Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Curacao and International Political and Economic Inclusion

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Growing up in Curacao, I always found watching the news to be disheartening. It was difficult to see various countries, both bigger and smaller than Curacao, be represented in international forums like the UN, WTO and CARICOM, while trying to understand why Curacao was not. As I began to learn more about Curacao’s status and with changes to its political identity in 2010 projected to increase the island’s autonomy, I hoped that our semi-autonomous status, would lead the island becoming more involved in the international arena. At a crossroads, the island now finds itself facing a predicament: on the one hand, economic and political exclusion from the international economic platforms prevent Curacao from ensuring that its interests are adequately represented in inter-governmental organizations despite its dependence on imported goods, while the consequences of breaking ties with the Netherlands to become completely independent could inhibit an island whose economic future is ridden by uncertainty.

As a semi-autonomous territory within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao is independent in making decisions based on its domestic law, however still depending on the Dutch for economic support to implement domestic policies when necessary. While I and several like me are grateful for the Dutch financial assistance, there are deep structural inequalities entrenched in this post-colonial relationship. In line with this, things in Curacao are far from perfect: the government is ridden by corruption and bribery; internal economic inequalities have caused an increase in crime rates; and the lack of tourism has put the country in a convoluted economic state with an uncertain future.

A view of Riffort and the downtown area of Curacao from a ship. Rober Wollstadt in Flickr. .CC BY-SA 2.0

A view of Riffort and the downtown area of Curacao from a ship. Rober Wollstadt in Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The lack of Curacaoan involvement in various economic platforms nevertheless does not help the situation: most of the island’s debts are owed to the Netherlands, and as it cannot act independently it cannot seek aid from the IMF or the World Bank. Given the post-colonial reality, accountability to the Dutch is a social dilemma: it is common sentiment that the Dutch are indebted to the island as they often used it for their own gains in the past. An example of this is the use of the island as a hub for the Caribbean and Latin American slave trade without adequate reimbursement. A lack of lending accountability lets corruption to thrive, and for the country to slip further into the debt. While the island has expressed interest to join CARICOM as an associate member, and while this would indeed be a step in the right direction, it is imperative that the island has the opportunity to become more invested in building its future through integrating into economic communities like CARICOM.

Although the island is completely isolated from economic platforms like CARICOM or the WTO, and even more importantly the UN, the island’s economy is very much involved in international transactions. Most consumer and capital goods on the island are imported from the USA, Brazil, Italy and Mexico. A variety of familiar US and European brands and shops can be found throughout the island; grocery stores in Curacao are stocked with American products, even more so than those in the Netherlands for example. Given the fact, that these products are so readily available on the island however, serves to justify why the island should in fact have a larger say in global issues, particularly related to the economic realities facing the island and more broadly, the world. Recently, Curacao was  given the opportunity to sign a trade deal with the USA under the CBERA and CBPTA frameworks which other islands had access to since the early 2000s. Finalized on 23 December 2013, the deal  allows Curacao (like other Caribbean countries) to receive duty free access to various US goods. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough to secure the island’s economic future and inclusion in the international economy.

In an age of growing international economic integration, the future of Curacao and other semi-autonomous states with the same status, the future remains a predicament. On the one hand, the economic security provided by being a member of the Dutch Kingdom, as well as an Overseas Country or Territory to the EU (OCTs) has several benefits. Curacaoan citizens are given EU passports, but are not directly subjected to EU laws. The EU assists in development of all OCTs, assisting particularly with issues of remoteness, vulnerability to economic shock, maintaining infrastructure, and encouraging policies of good governance to assist in the island’s development. On the other hand however, this semi-autonomous status is still a shade of grey, and while in many ways the OCT partnership is particularly beneficial to the island’s development, trade deals like the one recently signed with the USA could prove to be equally profitable. Curacao’s lack of involvement in international organizations has in many ways hindered its economic development, and prevented it from developing a sense of financial independence and accountability for its various debts and transactions.

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Neelam J. Melwani Twitter: @neelamelwani

I am a "Yiu di Korsou," literally translating to a child of Curacao. Born and raised on the small island in the southern Caribbean, I was able to explore a very unique culture, influenced by Latin American and Caribbean traditions, with a historic European cultural influence, and the effects of several other countries through increasing globalization. Like many people in Curacao, my family moved from India to Curacaof two generations ago. I attended the International School of Curacao from ages 4-18, and upon graduating I moved to the Netherlands where I obtained my Bachelor’s degree at University College Utrecht, studying political science, anthropology and history. My thesis explored the causes and effects of a revolution and whether the workers' uprising in Curacao in 1969 could or should be considered a revolution. I recently received my Master’s in globalization and development studies from Maastricht University, and my main research focused on European foreign policy coherence using the case study of South Sudan. Currently, I am based in Tokyo, where I am a Junior Fellow at United Nations University. I enjoy exploring themes related to individual socio-economic mobility and political agency. I am also very much intrigued by the functioning of inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society organizations, and their interaction with governments and other actors. Through my posts on Future Challenges, I hope to not only tell stories based on my different experiences, but to also interact with individuals from different backgrounds and engage in a dialogue about some of the most pressing issues that our generation is facing. While Curacao is a small place, it is an interesting example for a variety of challenges/successes facing the developing world today and consequently, I believe that sharing my experiences of Curacao will provide insight to some of global trends as well as teach people more about the challenges that surround small island nations in the Caribbean.