POND ISLAND–Former Prime Minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Denzil L. Douglas delivered the Emancipation Day Lecture Saturday evening at University of St. Martin (USM). The lecture, organized by Independence for St. Martin Foundation (ISMF), was well-received by an appreciative crowd at USM’s lecture hall.
Culture and youth of St. Maarten were also part of the third annual Emancipation Day Lecture’s programme. Preceding the actual lecture the anthem of St. Kitts and Nevis and the moving song “St. Martin is My Home” by Lino were played on steel pan by “Mighty Dow” Isidore York and two members of Ebony Steel Orchestra. Poems were recited by young and upcoming Dennisio Duzong and high school student Atlantha Courtar.
When ISMF was founded in 1994, no political party wanted independence for St. Maarten, but in 2017 independence is no longer a taboo. Parliament is willing to take up the challenge and wants to make independence a reality in the near future, according to ISMF.
Douglas has an extensive track record where it comes to politics. The medical doctor by profession served as Minister of Finance and in other cabinet posts, and was the longest-serving Prime Minister in the British Commonwealth. He was sworn in as St. Kitts’ second Prime Minister in July 1995, and remained in office until 2015. Subsequently he has been leader of the opposition of the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP).
He played a leading role in regional and international organizations, such as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Caribbean Community Caricom, Organisation of American States (OAS), the World Bank and the United Nations. He also is a Member of the Queen’s Privy Council. Douglas wrote many books and publications, for instance on HIV/Aids.
Douglas, met with Acting Prime Minister Rafael Boasman and several other members of the Council of Ministers at the Government Administration Building on Friday. He said that Emancipation Day, which is observed throughout the Caribbean, albeit at different dates, is a very important celebration.
“The dates may be different, but all show our shared history of enslavement and of dreams, struggle, evolution and triumph. Not everything on the islands is perfect, but we should be self-assured descendants of those who suffered and harvested salt on St. Maarten, sugar on St. Kitts and cotton on Nevis, without one cent of compensation,” Douglas said.
Those people of African descent were brave enough to resist and sabotage and leave the salt ponds of St. Maarten for the hills above. One Tete Lokhay and her likes fought for their right to be independent and free, Douglas said. “We are the dreams and hopes of the slaves,” he told his audience, including Members of Parliament (MPs) Franklin Meyers, Frans Richardson and George Pantophlet.
Founded in 1932, SKNLP fought for universal suffrage and ultimately independence, said Douglas. St. Kitts and Nevis achieved independence in 1983.
“ISMF wants full and complete independence for St. Maarten. Independence for St. Kitts and Nevis once was a dream, as it is for St. Maarten today,” he said.
Douglas said a referendum about St. Maarten’s constitutional status may not be held before the end of 2020, but he said that preparations for a referendum should commence as early as next year. “St. Maarten should express for itself what it wants its future status to be, and pursue it with fervour and urgency,” he said.
Between now and the future referendum, the public should be explained via communication and outreach why full political independence is the correct government structure, and what the challenges are in attaining the desired status.
“Listen and ask questions in getting engaged with the public,” he advised.
Independence requires politicians and civil servants of the highest calibre and quality, with a high level of expertise in financial-economic analysis, as well as a “visionary leadership team,” Douglas said. Due to these qualities, St. Kitts managed to smoothly transition from a sugar island to a service economy in hospitality and tourism without an economic meltdown, while the world was pushed in an economic downturn in 2008/2009.
National and border security, a solid fiscal policy, and a sense of belonging among youths were mentioned as important characteristics of a young island nation. The lack of appetite to attain independence in French St. Martin, should not dim the fervour on the Dutch side, Douglas said. “There will be anxious moments,” but, “May the will of the people be registered and heard and stand forever.”
A vivid question-and-answer session and a reception, during which visitors could meet and talk with the keynote speaker, followed the lecture.