dijksma said on Tuesday.

In total, the use of plastic bags by the retail sector has plunged 71%, the minister said. Some 60% of bakers, butchers and market customers still pay for a bag, but only 40% of department store clients do so.

Many retailers have also made the switch to paper bags, the ministry research shows. Research into the composition of litter also shows a 40% drop in the number of plastic bags left lying around.

‘Not only are fewer bags being produced, but the ban has led to a tangible drop in the amount of plastic rubbish on the street and in water,’ Dijksma said. (DutchNews)

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New Philipsburg Promotional Board a Positive Development

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Mid-March it was announced that a group of professionals and business persons came together and established the ‘Philipsburg Promotional Board Foundation (PPBF)’ who has as its objective to revitalize Philipsburg at night and grow the capital’s day-time economy.  This is a positive development for destination Sint Maarten.

The purpose of the foundation is to foster partnership and relationship with government authorities, non-governmental organizations, police force and investors; to strategize ideas in resolving issues with the improvement of the overall environment of Philipsburg, such as stimulation of the day-economy and to regenerate the night-economy in the areas of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, casinos and churches amongst others.

The PPBF has met with a number of groups such as Government, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry, a business group from Philipsburg, restaurants among other stakeholders in order to get ideas and information about re-branding Philipsburg.

Not far from the heels of PPBF, is the St. Thomas Task Force, a new government body that has been put together to improve the visitor experience within the capital of the aforementioned island, Charlotte Amalie.  The task force also includes reps from the port authority, the private sector, taxi association and other stakeholders.

The St. Thomas task force was formed after discussions with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA).  The mission of the group is to take a holistic approach to revitalize, refurbish, and re-invigorating the territory’s tourism product, particularly within the area of downtown Charlotte Amalie, the main shopping area of the destination.

St. Thomas and Sint Maarten are cruise competitors in the north/north eastern Caribbean area.

At a legislative meeting in St. Croix, USVI, comparisons were made between the aforementioned two destinations.  This demonstrates that destination Sint Maarten is seen as the ‘benchmark destination’ in the Caribbean.  This also points out that competition is gearing up to improve their own offerings and experiences which will eat away from other destinations including ours, which means we have to be on the ball and not become or remain complacent.

The USVI Department of Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty stated during a presentation that visitor cruise line arrivals are estimated to drop 11 per cent through 2018.  Destination St. Thomas saw a significant reduction in calls in 2016 and this would continue through 2018 (cruise ship calls in 2016 was 535, forecast for 2017 is 489; and forecast for 2018 is 478).

A Carnival Cruise Line Executive contacted the St. Thomas Government and informed them about his visit to the destination in which he described it as being “horrible.”  The executive sent photos and descriptions of what he saw: “It was a horrible visit. The downtown stores were pretty much empty, Main Street was not busy and his response was that the visit was so bad for him, as an experience, that he didn’t know if he wanted to come back to the port of Charlotte Amalie again.”

The St. Thomas Task Force is looking at a number of things to improve the visitor experience in which one businessman described it as a “stale pond” based on comments he received from clients that have been repeat customers for 30 years.

Destination Sint Maarten has its challenges in various areas: infrastructure, product aesthetics, visitor experiences, choice of tours, new tours etc.  On the other side, some stakeholders have done their part over the years to keep the destination competitive such as Port St. Maarten.  The PPBF has its job cut out, but with a collective approach involving all committed stakeholders; a lot can be accomplished with a smart approach in 2017 and beyond.

The destination needs a tourism model for the 21st century that is based on ‘smart tourism.’

Smart tourism is an international topic of discussion to create ‘Smart Destinations.’ Smart tourism’ is not a trend, but the future of tourism development.  The Philipsburg area as well as the destination overall, has to become an ‘evolutionary flow of change’ in order to remain competitive with other destinations within the Region and beyond.

As a destination we need to differentiate ourselves and value, and preserve the natural, social and cultural environment while at the same time implementing a smart destination approach that would allow us to continue to develop in a sustainable manner.  The country’s socio-economic future is based on a ‘smart destination’ approach where each one of us has a stake.

Roddy Heyliger

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