Is Curacao the new Haiti?

via BBC Caribbean

Curacao the largest island and seat of the (former) federal government of the Netherlands Antilles has a population of around 144,000.

Its economy is more diversified with a Venezuelan managed oil refinery, a financial services sector and a growing tourism industry being the mainstays.

During the 1940s to 1960s thousands of men from the English-speaking Caribbean went to Curacao - and Aruba - to work in the lucrative oil industry, while hundreds of women migrated there to work as maids.

In more recent years, however the island has been weighted down by huge government debt – mainly owed to Holland.

Huge debt

For the government that will take Curacao into its first phase of ‘country status’ the primary concern for the island’s first prime minister, Gerrit Schotte, is the massive debt he’s inherited.

Map of Curacao

The total debt of the Netherlands Antilles, most of it to Holland, has been put at 2.3 billion euros, just over a billion US dollars.

While the bulk of that debt has been written of by Holland which was the main creditor, Curacao still is left with a billion dollars in the red, which it will somehow have to pay off.

For Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, it’s a major issue:

“For the ones that might have the impression that we’re starting with a zero debt balance, that’s not the case,” he told BBC Caribbean.

The island’s huge debt burden is one of the reasons why Holland insisted on having close oversight over how the country will run.

Prime Minister Schotte is not altogether happy with that and blames previous Curacao governments for this state of affairs.

Gerrit Schottle, Curacao prime minister

"There’s a financial council installed that will oversee and supervise the financial affairs of Curacao, and I understand that,” he said.

But, he sees this as impacting on how much autonomy Curacao will really have in its new ‘country status’.

Deal doubted

Mr Schotte also said that they didn’t get the best deal for the island which he will now have to run.

“The previous Curacao and central governments never listened to the points that we made in the negotiations.”

Debt, taxation, the collection and sharing of revenue has been a longstanding problem in the Netherlands Antilles.

Collectively the islands had amassed an enormous debt mainly owed to Holland.

The smaller islands have argued that this was a debt accumulated for the most part by Curacao.

Curacao has in turn complained that it was carrying too much of the financial strain for, especially the three smallest: Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire.

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