Horizon at Sandy Point

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For the future of a small island

I met the Prime Minister of Curacao today. His name is Gerrit Schotte and he has been in office for five months. He entered politics when he was just 30 when the party he co-founded, MPK (national movement for Curacao), nominated him to be the Commissioner in charge of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Agriculture, Husbandry and Fishery. He is proud of the tourism effort, and talks about the natural underwater riches of the reefs - one called "the wall" - off Curacao. Not that he has actually seen them - he's not a diver he admits - but everyone who has, speaks with awe.

He became an elected member of parliament in 2007. And in January 2010, he received the most votes ever achieved in an election in Curacao. When the island became independent at the break up of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010, he became Prime Minister, the head of a coalition government in which his new party MFK (movement for the future of Curacao) took five of the 21 seats.

He has come this week to Trinidad's big gas-processing company as if to the promised land. His energy policy which took all of five months to complete envisions a move from oil to cleaner fuels like natural gas, and renewable sources like solar, wind or wave.  The refinery built at Schottegat Harbour for oil discovered in Venezuela in the early 1900s, was sold by Royal Dutch Shell to Curacao for one guilder - a steal of a deal with no guarantees or assurances about reliability or safety. It's about time to shut it down.

Trinidad - as any promised land - does not deliver its treasures readily. And especially not to one so young, so quixotic as Gerrit (Dutch version of Gerald, he that rules by the spear) who came directly to negotiate on his people's behalf, to bring liquefied natural gas to Curacao. One can almost smile at the bright balloon of optimism pricked by the complexities of gas business in a similarly small Caribbean country that had the good fortune to enter a global game - building the trains for the gas in sync with terminals and consumers on the far shores of other countries. He needs to speak with the shareholders, he's told, by the end of the hour.

But Gerrit is not to be side tracked. For the hour, he has listened for the most part. Asked a few questions. And brightened visibly when commended for Curacao's foresight in having the legislation to protect its coral reefs. His demeanour says that he has more information now than when he came in; and he looks like he is already formulating a plan, perhaps for his meeting with the prime minister of Trinidad. He intends to be remembered for actions,  he says, not for promises. In eight years when he leaves office, he will be 44! He does not intend to grow into an old politician.

It's refreshing that a people could place trust in one so young that he still believes he can achieve his dreams. "We grow big by dreams. ... nurse them through bad days the sunshine and light, which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true." This was written, one of a very few English entries, on his facebook page on February 21, 2011. He speaks four languages - one of them the Spanish of his mother who was born in Colombia.

He goes, surrounded by his elders, a leader on a mission!

The young can inspire the old. And even a small country - one of the newest in the world - can be an example. There are things that the small can teach the big, the rich, the powerful; that the weak can show to the strong. It is a boon of democracy that all are eligible to hold office - by the people, for the people. Another is that no one should die of old age in office!

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