Speech by Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs on Sint Maarten

Dear people of Saint Martin, both South and North, our sisters and brothers in Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Suriname - and to the indigenous people of this region and the people of the wider diasporas across the Caribbean and Atlantic Worlds;

I address you today with mixed emotions and extend an invitation to openly dialogue on the ways to approach this abrupt and forced apology for ‘Slavery past’ by The Netherlands. This is a matter of historic proportions and a dialogue long overdue, which affects and emotes us all. Why mixed emotions, one may ask? Because on one hand, the seriousness of the occasion, if it is sincere, is not lost on me, especially seeing the recent public statements on this topic. On the other hand the manner in which we arrive here today, is messy, and exposes many risks in the realization of true reparatory justice for those impacted by the transatlantic slave trade, the enslavement of our ancestors, and subsequent racism, marginalization and continued existence of colonialism in the relationship and institutions which still exists within the Kingdom.

Along with my colleagues throughout the Dutch Caribbean, I find myself forced to confront our traumatic histories according to the schedule/timeline set by The Netherlands. And because these hard-felt sentiments comprise more emotion than one is allowed to express in post- coloniality, I am compelled to secure justice for our ancestral pains by means of formalities and speeches. On behalf of the CoM, I have mentioned to the State Secretary of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations in the Netherlands, the Parliament and the people of St. Maarten that we are not at the stage that we can either accept or deny the statement/apologies. Today, I stand by that statement, despite the manner in which the Dutch press attempts to spin the narrative on this topic to justify those in the Netherlands who seek to undermine this statement apology and exact political control.

In our many discussions since September 6, when the first meeting was forced to “hear” us, it was explained that this is not the way to properly dialogue on a topic of such enormous proportions. Repeatedly this sentiment has been conveyed that it is in poor taste to move full steam ahead with the apology before proper dialogue has taken place, without proper respect for the feelings of the people who you want to apologize to, descendants of those who endured the most devastating crime against humanity. Yet today, here we are. Hearing a statement heretofore shrouded in secrecy as to the real motives, need for haste, and significance of the chosen date. My questions remain, Why the haste? Why the sudden change of heart? Why no proper dialogue with us as descendants of the enslaved to determine what a meaningful and sincere apology should minimally contain? How do these actions taken without regard for how they will be experienced  enhance/diminish the fragile relationship within the Kingdom?

As people of color, and in particular the descendants of slavery, we are emphatically disallowed to approach slavery and decoloniality in our own ways. We are discouraged to show emotion and to remain rational while we address trauma through the logic, lens and statistics of the Western imperial paradigm. Negating their proximity to our humanity is the same tool they used to justify the dehumanization of our ancestors. Therefore, the ways in which we approach  reparations and decoloniality  cannot stem from this same paradigm. How we address reparations is equally as important as what we need  to address. In other words, an apology cannot be crafted according to the terms of a mere Eurocentric Paradigm. To do so, would not only be an exercise of colonial obedience, but also a failure to truly understand and empathize with the sentiments of the human persons whom have historically been relegated as property – thus less than human.

Therefore, it is imminent that the tools and language used in the discourse surrounding an apology for the atrocities that was the enslavement of our ancestors,  and the subsequent reparations be in one that our general public understands. Currently, the Government of Sint Maarten is in the process of establishing an advisory committee on  Slavery past, Atonement and Reparations to ensure true research, engagement and discussions by and with the people and diaspora communities in St. Martin. This will ensure that we have a clear vision of what the full damage is, and can articulate what actions will be necessary to repair said damage. So for St. Maarten, the statements made today are but the beginning of dialogue in which we must and will play a leading role.

The Netherlands has proposed to create a fund of 200 million euros for awareness and education and the investment of 27 million euros to construct a slavery museum. Built on European soil, this institution is meant to bring awareness to the Dutch atrocities during their Golden Age to the general population of the Netherlands. Ostensibly, such an enterprise can be conceived as an admittance of ignorance regarding the subject of slavery and colonialism. How can a nation admittedly ignorant of their own colonial violence determine the conditions for an apology, yet alone reparations?  How can a nation be sorry for something they admittedly know little to nothing about and have only recently seen the need for the current actions? Again, we see here a demonstration of Eurocentric thinking whereby it is dangerous and irresponsible to root an apology in Eurocentric dogma and entitlement.

What was the Golden Age for the Netherlands was an apocalypse for us. To frame Black and Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) and Caribbean histories around coloniality alone, recklessly perpetuates the notion that our narratives and identities can only exist in relation to the colonizer. We must be allowed the time and space needed to reconnect with our histories beyond coloniality as a precursor to setting the conditions for reparations. Under the purview of institutionally induced amnesia through colonial streams of pedagogy, how can we know what to negotiate for, if most of us cannot remember who we are? The issues and real implications of an apology and retribution are far more complex than any one of us can conceive alone. Therefore, I am reaching out not only to my own brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, particularly those in Caricom, and the CRC who are ready and willing to assist in this process, but also to our brothers and sisters on the African content.

The Dutch West India Company’s grip on the slave trade denotes transnational repercussions, both historically as well as presently. Via their slave entrepots in Curacao and Saint Eustatius,  many of our ancestors were shipped by the Dutch to and from places beyond the nations addressed in their apology.  In other words, the Dutch owe an apology to more than just their Dutch Caribbean counterparts. By only addressing the apparent vestiges of Dutch imperialism in the contemporary political landscape, this apology fails in actually addressing the past while erasing the true scope of their colonial violence. It is with this thought, that I look forward to the outcome of the investigation of the King into the royal family’s contribution to the period of enslavement of Africans, and the transatlantic slave trade.

Trust is built, not demanded.  Apologies without action only serve to absolve the perpetrator of guilt with minimal repercussions.  As a proponent of these actions as the precursor to an apology, I have formally requested that these actions be put in writing. Though unsurprising, to my dismay I have been denied this request by the Dutch State until they are ready to make the statements, seeing that the response to the report and subsequent statement was only approved by the Dutch Government on Friday December 16th. Documentation allows for transparency, and this transparency crucially propels the decolonization process. Transparency helps to shed light on the structures and imbalances of power. Today, this is demonstrated by shortsighted proposals for colonial retribution, as well as the costs to the island nation of Saint Martin to cover the visit of the Dutch Royal Family following this forced apology.

For this apology today to be sincere, it must come with the realization that slavery and colonialism have impaired our people’s economic and social development. Formally reported in various news media outlets last week, institutionalized racism is an inherent trait at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands. Colleagues at the Kingdom Ministry of Foreign Affairs have referred to African countries as “apenlanden”, meaning “monkey countries”.  The recent bullying and violence by citizens in Staphorst against the peaceful anti-Black Piet/Blackface  protestors is yet another example of racism in the Netherlands. It is clear that discrimination and institutionalized racism exists on all levels of society and organizations within the Netherlands. So education and awareness is surely needed at all levels.

These inherent prejudices, racisms, and/or colorism are systemic and insidious; and do not only affect the socio-economic disposition of the descendants of chattel slavery but the very psyche spirit and soul of said persons. According the theory Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) the slavery trauma is held in our DNA and is passed down from one generation to the next. PTSS exists as a direct consequence of the multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. If, we are to have any real discourse on restoration, reconciliation, and reparations; we must first identify and address PTSS that still lingers in our society, today.

Lastly, I would like to state that financial aid and loans provided thus far by the Netherlands can never be conceived of as part of reparations owed as a result of the expected apology. Reparations and aid as a result of crises are not to be discussed in the same breath in a sincere apology.  Historically, with regards to exercising our own agency and self-determination within the Dutch Kingdom Structure, we’ve been in the position to exchange colonial obedience for aid and loans. This was the case after the onslaught of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the COVID19 pandemic.  I would only hope that a truly sincere apology would include the right to self-determination and agency. When working towards a new decolonial age of equity and equality, one should not be punished for colonial disobedience.

The Government and people of Sint Maarten will not be placed on the spot today to accept or deny the apologies.

Thank you for your time and for your attention.