Looking at the Caribbean through a different lens

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A report from The Daily Herald.

Instead of looking at the Caribbean region through a constitutional lens, a better perspective would be achieved when viewing things through a political-economical lens, categorising the islands in three types: white gold, black gold and Visa Card gold societies.

  University of Amsterdam (UvA) researcher and lecturer and former University of St. Martin (USM) President Francio Guadeloupe introduced this interesting, innovative viewpoint at an Antillean Network Association VAN lecture at UvA on Thursday evening.

Guadeloupe was one of the two speakers. The other speaker was journalist, political analyst, lecturer and Latin America specialist Edwin Koopman.

The white gold community is agriculture-based, the black gold society has the industrial sector as its main pillar, and the Visa Card gold society is dominated by hospitality or tourism. Guadeloupe said it made more sense to categorise the islands using these three types, because this makes the mutual relations, the differences and the similarities much clearer and gives them another perspective.

He gave Haiti and St. Vincent as an example. Before its independence, Haiti was a French colony and St. Vincent a British colony. So, they have different backgrounds from a constitutional perspective. However, they do have something major in common: they are both white gold, agriculture-based societies.

St. Maarten and St. Thomas, even though the first is part of the Dutch Kingdom and the second is part of the United States, have a lot in common as well, for they are both Visa Card gold societies, where tourism and hospitality services rule.

Curaçao and Trinidad are very similar, for both are black gold societies with a dominating oil industry. Even though Curaçao, like many of the Caribbean islands, has gone into tourism, it is are still not a Visa Card gold society because of the way its community is built up.

Guadeloupe, who is an anthropologist, made an analysis of the three different types of societies in the Caribbean and the trademarks of the communities.

Visa Card gold societies such as St. Maarten and St. Thomas are characterised by having a less-ethnically-divided community where the different groups mingle, and where the sense of nationalism is suppressed in favour of tourism. In these societies, the old, established families have a lot of political and economic power onto which they are holding no matter what.

In black gold societies, enclaves have been created of newcomers working in the industry who were always looked on with suspicion by the local population. This has led to segregation and the use of words in Curaçao like “Stinking English” to describe the immigrant workers from the English-speaking islands. Here, the elite have the political power, not the economic power, with a sprinkle of immigrants who hide their descent in politics and display a nationalistic attitude.

Journalist Koopman, who works for different Dutch national media as Latin America correspondent, provided a remarkable overview of the developments on the continent. He said he has become increasingly sceptical about upholding the democratic pillars in Latin America.

In his lecture titled “Crisis of the institutions,” he spoke about reigning optimism on the continent between 2000 and 2005 with new, promising leaders, economic prosperity and emancipation of the region.

“A new wind was blowing through Latin America,” said Koopman. “That was 10 years ago. Now everything is under great pressure, including democracy.” He spoke of economic malaise, leaders who proved to be autocratic and corrupt, abuse of power, drug-trafficking, weapons, criminal gangs and extreme poverty.

Zooming in on five countries, Koopman spoke about “the end of democracy” in Venezuela, “the failed reform” in Colombia, Honduras “where criminals hold the power,” “the attack on justice” in Guatemala and “the end of a constitutional state” in Nicaragua.

The well-attended lecture was the 348th VAN event, said VAN Chairperson Roos Leerdam-Bulo. Several members of the audience made use of the opportunity to pose questions to the two speakers and to state their personal views.

A number of UvA students attended the lecture. VAN member Jaap Swart was the moderator.

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