SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Melissa D. Gumbs) - I listened with great interest to the radio interview given by former member of Parliament, Mr. Theo Heyliger, on Monday, 22 June 2020. Firstly, it is excellent to see Mr. Heyliger in good health after his diagnosis in 2019 and I wish him continued recovery and health.
This is the second interview given by the former MP in a week, and while it was unclear what the overall purpose of the media blitz was, after the first interview, and subsequent press releases by the party he once led, I think the people can see the story being shopped around.
Revisionist History has been done by key groups throughout history: those who win wars, those who become dictators and, the largest and most controlling group, those who colonize (France, the Netherlands, England, etc). Colonization, and the resulting trans-Atlantic slave trade, has allowed the mentioned countries to tweak global history to their favor. They have erased or twisted facts that did not suit their story and we still feel the effects of their revision today.
Mr. Heyliger tries to quote this revisionist history by claiming that the Netherlands is attempting to “destroy” Sint Maarten through the justice system, by arresting and prosecuting politicians and other prominent individuals in the community. He cautions that the “hierarchy of the country” is being targeted and will be removed, and that this is how the country will be taken over. He warns the new “millennial” politicians that there is history behind ‘a lot of what goes on’ and that we cannot come in and “bulldoze the place to the ground.” This is a neat way of saying that change, so desperately needed, cannot come as long as the so-called “hierarchy of the country” exists. It would seem that Mr. Heyliger is creating his own version of history, something that he and several of his former colleagues have done since before 10-10-10. He uses this Revised Version of History to explain the state the country is in; I believe that the actual version is much more insightful, not to mention accurate.
Heyliger spent the interview lamenting the state of our education, healthcare and social welfare systems, but he lays blame for the state of these sectors squarely at the feet of the Netherlands. This is where the new history begins. While now, with a conviction-under-appeal, it has become incredibly transparent what is going on, it’s pretty masterful how slips of truth mixed with a healthy dose of delusions of grandeur have been spun to sound like a systematic takeover by anyone other than organized criminals.
Heyliger states that the Grand Plan is to turn us into the European Dutch person that he seems to so vehemently dislike (when not engaging them to bring construction companies to the island, that is). He rejects this notion but makes strange statements to support his rejection. He states, among other things, that we are not a people that “saves all our money,” saying that Holland complains that we drive cars and live in houses that are too big, and that our salaries are too high, and that we “cannot change.” He blames this last fact on the technical assistance received by Dutch technocrats, stating that we had to pay “high salaries” to them and so we had to match salaries to our locals. As we outlined in our livestream about our motion to cut 15%, the salaries of St. Maarten politicians before 10-10-10 were never high. They have been set by the architects of our constitutional status: the last Island Council of St. Maarten. Is the former MP saying that the people of St. Maarten cannot change? Is it really a goal that we remain a people who lack financial literacy and who do not save our money for rainy days or retirement? Is that not encouraging the continuation of poverty and paycheck-to-paycheck living that plagues many in our society? This is not the situation for Heyliger; the Estate continues to pay well, so what need is there to save for those with guaranteed income? I prefer the facts: region-wide, efforts have been made to encourage a more fiscally responsible population by promoting planning for retirement, savings, investments, and smarter spending.
Continuing the interview, it’s no surprise to hear a complete lack of knowledge, whether by truth or by design, of geo-politics, displayed by the former MP. He continues the same false statements we hear on the floor of Parliament, where the claim is that the Netherlands gave condition-free money to Dominica after Hurricane Maria and that money is now being used to build homes. This is a bold-faced lie; a simple bit of research shows that Prime Minister Skerrit, in his own words, has constructed and repaired homes, schools and bridges with money earned from the Citizenship by Investment Programme that is so popular with the Chinese, Russian and Taiwanese billionaires Mr. Heyliger wants to court so much. I’ll share the research with him, no strings attached, to ensure that he nor anyone associated with him make this false statement again. At this point, it’s cringe-worthy to hear it.
Heyliger continues that, when we’re independent, “he” can say he wants Americans coming in with no issue, or he can say he wants Dominicans or anybody (Italians, maybe?) to come in without any issues. This is in contradiction to the government his former party supports, as Honorable Minister Anna Richardson is currently attempting to resolve our immigration issues. Is the former MP saying that we should continue an open-door policy for all who wish to come to St. Maarten, thus continuing the burden on our infrastructure and our systems?
Enough of the megalomania and back to our failing systems. Throughout the interview, Heyliger fails to discuss his own role and indeed, the country’s successive governments’ roles, in bringing us to our current state. How did Heyliger spend his time in Parliament and Government? Did he address the same education system he expresses such worry about in the interview, and urge businesses to buy bonds from the Central Bank to build a school for special needs children and teens? No…but he made that effort for the construction of the Causeway, even going so far as to chastise GEBE and PJIA for not participating in that project. Parents of special needs children must either struggle through or, if they can afford it, leave the island to find help elsewhere. Because the message remains the same: the only way to ‘develop’ St. Maarten is to build physical structures. Heyliger’s focus has never been on developing the people of this country and that is perhaps the saddest part, because that mentality has trickled down throughout his former party. The level of ‘out of touch’ is so thick, it can be tasted.
On the floor of Parliament, we questioned the “urgent need” for the completion of the decolonization process. We were told that it is a priority, like everything else right now. But that’s just the issue: if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. This is the confusion that has allowed false information to guide the way our country has operated before and since 10-10-10.
One thing we do agree with Mr. Heyliger on: the process to bring us to Country St. Maarten was indeed rushed. We’re just very confused as to why he seems to be saying that the road to bring us to independence should also be hurried through. And so the challenge question to the people is this: Who does this rushed process serve? Here’s a hint: not you.
Melissa D. Gumbs
Party for Progress