Hurricanes Make The Need To Dismantle Colonial Economics In The Caribbean Increasingly Urgent

Sint-Maarten, 6 september 2017
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hurricanes have always been a part of life in the Caribbean. The destruction they cause and inhabitants’ subsequent recovery have been observed throughout human history. What is alarming now, however, is the apparent increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes due to climate change.

For the Caribbean territories, the climate change challenges are even more severe than they are for most other places around the globe because they have an impact on the entire coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. The already poor state of the Caribbean marine environment restricts the ability of habitats such as seagrass meadows and coral reefs to recover from the effects of severe storms. Poor water quality and over-fishing, for example, promotes the overgrowth of algae, preventing recovery. With repeated hurricanes occurring over time periods that are insufficient for recovery to occur, this will only get worse.

Moreover, climate change can be expected to have negative effects on the tourism and hospitality industry. According to the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change Project, virtually all the Caribbean territories are highly vulnerable to climate changes and can expect to experience a “linear increases in the number of storms and hurricanes … loss of land from rising sea level … increased susceptibility of coastal infrastructure … negative impacts in the tourism sector.”

In this context, the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused catastrophic destruction, should be a wake-up call, even though the devastation was not equally distributed across the Caribbean, and it will be far more challenging for some countries than others to recover from their tragic situations.

Caribbean policy makers need a fundamental shift in how marine environments are protected to enable long-term sustainability for the food and income they provide. Many locations in the Caribbean — for example, Puerto Rico — have ineffective marine protection rules and so destructive practices continue unchecked, meaning that when a disaster does occur, the environment is unable to recover. Besides, previous hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons across the globe have shown the severe negative effects storms can have on the marine environment. Hurricane Irma — one of the strongest on record to hit the region — recently scoured the islands leaving catastrophic damage in its wake, even in Cuba, “a country that prides itself on disaster preparedness.”

And just as the Caribbean began to piece together the devastating and potentially long-term impacts of Irma, Hurricane Maria has now left another path of destruction. Puerto Rico, the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos, and many other Caribbean islands have suffered what have been described as “apocalyptic conditions.” More than 30 cruise ports were damaged by these two hurricanes.

Some of the most severely affected areas of the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean — Florida, Turks and Caicos, Cuba, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — all house extensive seagrass meadows. These shallow water marine habitats support valuable lobster fisheries, as well as shrimp, conch and finfish fisheries. Seagrass also stabilizes sediments and protects the white sand beaches that attract so many tourists to the region. The devastation of coastal environments, particularly seagrass meadows, can also result in long-term losses of the benefits that humans receive from them, such as fisheries support or coastal protection. Damage to these ecosystem services consequently impacts human well-being, because people can no longer rely on them for their livelihood and food supply. Read more

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Hans Nusselder ~ Sint Maarten niet langer levensvatbaar als autonoom land

De orkaan Irma heeft diepe wonden geslagen op Sint Maarten. De hulpacties vanuit Europees Nederland en Curaçao geven blijk van een diep gevoeld medeleven. Toch rijst de vraag of Sint Maarten in staat is aan toekomstige natuurrampen het hoofd te bieden. Daarbij hoort een afweging van de huidige positie van het land binnen het Koninkrijk, beschouwd vanuit een gezamenlijk Caribisch en Nederlands belang. Een pleidooi voor een nieuwe status van Sint Maarten.

Sint Maarten is sinds 10 oktober 2010 een autonoom land binnen het Koninkrijk, na een proces van ontmanteling van de Nederlandse Antillen. Het leidde tot de uitbreiding van één (Aruba) naar drie autonome landen (ook Curaçao en Sint Maarten); het betekende ook de bestuurlijke integratie van drie eilanden (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba) als bijzondere gemeenten in Europees Nederland.

Economisch leek het Sint Maarten met de autonomie voor de wind te gaan. Het kende sinds 2012 vier jaren onafgebroken economische groei, terwijl Curaçao pas in 2015 uit de krimp kwam. Beide eilanden profiteerden van de aanzienlijke schuldkwijtschelding vanuit Den Haag. Het GDP per hoofd van de bevolking over 2015 lag in Sint Maarten met ruim $ 26.000 dertig procent hoger dan in Curaçao.

Met een riante haven, die wordt beschouwd als dé maritieme hub voor megajachten in bezit van multimiljonairs, en een op toerisme toegesneden dienstensector had Sint Maarten een magnetische aantrekkingskracht. De bloei van het eiland leek door eerdere orkanen als Donna (1960) en Luis (1995) maar kort te zijn onderbroken. Wat kon er misgaan? Met drie breuklijnen is te illustreren waarom Sint Maarten al vóór de komst van Irma steeds kwetsbaarder werd.

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Antonio Carmona Báez ~ After Hurricane Maria We Need To Reconstitute

This summer, the Netherlands and the world came to know Puerto Rico through the all-time most popular music video Despacito, which received over 3 billion hits on Youtube. But Puerto Rico has never been mentioned in Dutch news as much as it had throughout the last three weeks. First with Hurricane Irma which -besides depopulating smaller islands, nearly destroyed the Dutch and French territory of neighbouring St. Maarten, bringing 600 refugees to Puerto Rican hospitals and shelters. Another thousand refugees arrived from the Virgin Islands. However, this was only a precursor to a deadlier category 4/5 storm system ravaging the smallest island of the Greater Antilles.

Hurricane María pounded the US territory of Puerto Rico, leaving over 3 million people without electricity and clean running water. The hurricanes came and left, but the height of misery is yet to be experienced. Electricity workers claim that 80 percent of the island’s electric cables are insalvable, and hospitals are now totally dependent on diesel generators. While thirteen people have been declared dead to date, the death toll is surely to rise, as 70% of the island is incommunicado.

In a sense, the tropical weather systems have brought us, Puerto Ricans in the Caribbean and in the diaspora, closer to realise what we have in common with other islands: our delicate modernity and dependent vulnerability. Through Irma, we have become more aware of our neighbouring St. Maarten. The similarities of our territorial status in relation to the metropolises have also become more apparent. St. Maarten’s territorial status within the Kingdom is very similar to Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States; both territories, just like Curaçao, have a Fiscal Control Board (College Financiële Toezicht) running local public expenditures from The Hague and from New York. In Puerto Rico and St. Maarten, it is now the military at the airports, running rescue and reconstruction. But the most striking similarities are those found in how our people back home are presented in the media: helpless, thirsty and prone to “looting”, ever moreso dependent on the greatness of those governments under which he have been subordinate for a long time.

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New Urban Collective ~ The Black Archives

The Black Archives is a unique historical archive for inspiring conversations, activities and literature from Black and other perspectives that are often overlooked elsewhere.

Did you know that in the 70s and 80s all Surinamese emancipation movements were actively working to combat racism and inequality? These stories and histories can be found in The Black Archives: an unique collection of books, archives and artifacts, which are the legacy of black writers and scientists. The Black Archives documents the history of black emancipation movements and individuals in the Netherlands, preserving and making it visible and accessible to a wide audience.

The archives are located in the premises of the Association Our Suriname in eastside Amsterdam. The growing archive currently consists of more than 4,000 special historical books, documents, photographs, films and artifacts around the Surinamese and black history in the Netherlands. In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Society (in 2019) we, for the first time, want to make this history accessible to a wide audience.

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Trace Your Caribbean Ancestors Like Liz Bonnin

Inspired by Liz Bonnin’s episode? Who Do You Think You Are? television series genealogist Laura Berry highlights the wide range of resources available for researching ancestors from the Caribbean

Irish presenter Liz Bonnin was born to a French Martinican father and Trinidadian mother with Indian and Portuguese ancestry. Such an exotic cultural mix is a reflection of the diverse populations that settled in the Caribbean, whether by choice or by force.

The history of the Caribbean islands was dominated by sugar and slavery from the 16th century, when the first European colonies were established there. African slaves were transported to the islands in huge numbers by the 18th century, and slavery was not abolished in the British Caribbean until 1838, in the French Caribbean until 1848 and in the Dutch Caribbean until 1863.

Unfortunately, researching slave ancestry using documentary sources is often complicated and might not be possible at all before these dates. Even after slavery was abolished, family history research can be difficult because children were frequently born out of wedlock and subsequently registered with their mother’s surname and they sometimes adopted their father’s surname when they grew up.

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Ellen Klinkers ~ Op hoop van vrijheid. Van slavensamenleving naar Creoolse gemeenschap in Suriname, 1830-1880.

De afschaffing van de slavernij op 1 juli 1863 is het hoogtepunt in de Surinaamse geschiedenis. Bijna 33.000 mensen werden vrij. Wat gebeurde er met de samenlevingen die op de plantages waren ontstaan? Welke keuzes had en maakte de vrije bevolking na 1863? Hoe ontstond één Creoolse gemeenschap in Suriname uit al die plantagesamenlevingen? Die vragen staan centraal in de dissertatie waarop ik in 1997 aan de Universiteit Leiden promoveerde.

Echt vrije burgers werden de Creoolse plantagearbeiders pas tien jaar later op 1 juli 1873, toen het Staatstoezicht werd opgeheven. Tot die tijd waren zij nog aan de plantages gebonden. Wel mochten zij zelf beslissen waar ze werkten en kregen zij betaald voor hun werk. Die overgangsperiode tussen slavernij en vrijheid beschermde de planter tegen een leegloop van zijn bedrijf.
In mijn boek bespreek ik de laatste decennia van de slavernij, het staatstoezicht en eerste jaren van volledige vrijheid. Ik maakte gebruik van de dagboeken van de Herrnhutters en van rechtszaken. Die documenten brachten mij zo dicht mogelijk bij de mensen die zelf nooit een stem kregen in de bronnen.

Op hoop van vrijheid is in 1997 verschenen. Het woord slaaf is nu omstreden, maar was toen gangbaar. Het boek is al lang niet meer leverbaar.

Het boek in PDF-formaat is hier te downloaden:

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