PHILIPSBURG–The political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the reconstruction of hurricane-stricken St. Maarten were the main topics discussed during the annual Kingdom Consultation on Foreign Relations held in St. Maarten on Monday.
Present for the consultation were St. Maarten Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin, Curaçao Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath, Aruba Prime Minister Evelyna Wever-Croes and the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok.
Central during the consultation were the worrying economic, political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the far-reaching consequences the continuing uncertain situation has for primarily Curaçao and Aruba.
The situation is developing daily and Rhuggenaath and Blok have agreed to continue to monitor the situation in Venezuela very closely and to maintain close contact.
Topics discussed included migration issues, the humanitarian hub and the refinery situation. The consequences of the sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuela and state oil company PdVSA for the refinery in Curaçao and for the economy of the island were also considered.
It was discussed with Blok how the Kingdom and the Netherlands could help minimise the consequences for Curaçao and assist in the search for a new refinery operator.
Blok and Rhuggenaath visited the refinery on Tuesday and held a meeting with Refineria di Korsou representatives. Blok also met with Curaçao’s President of Parliament and with representatives of the Task Force for undocumented migrants.
Minister Blok said during a press conference on Monday that the consultation had been “productive” and that Venezuela had been a “prominent” subject.
“The situation remains unstable” and for Curaçao and Aruba, which are mere kilometres away from the South-American country, the impact is “tangible,” Blok said. “I can assure you it has our full attention. We agreed to gather information and facts on the scope and nature of the impact in order to reach a joint approach.”
Wever-Croes said the situation in Venezuela had been the most important item on the consultation’s agenda. “The migratory crisis in Venezuela has an enormous impact on our island,” she said, and parties have come to an “agreement and arrangement,” which made her feel that Aruba is not being left alone. “We stand together and face this situation together,” she said.
Blok said he had spoken “extensively” with Romeo-Marlin, Governor Eugene Holiday and Chairperson of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams on a variety of issues during his visit to St. Maarten.
He said St. Maarten’s reconstruction efforts after the “devastating” Hurricane Irma had been part of his discussions with the Prime Minister. “The effects of the hurricane on the island are still visible. I am captivated by the resilience of the people and impressed with the work done so far. The Netherlands is and remains keen on assisting St. Maarten with its recovery.”
Blok said he had noticed “significant changes” since he last visited the island. “Just arriving from the airport, I saw the progress being made since exactly a year ago. It is really impressive. I realise there’s much more to be done, but [the recovery – Ed.] is very much visible.”
He was “fully” updated by the National Recovery and Resilience Bureau and visited the recently renovated police station in Philipsburg.
“We explained to him where we are at and what steps we have been taken, and I believe he was very much impressed as to where St. Maarten is now, but we still have a long way to go, of course. There are a lot of things we’re still busy with under the Trust Fund, but we are all focussed in ensuring that we complete what we have started with the support of the Netherlands,” Romeo-Marlin said.
Other items discussed during the consultation, which covered 12 “critical” points, according to Romeo-Marlin, included pre-clearance of US tourists; foreign affairs priorities of the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom; security, criminality and open borders; participation in regional organisations; small-island development, European Union (EU) relations and the effects of Brexit on overseas countries and territories; economic development, implementation of EU sanctions and the effects of US sanctions on the Caribbean countries in the Kingdom; cooperation of the countries within the Kingdom in relation to disasters; and the Caribbean visa policy.
Blok said it also had been agreed to further enhance cooperation in the area of human trafficking and smuggling. He said they had also spoken about disaster preparedness. In this light the importance of regional cooperation – for example, through the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency – was highlighted.
There have also been talks about strengthening (regional) cooperation with French St. Martin and France, participation in international organisations and forums, and increased cooperation with Dutch embassies.