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Among Independence, Sovereignty and Autonomy: The Dutch Caribbean

Entre Independencia, Soberanía y Autonomía: El Caribe neerlandés
Parmi l'indépendance, la souveraineté et l'autonomie : les Caraïbes néerlandaises
Mine Kojima

Résumés

Cet article critique la structure et la fonctionnalité de l'État-nation du XXIe siècle en analysant les décisions émancipatrices prises dans les anciennes colonies néerlandaises des Caraïbes, Aruba, Curaçao et le Suriname.
Le Suriname, le plus culturellement hollandais des territoires des Caraïbes, a été la première des anciennes colonies à se séparer des Pays-Bas. Bien que le Suriname ait obtenu son indépendance en 1975, son économie est restée fortement tributaire de la politique des États-Unis. Le gouvernement surinamais a donc donné la priorité aux intérêts de l'OTAN et s'est efforcé de reconfigurer sa relation préexistante avec le suzerain. Cette dynamique a tendu les relations du Suriname avec les pays d'Amérique latine qui résistaient plus activement à l'impérialisme américain et a isolé le Suriname sur le plan politique.
Aruba est devenu un pays constitutif en 1986, mais ce changement n'a pas été répercuté en même temps à Curaçao. Curaçao était à la tête de l'ancienne colonie de Curaçao et de ses dépendances, et l'indépendance aurait affaibli son influence sur les autres îles, dont la structure de gouvernement serait restée inchangée. Alors qu'Aruba avait la possibilité de revendiquer un statut égal à celui de Curaçao, elle a préféré s'émanciper. Démographiquement métisse, contrairement aux îles voisines, Aruba souhaitait se distinguer de Curaçao, où le plaidoyer en faveur de la décolonisation a vu le jour avec le soutien des mouvements régionaux du Black Power.
Aruba et Curaçao ont une longue histoire d'échanges humains avec le continent latino-américain depuis la période précolombienne. Les habitants, en particulier ceux d'origine africaine exclus de la citoyenneté pour des raisons raciales, se sont installés dans les colonies espagnoles où la citoyenneté était accordée après conversion au catholicisme romain. Les gens pouvaient utiliser la religion pour obtenir la citoyenneté. Ils n'avaient aucune loyauté envers l'empire européen ni aucun sentiment d'appartenance à un quelconque royaume européen. Ce qu'ils voulaient, c'était la citoyenneté et les droits de l'homme.
À l'époque où le Suriname a déclaré son indépendance, les gouvernements européens ont commencé à promouvoir des politiques néolibérales qui préconisait des fonctions gouvernementales réduites ou limitées. L'ancien empire néerlandais abandonne lui-même son rôle de souverain d'un État-nation.
Aruba, qui avait été témoin de la situation difficile du Suriname après l'indépendance et où le sentiment d'appartenance à l'État-nation était historiquement faible, a finalement choisi de rester au sein du Royaume des Pays-Bas. Devenir une nation indépendante aurait entraîné la rupture des liens préexistants avec l'Europe et rendu le territoire plus vulnérable, puisque la mondialisation facilite souvent l'ingérence d'institutions supranationales et d'alliances militaires telles que l'UE et l'OTAN. La trajectoire d'Aruba soulève des questions quant à la véritable définition et à la fonction de l'État-nation du xxie siècle.
Aujourd'hui, même les nations indépendantes se conforment aux règles internationales et appartiennent à des sphères de libre-échange multinationales et à des alliances militaires. En raison du désintérêt des Pays-Bas, Aruba et Curaçao ont bénéficié d'un plus grand degré d'autonomie. Ainsi, les territoires dépendants comme Aruba qui sont capables de maintenir des affiliations intercontinentales et supranationales ne nécessitent pas immédiatement une indépendance totale.

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Entrées d’index

Index géographique :

Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Suriname
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Texte intégral

Introduction

1In 2010, the 1954 Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands was amended, and Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten, located in the Caribbean, became "countries" that constituted the Kingdom of the Netherlands on an equal footing with the European Netherlands. Other islands of the former Dutch Antilles became special municipalities. This study aims to explore a new form of "country" as indicated by the Dutch constituent countries in the Caribbean.

2The Dutch Caribbean consists of six islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao-called ABC Islands- located at the coast of Venezuela and geographically close together, and Sint Maarten, Saba, Sint Eustatius-called SSS Islands or 3S Islands-located in the Leeward Islands. The ABC and SSS islands are divided geographically, and these geographical separations also coincide with linguistic and cultural differences. In the ABC islands, Papiamento, a creole language strongly influenced by Spanish and Portuguese, is the most commonly spoken daily language, though inhabitants also speak Spanish well because of their geographical proximity and historical relationship to the South American continent. The official languages in the ABC islands are Papiamento, Dutch, and English. Speaking Papiamento is useful, and Spanish is more useful than English. However, speakers who only understand Dutch face significant inconveniences in daily life. In tourist locations, such as restaurants, English is spoken very well.

3Despite being Dutch territories, the six Antilles islands have a linguistically and culturally minor Dutch influence. In addition, since World War II, the Antillean guilders used on these six islands have been separate from the European Dutch guilder, linked instead to the US dollar.

4The Kingdom of the Netherlands originally had a territory in the part of South American continent facing the Caribbean Sea. Dutch Guiana became independent as Suriname in 1975. Suriname was said to be the most Dutch like of Caribbean Dutch territories.

5Why did Suriname become independent, and Aruba, which seemed to follow Suriname, did not? Would cutting ties with the Netherlands not have been easier for the Antilles, which had been more linguistically and economically distinct due to the lesser European Dutch presence?

6This paper disputes the sovereignty and form of the nation-state in the 21st century, focusing on the different choices taken by Aruba, Curaçao, and Suriname.

1. The formation of Dutch Caribbean colonies and their characteristics

7As is well known, since the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century, the Caribbean experienced a history of fierce competition for colonization and rapid changes in colonial powers.

8The six Antilles islands were colonized by the Dutch during the 1630s and 1640s, and Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667 following the Dutch victory in the Anglo-Dutch War.

9Among “Europeans” who arrived during the so-called Age of Discovery, there were more than a few “stateless diasporas,” such as those of the Jews and Huguenots, who had been persecuted in Europe. In particular, Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula and engaged in the Atlantic trade played an important role in Dutch colonization, and the Huguenots also played an important role in the transatlantic trade (Sutcliffe 2009).

10In continental South America, the Spanish domination was almost successful; however, the Netherlands acquired Bahia and Pernambuco in Brazil. Behind the success of the Netherlands, there was a Jewish network. Even though the Netherlands did not persecute Jews, many Jews migrated from the Netherlands to northern Brazil, and the Netherlands also explored the Portuguese Sephardim and Sephardic congregations in the European continent (Israel 2009). The Netherlands could acquire Bahia from 1624 to 1625 due to the Portuguese Jews, who had a strong hatred for Spain. When Spain annexed Portugal from 1580 to 1640, they betrayed Portugal and imposed Roman Catholicism. In Recife, northeast part of Brazil, the first confirmed Sephardim community arrived in the 1630s, and some New Christians reconverted to normative Judaism (Israel 2009:12-13). In 1636, for the first time in the so-called New World, the construction of synagogues was permitted in Dutch Brazil, and northeastern Brazil had been the first place in the western hemisphere where openly Jewish services were held. In 1645, 1000 of the 3400 population of Dutch Brazil were Jews (Klooster 2009:34). The Jewish communities in the Caribbean and Guiana also arose in the 1650s and 1660s (Klooster 2009:34). Obviously, the officials of Spain and Spanish Indies were acutely conscious about the activities of Jews (Israel 2009). They feared losing the religious and political loyalty to the Roman Catholic Empire (Israel 2009). The major Inquisition onslaught of the 1640s in the “New World” effectively broke the influences of Portuguese crypto-Judaism in the main commercial centers of the Spanish Indies (Israel 2009:11).

11After losing Dutch Brazil in 1650, the Dutch focused on the slave trade in the Caribbean, based in Curaçao. In the early 17th century, the Trading Company was established in Curaçao, and from 1670 to 1815, Curaçao flourished alongside Guiana as the center of the Dutch slave trade. According to Israel, who analyzed the Jewish role in the Atlantic World System from 1500 to 1800, at the end of the 17th century, a substantial proportion of the fleet of Curaçao and a major part of plantation were owned by Sephardic Jews (Israel 2009:14). In short, the Jews played an important role in the expansion of the Netherlands in the South American continent and the Caribbean.

12The loss of Dutch Brazil seemed to prevent the Dutch conquest of the South American continent. Still, following their victory in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), the Netherlands acquired Suriname from Great Britain, gaining territory in the continent. The Dutch sought Suriname’s development as a “second Brazil” (Klooster 2009). Moreover, former residents of the Dutch Brazil took the initiative to set up new Jewish communities in Guiana (Klooster 2009:40). The Dutch required the British to remain loyal to the King of the Netherlands. However, when they refused, the new colony owners still granted them equal rights because newcomers needed the skills and knowledge of the British, who had already successfully run sugar plantations in the colony. This fact shows that the inhabitants of the colonies did not necessarily represent the suzerain or nation of the owner of the land, nor were they loyal to the Empire.

13Sutcliffe suggests that the Atlantic Sephardim had less loyalty to any Empire; their network beyond intra-empire rivalries led to their commercial success, and even for the Jews who lived in the British Caribbean, Amsterdam was the most important as base in Europe (Sutcliffe 2009). Citizens in the non-Spanish Atlantic World, which played an important role in colonization and the commercial success thereof, were not necessarily imperial citizens; even their loyalty to the Empire was weak. Their loyalty to the King and attachment to the land were weak, but they had aspirations for religious freedom, equality in economic and tax treatment, citizenship, property rights, and the right to vote.

14In the first place, both Jews and Huguenots faced the Inquisition and were forced to change their religion, losing their rights as citizens in Roman Catholic nations and then in the whole European continent. They were considered a threat across the whole continent, and the urgency to leave the continent increased, so they moved to the non-Spanish, non-Portuguese, and non-French territories of South America and the Caribbean islands, where they finally received religious freedom and the rights of citizens. Their migration history is based on their search for rights, and their identity is based on religion, not the nation or empire.

15In Spain, Portugal, and Ibero-America, the rulers successfully implemented Roman Catholicism across the nations, but the Jewish religion could not fit into the nation before 1948. In other words, the Jewish fought against an integration based “nation” in the Atlantic world.

16On the other hand, the demographic majority in the Caribbean is African descent who were “imported” through the slave trade. Needless to say that the enslaved people had no loyalty to the European empire nor a sense of belonging to any European kingdom. What they wanted was citizenship and human rights.

17The geographic conditions and natural environment of Aruba and Curaçao affected the historical formation of communities. From the pre-Columbian period, these islands had a long history of human exchange with the continent.

18The continental area from Central America to South America, called Tierra Firme during the Spanish conquest, especially around Coro, Venezuela, provides easy access to Aruba (24 kilometers) and Curaçao (6o kilometers) because of favorable winds. Tierra Firme became a vast economic outpost for Curaçao; goods from the South American hinterland were transported and traded to the free trade port in Willemstad (Rupert 2011). Even after Curaçao became a Dutch colony, the norms of previous Spanish rule (1499-1634) remained embedded with Curaçao maintaining the Roman Catholic religion, and the ABC islands fell under the administration of Bishopric of Coro (Rupert 2011). The high accessibility facilitated a grand exodus when Venezuela welcomed slaves to resolve the labor shortage; even fugitive slaves could legally become free men, with the condition of becoming Catholic (Rupert 2011). The African descent, who had been “imported” as “mobile property” and excluded from citizenship by “race,” used religion to obtain their citizenship. Like the Jews, the people of African descent were not citizens of the Empire nor had any identity with it.

19While Spain imposed Roman Catholicism in the Empire and its colonies, persecuting non-Catholics, such as Jews, or forcing them to convert, the Netherlands was less concerned about religion, although they permitted Catholic priests from Tierra Firme to visit the colonies. The interest of the Netherlands focused on economic aspects. Thus, in Curaçao and Aruba, as well as Indonesia, the Dutch language was rarely spoken. In such situations, how could people in these colonies form a connection to national Dutch identity or consciousness? Under these historical conditions, Dutch identity and loyalty were unlikely to form among the inhabitants of colonies.

20Because Dutch interest in the colonies was limited to economic aspects, the aspects of language and religion were abandoned. Among Dutch colonies, Suriname most successfully assimilated African descent, and the Dutch language remained useful in the colony. The residents of African descent were successfully assimilated because the economy relied on sugar plantations, where people of African descent and Europeans shared their daily life and the topography of the Guiana Shield, the natural barrier to exchange with other regions. The only way to escape the harsh plantations was to flee deep inside Suriname’s rainforest. These runaway slaves, called Marrons, formed independent communities. After 1863, slavery abolished in Dutch colonies, the labor was supplemented from India and then from Indonesia. As a result, Suriname’s demographic structure remains complex. During the colonial period, the assimilation of African descent residents was successful, but the assimilation of Hindus and Javanese was not.

21The Kingdom of the Netherlands had paid little attention to their Caribbean and continental territories, never showing interest in the characteristics or differences of each island and continental part. From 1828 to 1845, the six Antilles islands were administrated along with Suriname. After 1845, Suriname became administratively separate from other six islands.

22Then, in World War II, the Dutch were invaded by Germany, and the link between the Antilles guilder and the Dutch guilder was broken. The Antilles guilder’s exchange rate became fixed with the US dollar.

23With the weakening of the suzerain, Indonesia began a fierce struggle for independence. But what about the Antilles?

24In the next chapter I examine the movement toward independence in the Dutch Antilles and the Dutch Guiana.

2. Toward independence?

25In Latin America, the opposition to US imperialism was shared by several nations. For example, the struggle intensified in Nicaragua. Despite Latin America’s incorporation into the Pan-American Union, the Latin Americans presented to the Brussels Conference of the League against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression held in 1927, and following Pan-American Conference held in Havana, the protests against the US military interventions erupted, the anti-colonial atmosphere spurred on Latin America also influenced the Dutch Antilles and Suriname.

26Suriname’s economy also changed. In the early 1900s, the bauxite industry began. With the demand during World War II, this raw material became of paramount importance to the Surinamese economy (Janssen 2011).

27Like Suriname, Aruba and Curaçao were also economically enriched thanks to the oil boom during the 1930s. Oil refineries were established in 1918 and 1924 in Curaçao and Aruba, respectively. During this time, the Dutch Antilles were called “the Colony of Curaçao and dependencies,” so Aruba was just one of the “dependencies” of Curaçao but became independent economically from Curaçao due to the oil refinery. These oil refineries were established to refine raw oil from Venezuela, which was calling for the independence of all foreign-administrated territories.

28Economic booms supported by natural resource development are common in Latin America, and after World War II, the self-determination theory was included in the Atlantic Charter. However, France and the Netherlands embarked on recolonization immediately after the war. France claimed its colony as DOM (d'outre-mer; overseas France), while the Netherlands did not recognize Indonesia’s independence and carried out a military intervention, which they characterized as a “police action” instead of recolonization. Latin America had already gained its independence in 19th century formally. After gaining economic confidence, they intensified the fight to obtain political independence against US intervention. In the Caribbean colonies of Great Britain, colonized people struggled to end the plantation system and move toward decolonization.

29The decolonization processes resulted from the policy of suzerain nations. The US and France never left their territories, unlike Great Britain. The policy of the Netherlands is similar to that of Great Britain. As Great Britain’s decolonization began, the Netherlands proposed a Commonwealth consisting of the six Antilles islands, with or without Suriname. This proposal by the Netherlands reflects very well the ignorance and indifference to this region. Aruba had been dissatisfied with the administration of the Netherlands’ Antilles, that everything was done only through Curaçao. Moreover, Aruba could not negotiate directly with the Netherlands because of its status as a dependent of Curaçao. In Latin America, which had already become independent, a wave of claims to political independence from US imperialism was arising. In Aruba, the movement for status as a member of the Netherlands Antilles, not a dependency of Curaçao, was beginning. During the time, no movement to become independent occurred in the Dutch Antilles.

30The backlash to the empire and the awareness of decolonization began to grow after 1969, triggered by the so-called “Curaçao uprising” or “trinta di mei,” the “thirtieth of May” in Papiamento.

31The riot was sparked by a workers’ strike at an oil refinery. The sluggish oil industry and technological advances led to workers being laid off, most of whom were sub-contractors or day workers already living under harsh conditions who were African descent workers. About four thousand workers gathered in the morning, and the march became violent. Two people died by being shot by the police. With the support of the Black Power movement of surrounding islands, the labor dispute claimed racism and discrimination based on the colonial system. African descent workers argued for the “right to equal pay” with Whites. This request seems reasonable because the 1954 Kingdom charter clarifies that Curaçao is an equal partner with the Netherlands.

32However, the Hague sent marines to intervene. Such military operation made Curaçao’s lack of self-determination and civil and political rights salient, resulting in criticism as further supporting their colonial situation in the Dutch Caribbean even more.

33The reaction in Curaçao to the colonial intervention of the Kingdom reminded the Netherlands of bitter experience: failing to prevent Indonesian independence.

34The Netherlands, who opted for military intervention in Indonesia in 1947 and 1948, called these interventions “police actions” to emphasize that they were addressing a purely “domestic issue,” but for the international society, this action seemed highly colonialist. The US State Department claimed it was “a new colonial war” (Oostindie & Klinkers 2003). Ultimately, the Netherlands failed to prevent Indonesian independence despite 5000 Dutch deaths and 150,000 Indonesian deaths. After Indonesia gained independence, its relationship with the Netherlands was cold for several decades. It was not until 2005 that the Netherlands could participate in Indonesian national events.

35The military intervention of Dutch marines in Curaçao meant that the Netherlands followed the same path taken in Indonesia. Moreover, the Netherlands was already a member of NATO and the EC; decolonization was necessary to restore its image in the international society. Thus, the Dutch side proposed decolonization.

36In the continent, before 30 de Mei in Curaçao, Suriname had expressed dissatisfaction with its relationship with the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The restlessness originated in 1960, when the Netherlands abstained from condemning South Africa’s apartheid policies and the shooting of anti-apartheid protestors in the UN. Outrage spread widely, not only among Creole, the descendants of the African continent. Suriname condemned the Dutch stance and the South African government and lobbied the UN Secretary-General to take further actions against South Africa. The Netherlands rejected Suriname’s actions as a violation of the Kingdom’s Charter; therefore, Guiana bid for autonomy in foreign affairs through amendments to the Dutch Charter.

37In 1969, the Dutch proposed granting its colonies commonwealth rather than independent status, especially regarding development assistance, defense, and judicial cooperation. The multi-ethnic status of Suriname, where the prevailing Creoles would dominate other ethnic groups, raised concerns. On the other hand, in the Antilles, the majority preferred to remain in the Kingdom. Thus, the 1954 Royal Charter remained effective until 1972.

38In 1973, under the Den Uyl government, at the end of May, the Prime Minister declared his desire to begin discussions with Suriname and the Antilles about independence (Wielenga 2020:254).

39Considering that independence was proposed by the Netherlands, and the first reaction of the Antilles and Suriname was rather inactive, questions arise as to why Suriname, who did not seek complete independence but just autonomy in diplomatic affairs, became independent and why Aruba also followed to Suriname.

40Suriname refused to be part of the commonwealth because of the Netherlands’ stance on apartheid. Instead, they aspired to obtain autonomy in foreign affairs and status as an independent member of the UN and OAS. The Netherlands proposed to keep Suriname’s foreign affairs, defense, finances, and economy under Dutch control.

41For Creoles, the Netherlands’ tolerant attitude to the apartheid in South Africa not only made the colonial structure in Suriname apparent but also made them feel complicit in apartheid for belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They considered this a betrayal to their South African compatriots. Then, Creole leader Henck Arron, who became the first Prime Minister of Suriname, hurried for independence.

42The Surinamese independence in 1975 was not supported by public opinion. Rather, just the Creole elites rushed to gain independence. Jagernath Lachmon, supported by Hindus, opposed this hasty independence for fears of subsequent ethnic conflict (Wielenga 2020:255). After independence, as Asians were excluded from the government, residents’ disdain for the newly independent government intensified (Janssen 2011). As was expected, after independence, Suriname was divided into ethnic groups, and distrust of the newborn government led to increased immigration of non-Creoles to the Netherlands (Janssen 2011). Many high-skilled workers in the bauxite industry, the pillar of Suriname’s economy, left Suriname, diminishing the Suriname’s intellectual resources. This emigration negatively impacted the Surinamese economy, leading the Suriname government to seek the return of certain engineers. However, many Hindus remained in the Netherlands out of fear of ethnic cleansing, and the Javanese seemed to return to Indonesia.

43For the Kingdom of Netherlands, the separation of Suriname was not satisfactory. It was difficult to integrate the Hindus and Javanese inro the Netherlands’ society in Europe, so the Dutch government encouraged them to return with economic support (Janssen 2011: 41). However, these attempts were unsuccessful because the Netherlands not only granted Dutch passports to Surinamese who lived in the European Netherlands at the moment of Suriname’s independence, but also grant the rights to have a European Dutch passport for five years after Suriname’s independence, and finally the rights to transfer in Benelux Union without a visa (Janssen 2011).

44In short, the exodus of Surinamese from the newborn nation created problems for Suriname and the Netherlands.

2.1. After Suriname’s independence, a similar movement emerged in Aruba

45 Aruba, which, like Curaçao, enjoyed economic prosperity from its oil refining, faced a strike of civil servants and refinery workers in August 1977. Soon after the strike, in October, a referendum was held to question whether Aruba should become independent. With a turnout of 70 percent, an overwhelming majority (82 percent) voted for independence, and only 4 percent voted for maintaining the status quo (Oostindie & Verton 1998:48). The origin of the actual separate status seemed to begin in 1977, but in fact, shortly before the strike, Aruba had sent representatives to Cuba and other neighboring nations to gain support for their independence beyond the European Netherlands. The European Netherlands ignored this behavior because they maintained that the Netherlands Antilles should obey the European Netherlands’ policy (Cvejanovich 1985). So, in 1977, Aruba threatened the European Netherlands with independence regardless of whether they agreed. Finally, the European Netherlands agreed to open a round table toward independence of the Dutch Antilles. These actions held by Aruba showed that Aruba had been planning to become an independent nation, and the strike was not the major motive.

46 Aruba clarified its desire to separate immediately after the strike, but such action did not occur in Curaçao after 30 di Mei in 1969, despite having similar linguistic, monetary, and economic conditions as Aruba. This makes sense, given the process of the formation of the Dutch Antilles. Until 1954, the Netherlands Antilles was called “the Colony of Curaçao and Dependencies.” After 1954, the structure of these six islands did not change. Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, was also the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, meaning that Curaçao was the capital of six Antilles islands. The budget from the Netherlands went to Curaçao, with budget execution requiring the approval of the Governor of Curaçao. Thus, gaining independence from the Netherlands would mean cutting off these five Antilles islands dependent upon Curaçao. This separation would weaken Curaçao’s influence on the region. In this sense, the separation of Aruba, which caused the dissolution of the Dutch Antilles, was unfavorable for Curaçao.

47Cvejanovich, Oostindie and Klinkers suggest that Aruba did not want to become independent from the Netherlands but only wanted to separate from Curaçao, so the actual status of Aruba is exactly what it had wanted (Cvejanovich 1985) (Oostindie & Klinkers 2003). However, I disagree that Aruba’s true goal was to separate from Curaçao rather than become fully independent because they sent representatives to neighboring nations seeking support for their independence. This leads to another question: Why did only Aruba want independence while other islands did not?

48The main reason Aruba sought independence was its economic power. Another reason is that Aruba has unique characteristics that strongly differentiate them from other major Caribbean islands. For example, the population of Curaçao is predominantly African descent, whereas most Arubans are Mestizo.

49This difference was salient in the reaction of Aruba to 30 di Mei in Curaçao. Aruba, which like Curaçao, had an economy centered on oil refinement, could have carried out solidarity strikes, but did not. Aruba’s modest response occurred amid allegations that the surrounding Black Power movement actively supported the Curaçao riots. Moreover, workers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, who faced unstable labor conditions as subcontractors or day laborers, also participated in the Curaçao riots alongside the Curaçaoan. After this incident, the Aruban’s identification of the “real Arubans” as “Euro-mestizo, light skinned, more Latino Papiamento speaking” intensified (Starink-Martha 2022). Aruban identity claims were intended to distance themselves from the Afro-Curaçaoans and Curaçaoan Papiamento. The 30 di Mei sparked an Aruban aversion to being equated with Curaçao, who were considered racially different.

50The oil refinery brought economic confidence to Aruba, which led to a referendum on independence. However, the oil refinery became a headwind toward independence solidarity because the workers from other Antilles islands and Suriname increased dramatically. In 1950, 45 percent of the electorate were non-Aruba-born. Even in 2010, 44 percent of Aruban citizens were born outside of Aruba. To Aruba, which did not restrict the transfer of people, many Afro descent people immigrated from neighboring islands to become part of the labor force. With economic development leading to increased immigration, the Aruban identity rooted in their non-Black racial heritage had been undermined.

51 In Aruba, unlike in Suriname, there was a lot of domestic debate about the path that Aruba should take regarding their independence. From November to December 1982, a survey was conducted on 1000 voters. The referendum in 1977 asked only about preferences for independence or the status quo. In contrast, the 1982 survey gathered opinions on five options: full independence; associated state ties with the Netherlands based on international law; separate state ties with the Netherlands based on constitutional law; equal membership with Curaçao in an Antillean State; and a part of an Antillean State in which the president would be elected by direct election (Cvejanovich 1985). The third and first options had collective approval of 90 percent. Most responders rejected the options of remaining within the six Antilles islands and having equal status with Curaçao (Cvejanovich 1985). The results of this survey also highlighted Aruba’s demographic diversity. Those with the highest incomes (1500 US dollars per month or more) and non-Aruban-born tended to choose to remain in the Antilles, while descendants of early immigrants tended to prefer independence (Cvejanovich 1985).

52Cvejanovich, Oostindie and Klinkers pointed out that Aruba’s separation attempts date back to the 1930s (Cvejanovich 1985) (Oostindie & Klinkers 2003). However, if we consider the movement during the 1970s as a continuation of that during the 1930s, we cannot explain why, in 1977, the Aruban government called a referendum to determine whether they would seek independence. If it was a sequel to the claims in 1930s, the movement would likely result in Aruba more direct relationships with the Netherlands. It is important to emphasize that in 1977, Aruba did not aim to improve its status within the Kingdom but instead sought independence.

53Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 as a first step to full independence. The new currency is the Aruba Florin, and the Central Bank of Aruba was established. It seemed that in 1986, Aruba complete independence. However, after 1986, Aruba decided not to become independent. I want to examine the incidents that led to this change in Aruba’s aims by turning to Suriname, which became independent before Aruba.

54 Suriname became a military government in 1980 after a coup d'état by Desi Bouterse. Then, in December 1982, a shocking incident called “December murders” occurred, in which the citizens who criticized the military government were executed. Following the December murders, the Netherlands suspended financial aid to Suriname. After that, universal elections were held, and a civilian government returned to the cabinet. However, the military retained significant political clout, which led the Netherlands to propose that Suriname become a commonwealth. This proposal was far from accepted by Surinamese politicians but favored by most Suriname people. In other words, the Dutch and Suriname people clearly understood that the independence of Suriname was a failure. Suriname politicians’ rejection of the Netherlands’ offer was natural because accepting it would be admitting that their attempt at independence had failed. As a last resort, both governments agreed to the “Frame Treaty for Friendship and Closer Cooperation between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Suriname” in June 1992, avoiding the word “commonwealth” (Janssen 2011).

2.2. The independence of Suriname failed

55 Suriname's independence failed for several reasons. The first concerns the diversity or polarization inside Suriname. Most of Suriname’s population was Creole, former enslaved people, dedicated to plantation labor for Europeans. The assimilation of the Creole people had succeeded, so they spoke Dutch or Dutch Creole. In contrast, the Hindus and Javanese who came after the Slave Trade Age did not assimilate to the Dutch language, culture, and thinking style, instead maintaining their original culture and language. In the wake of independence, many of them fled to the Netherlands for fear of ethnic genocide. Under such conditions, how could a national identity that goes beyond the differences in language, culture, and religion be created?

56The characteristics are clear in the foreign affairs policy of Suriname’s politicians, most of whom were Creole elite educated in the Netherlands. After independence, a failure to form relationships with bordering and influential nations, such as Brazil and Venezuela or Mexico and Cuba, led to their continued dependence on the European Netherlands. Even when Suriname suspended KLM’s flight license to Zanderij, the International Airport at Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, Surinamese authorities had negotiated with British Caledonian for alternative flight services and then with Belgian carriers (Janssen 2011). Ultimately, the Hague contacted Venezuela to secure an alternative (Janssen 2011).

57In the early years of independence, the Suriname government lacked a connection to its own region because the European Dutch significantly influenced the Suriname elites’ worldviews and culture. These elites had assimilated into European rather than Latin American and Caribbean cultures.

58The political and economic distance of Suriname from Latin American nations is also due to these nations speaking Spanish or Portuguese. Thus, the Surinamese government failed to take educational or academic opportunities and continued its dependence on the Netherlands. In addition, as the other major demographic in Suriname is from East Asia, their attention tends to concentrate on Asia rather than neighboring Latin America.

59On the other hand, Janssen suggests that the reason for the distance between Suriname and Latin American nations is that Suriname tended to accept the interests of the Netherlands because of their dependence, which prioritizes the interests of NATO, which is incompatible with Latin American nations that advocate anti-US imperialism (Janssen 2011).

60The Caribbean was divided between pro-US and pro-Cuban factions. After the internationally condemned December murders, Suriname could not receive supports from neighboring Caribbean and Latin American nations, finding diplomatic success only with Grenada and Cuba in February 1983. However, given the small size of Grenada and the significantly higher standard of living in Suriname than in Cuba, no concrete support could be expected (Janssen 2011). During the US invasion of Grenada, Bouterse worried that Suriname might be the next target of the US, but the US paid little attention to Suriname (Janssen 2011).

61Suriname’s failure at independence was not only due to Suriname’s own actions but also to background geopolitical conditions facing the Caribbean Sea, which was divided between pro-US and pro-Cuba nations. The bauxite industry, the pillar economy of Suriname, was dominated by US multinational corporations. Considering these geopolitical circumstances, the Dutch accepted the US influence in Suriname before they received independence. How could the Surinamese maintain political and economic autonomy when their pre-independence economy depended on US or NATO? Moreover, their dependence was halfhearted. Suriname, a former Dutch colony, provided for the economy of the suzerain nation. Still, when the customs duties were eliminated among the EU members, Europe cut off trade relations with Suriname due to high transfer costs. Thus, although Suriname depended on the US, EU, and NATO, they were ultimately abandoned by these powers.

62In Aruba, in 1985, just before separating from the Dutch Antilles, the oil refinery was closed. It was clear that Aruba’s economy would languish without the oil refinery that had fueled its drive for independence. In addition to economic insecurity, looking at the precedent failures of Suriname, even if Aruba seemed to have more diplomatic skill than Suriname, there was little possibility obtaining development support in place of that provided by the Netherlands because of the differences in living standards, reflecting the difficulties faced by Suriname.

63Oostindie and Klinkers suggest that even though the Dutch Caribbean islands enjoyed far more autonomy than the other Caribbean islands because of the indifference of the Netherlands, these islands’ claims for more autonomy were very strong (Oostindie & Klinkers 2003).

64We must examine the meaning of “autonomy” carefully, and the differences between autonomy and independence, concerning not only the Dutch Caribbean and Suriname but also the Netherlands and Europe.

3. The nation-state in Europe

65Independence for Dutch Caribbean colonies was proposed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, not by Antilles or Suriname. In this chapter, I take a new point of view and examine this situation from the European perspective to clarify why the Netherlands of Europe wanted to grant their Caribbean colonies independence.

66The Netherlands is an EU member state. As is well known, the EU is a supranational organization based on the premise of three allied and cooperative relationships: economic and monetary integration; common diplomacy, security, and cooperation in police; juridical and internal affairs. Regional integration in Europe accelerated after the 1990s. The European Community was established in 1993, but its origins go back to the 1960s. The origin of the European Union is the European Community, based on the three supranational energy industries: European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, and European Atomic Energy Community. The six original members of the EC, launched in 1967, were Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In fact, the European Coal and Steel Community was proposed by the Netherlands, a small nation within Europe, to secure the interests of the three Benelux nations (Wielenga 2020).

67In other words, the Netherlands cut ties with the Caribbean territories and steered toward strengthening ties on the European continent.

68The Dutch policy toward the Antilles differed significantly from that of France, which also had territories as overseas departments and sub-departments in the Caribbean. Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Martin, located north of and sharing the same island as Sint Maarten, one of the Dutch Caribbean colonies, are under European French administration as DOM (Département d'Outre Mer) or COM (collectivité d'outre-mer). As a department, these territories could not run their own economic activities nor establish their own trade relationships. All necessities, including food, depend on provisions from Europe, causing high prices for daily necessities. On the other hand, the Netherlands Antilles had a relatively high degree of autonomy and enjoyed trade with neighboring nations. The kitchen of Curaçao, where the soil is dry and unsuitable for agriculture, is Venezuela, from which the merchants bring fresh vegetables and fruits daily, and other commercial activities are also done freely. First, the euro is used in French overseas departments and overseas sub-departments, but the euro is seldom used in the Netherlands Antilles, the US dollar is used as the main currency.

69In other words, the Netherlands Antilles did not want to be independent, taking advantage of the opportunity even when the European suzerain disappeared during World War II. Unlike France, the Dutch did not apply rigorous assimilation policies through education. The Dutch Antilles and Suriname had less adhesion with the European suzerain. Under such circumstances, the claim for independence loses its meaning. As Oostindie and Verton suggest, the desire for Dutch language education was very strong in the Dutch Antilles, demonstrating their alienation from the European suzerain (Oostindie & Verton 1998).

70In fact, the six Caribbean islands are not included in so-called “Dutch” statistics, such as the census. Despite the Royal Charter characterizing them as “equal partners,” the Netherlands and the six Antilles islands remain separate. Unlike French Caribbean, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are never included in the Kingdom.

71The only indication of these six Antilles’ connection to the Dutch seems to be the passport, which guarantees free transfer within the EU. However, many Curaçaoan confess that the Dutch they learned could not be understood in Europe. Thus, even though their passport grants them travel rights, they still feel like foreigners.

72What does being independent from the European suzerain in such a relationship mean?

73In 1977, the same year of the Aruban August riots, in the Netherlands, the Labour Party was replaced by a coalition government of the Christian Democratic Appeal and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. This government promoted neo-liberalism and aimed at a so-called “limited government.” The policy change in 1977 significantly increased the unemployment rate, but this did not put the brakes on privatization. In the 1980s, even postal service and telegraphic and telephone services were provided by private companies.

74Since the 1970s, the Netherlands in Europe has moved forward with reducing the function of the government and transitioning to a regional community as a supranational institution to replace the function of the nation-state. The former empire of the colonies itself was abandoning its role as a nation-state.

75Under such circumstances, with the European Netherlands distancing itself from Aruba, reducing the function of the government, and simultaneously taking a hand in a supranational union, what does it mean that Aruba cut ties with the Netherlands and become an independent state?

76Although the 1954 Royal Charter declared that former Curaçao and dependencies were equal to the Netherlands, in reality, neither was equal, and Aruba had no direct network with the Netherlands. Thus, it was necessary to work through Curaçao, which became an obstacle to Aruba’s autonomy. Unlike the other four islands, Aruba had economic confidence. In the 1930s, Aruba wanted an equal position with Curaçao within the six Antilles. However, in the 1970s, when resource prices soared, and economic independence appeared more feasible, Aruba sought full political independence. Moreover, Aruba saw the independence of Suriname as a reference for their own expectations.

77As the precedent of Suriname shows, Aruba would face difficulties entering into a regional integration that has already been established to some extent. As Aruba has strong economic relations with Venezuela, it could join ALBA alongside Venezuela, Cuba, Grenada, and other nations. However, as a territory of the Netherlands, Aruba cannot be expected to join ALBA, which is staunchly anti-US, given their historical alliance with the US and NATO and the presence of a US military base in their territory. Although Aruba has had deep exchanges historically with the South American continent, especially with Venezuela, these ties do not surpass those with its suzerain, the Netherlands. The depth of historical relationships and linguistic affinities are not necessarily aligned with their political and economic aspirations, but this does not mean they should sever ties with Venezuela. Globalization also impacts Aruba’s political future, as its former suzerain increasingly reduces its role as an independent government, preferring supra-national regional integration in Europe (Kojima 2022, 2023). Choosing between Europe and Latin America and cutting off the other is an outdated approach today.

78Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten did not fail to achieve independence but, rather, positively chose against seeking independence.

79In Aruba and Curaçao, which have a long history of trade with Latin American nations and receive Venezuelan broadcasting, Spanish is still widely spoken today. However, both countries lobby for the Netherlands to support education in Dutch. However, neither country seeks to unify its currency with the euro. Instead, they aim to continue basing their currency on the US dollar instead of the euro. The demand for Dutch education does not imply assimilation into the Netherlands. The choice is not Latin America or Europe, but Latin America and Europe, which would allow these former colonies to maintain the relationships they have built up while also expanding to form new relationship with other nations.

Conclusion

80Arubans did not seek independence because of their historically unique regional characteristics, including the mobility that facilitated them acquiring citizenship from empires.

81Although Aruba and Venezuela have deep cultural, economic, and linguistic ties, Aruba has a close political relationship with NATO, the EU, and the US. Moreover, a Dutch passport is more advantageous than a Venezuelan passport in providing free transfer among EU nations. That is why Arubans want Dutch education. If Aruba can further develop relationships with South American nations and maintain its ties to Europe and NATO, it would not need to become independent in the first place.

82Aruba’s decision to not seek independence is unlikely to inform similar decisions of other non-independent territories. Rather, it was possible to make such a choice because the Dutch were indifferent to their colonies. For non-independent territories without autonomy, it would be impossible to choose like Aruba.

83Aruba’s choice seems to call into question what constitutes a nation-state in the 21st century. The image of the ideal society is always changing. In 19th and 20th century, the ideal of many colonies was to dare to choose separation and create a unified and independent national identity. Nowadays, creating global ties is emphasized instead of strengthening borders with other nations. Although Aruba chose to forgo independence, even nations considered “independent” are now typically bound by restrictions of some international treaties or agreements and belonging to particular free trade spheres and military alliances, suggesting that few, if any, 21st century nation-states are truly independent.

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Mine Kojima, « Among Independence, Sovereignty and Autonomy: The Dutch Caribbean »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 57-58 | Avril-Août 2024, mis en ligne le 30 avril 2024, consulté le 25 mai 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudescaribeennes/30722 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudescaribeennes.30722

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Mine Kojima

International Department of Business and Management, Faculty of Business Administration, Kanagawa University, Japan

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