Opinion: Our Kind of People

POSTED: 08/19/14 11:30 PM

While politicians in St. Maarten almost collectively turned their backs on a Central Committee meeting where Justice Minister Dennis Richardson presented his view on the crime situation on the island, the Parliament in Curacao did the opposite. The Antilliaans Dagblad reported on Saturday that the 21 Members of Parliament in Willemstad approved a motion that urges the government to write a national plan against criminality.

It is true that there are no elections in Curacao, but the fact that all 21 Members of Parliament were present shows that the legislators on that island take crime seriously. In St. Maarten, the discussion is more about yes or no for a new hospital – a place where quite some crime victims might end up.

For the record, let’s document here who were present in that Central Committee meeting: the President of Parliament, Gracita Arrindell, National Alliance MP George Pantophlet and (arriving a bit later) Hyacinth Richardson, independents Dr. Lloyd Richardson and Romain Laville, and (also arriving late) UP-MP Johan Leonard. Minister Richardson, understandably, expressed his disappointment about the absence of the remaining nine representatives of the people.

The motion the Parliament in Curacao approved shows at least the growing concern among politicians about the rampant crime in their communities not forget that this motion also comes on the heels of the trial against suspects in the Helmin Wiels assassination.

What does such a motion really mean and what are citizens supposed to expect from it? Minister Nelson Navarro keeps talking tough about crime, a bit like Fred Teeven and Ivo Opstelten do in the Netherlands. Such talk does not make crime disappear, nor does it offer more protection to the average law-abiding Joe against violent crimes like armed robberies and assassinations. It’s just talk – the tool of the trade for any politician. Those who expect miracles from the motion in Curacao will be sorely disappointed, but at least the politicians over there have shown that they understand the situation is spinning out of control.

Curacao’s national plan against criminality must offer protection to the elderly and to youngsters who are at risk because of criminality, the Antilliaans Dagblad reported. How do you make that pipe dream a reality? A police officer behind every lamppost? Roadblocks around gas stations and the city center between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the week? Locked down districts and preventive house searches for illegal weapons? Does anybody want to live in a police state like that? Does the government in Curacao have the resources to walk the talk?

The motion states that the government has to involve a host of sectors and organization in the development of the national plan. The Antilliaans Dagblad mentions the Council of Churches, school boards, the boards of sports organizations, artists, unions, associations for the elderly, the private sector, and the media.

One would think that the police force, the Public Prosecutor’s office, the Court of Guardianship – just to mention the first three that come to mind – also have something to say about fighting crime, but that apparently has escaped the attention in Willemstad.

This does not mean that the motion is worthless. The Members of Parliament debated the crime issue a whole day – all 21 of them, while in the same week 60 percent of the politicians in St. Maarten had better things to do than adding their two cents in a meeting about the same issue with our minister of justice. These same politicians will be asking the electorate to vote for them just eleven days from now.

The Antilliaans Dagblad reported an odd comment from Justice Minister Nelson Navarro. He apparently said that, come September 1, the government would no longer make a distinction between good and bad or between decent people and criminals. That seems like a rather clumsily way of saying things, because the point of fighting crime is of course exactly to make those distinctions and act upon them. What Navarro meant to say was that “everybody who is found in the possession of an illegal firearm is equal and will be treated equally.”

During the grace period that ends on September 1, 102 illegal firearms have been handed over to the prosecutor’s office in exchange for a hundred guilder. From September on, Navarro said, you could be the president of the Parliament or a criminal, if you are caught with an illegal firearm you are in big trouble.

Navarro’s statements almost suggest that up to now the authorities looked the other way after obtaining information that so-and-so in a high profile position was carrying an unlicensed gun.

To the question how many illegal weapons there are on the island Navarro said that he had no idea though he mentioned an estimate of 119 guns per 100,000 inhabitants. For Curacao, with an estimated population of close to 150,000 this would mean that there are approximately 180 illegal firearms around. For St. Maarten (a wild guess is that the population is 50,000) it would add up to 60 illegal guns. The 80,000 inhabitants on the French side would add another 84 illegal weapons bringing the total for the island to 145. That’s a lot of illegal firepower.

The question that remains is why the interest in fighting crime among parliamentarians on St. Maarten is so utterly lackluster – as the absence of nine MPs from the recent central committee meeting illustrates.

To understand this we’d like to introduce a situation that played out in the seventies of last century in Amsterdam at the office building of a large publisher. The building was located in a suburb of the capital. There was no security and anybody and everybody had a key to the front door. In other words – a security nightmare. One day, the telex (if anybody still remembers what that is) disappeared from the offices of one of the magazines that worked from this building.

Management did not react – they simply bought a new telex. Then one day, burglars slipped into the building and went to the fifth floor – the power level reserved for top management. Credit cards, cash, and expensive sunglasses disappeared. The next day, management changed the locks and put a key policy in place. That marked the end of an era of free entry for criminals.

Who are the victims of armed robberies in St. Maarten? Mostly, they are the owners of Chinese restaurants and Chinese supermarkets, and Indian businessmen that operate jewelry stores. They are easy targets and these are not communities that make a habit of complaining loudly. A recent report about robberies in Bonaire where the same category of businesses is the target of choice for armed robberies quoted a Chinese entrepreneur as saying: “They come for the money. We give it to them and then they go away.”

Imagine now that our local branch of the armed robbery society decided to change tactics and leave the Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs alone. Instead, they focus on robbing politicians and ministers at their homes. Imagine they would target our more prestigious schools – the places where children from more affluent families study.

If that ever happened, parliamentarians would not skip a Central Committee meeting about the crime situation. They would all be there, screaming blue murder and demanding that the government write a national plan to combat criminality. As long as these crimes do not happen to OKoP (Our Kind of People), criminals do not have to fear the wrath of local politicians. We are tempted to say that this constitutes a crime in itself.

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