Emancipation day will get its place on the calendar Central Committee backs plan for national holiday on July 1

POSTED: 05/9/12 2:16 PM

St. Maarten – The parliament will meet “as soon as possible” to approve the draft law that will make July 1, Emancipation Day, a national holiday. The central committee of parliament debated Culture Minister Arrindell’s proposal yesterday. It received unanimous support.

A rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song opened Minister Arrindell presentation to the central committee yesterday. Making July 1 a national holiday is “a cornerstone of our nation,” the minister said at the end of her presentation. “Emancipation Day is not for one particular group of people. It is for all freedom lovers.”

Arrindell presented the central committee with a recap of the slavery history, close to the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration.  “Never again will we allow this to repeat itself,” the minister said.

France abolished slavery in 1848, but it took another 15 years before the Dutch followed in 1863. Due to negotiations of the slave owners with the colonial powers in Curacao about compensation for the loss of their slaves,” Arrindell said.

Those slave owners received in the end 100 guilders for every lost slave. “But the slaves were never compensated for their forced labor and many slave owners sold their properties to their slaves and left the island.”

By 1863 there were about 12,000 slaves left on the six islands that were later to become the Netherlands Antilles. Remarkably, slave-owners petitioned the rulers in Curacao already shortly after France abolished slavery for permission to free their slaves. Many slaves fled to the free north of the island and to islands like Anguilla and Trinidad.

Arrindell’s proposal met with broad support from MPs, who took the opportunity to vent their frustration over the attitude of the former Netherlands Antilles.

“The Netherlands Antilles never took the opportunity to make July 1 a national holiday, in spite of several requests by the Executive Council,” DP-MP Roy Marlin said. “We became autonomous on October 10, 2010, and this should have been done by July 2011. But better late than never; I thank Minister Arrindell for taking this ball and running with it.”

National alliance MP Louie Laveist supported the initiative, but he demanded an amendment to the 2012 budget to make a meaningful celebration possible. “If that does not happen we are wasting our time,” he said.

NA-leader William Marlin said that he had made a proposal for emancipation day as a national holiday already in 1994, when he first entered politics as a commissioner. “St. Maarten could not legislate national holidays at the time,’ he said, adding that current Justice Minister Roland Duncan had led the charge in the Antillean parliament to win support for the plan. The reactions were “not enthusiastic,” Marlin remembered. “There were seemingly a limited number of days available and we were confronted with the choice to replace another holiday with July 1.”

That did not happen and the idea died with the good intentions.

“We can never stop talking about slavery,” Marlin noted. “Not it terms of that it happened, but about its consequences.”

Marlin also pointed out that people need to be educated about the meaning of national holidays like Emancipation Day.

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