Suspicion and irritation
Relations between the Netherlands and the two former colonies with which it forms a union, the Netherlands Antilles and fellow Caribbean island Aruba, are not good.
After nearly failing to take place at all, the latest twice-yearly meeting of MPs from these three countries - which together form the Kingdom of the Netherlands - has just started on Aruba. An earlier meeting of the three actually broke down completely back in January 2008. All this demonstrates just how difficult relations are between them.
One member of the current Dutch parliamentary delegation is widely seen as being the reason behind the difficult start to the latest meeting. His name is Hero Brinkman - a member of Geert Wilders' far-right Freedom Party - and he has mounted a veritable crusade against the Antilles and Aruba. On more than one occasion Mr Brinkman has described the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom as "a corrupt nest of crooks", saying it would be better to auction them off on eBay.
"Slap his face"
Just before the latest tripartite meeting was due to open, four members of Aruba's government said they would not be able to attend. Certain sources have reported that the presence of Mr Brinkman was the true reason for their absence.
"He deserves a slap in the face,"
Aruban Justice Minister Rudy Croes was heard saying. The Aruban chief of protocol even threatened Mr Brinkman physically as he was trying to enter the building, although in the event nothing happened.
The delegation from the Netherlands refused to bow to this "political game" and threatened to withdraw, but they eventually compromised and gave Aruba's prime minister and one other minister extra speaking time to air their grievances during the official meeting. In January 2008, the Dutch delegation actually pulled out of the talks because Mr Brinkman was barred from entering the Antilles Parliament.
Mr Brinkman also rubbed salt into the wounds with his recent statements on US TV channel Fox News. He said that the disappearance on Aruba of American teenager Natalee Holloway remains unsolved because of local corruption, which has helped the main suspect, Joran van der Sloot, evade prosecution.
View of CuraçaoClashes between the Netherlands and its former colonies, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, are not uncommon. Two Christian Democrat members of the parliament in The Hague, Bas-Jan van Bochove and Jan Schinkelshoek, gave a warning before the talks about there being an atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and irritation.
Talks at government level about the new constitutional structure for the kingdom are in their final phase. Under the new structure, Curaçao and St Martin will follow the example already set by Aruba and attain separate autonomous status, while the remaining islands of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius become 'special' municipalities under direct rule from The Hague. However, these new plans are also controversial, particularly so because The Hague wants to be able to have direct supervision of the islands' finances.
MP Jan Schinkelshoek sees all this as the final - and a painful - decolonisation process. The Netherlands already has a bad record anyway in this respect. The decolonisation of its other former colonies - Indonesia and the Dutch part of New Guinea - was accompanied by much violence, with the United Nations eventually forced to intervene.
In the later case of Surinam's independence - in 1975 - many people say the Netherlands' only colony in South America was basically forced to go it alone and that this was one of the reasons why the newly independent country was the scene of a military coup in 1980. Jan Schinkleshoek cites Surinam as an example of where the process went badly and has gone on to affect later generations.
On Curaçao and Aruba in particular, many people believe the Netherlands still regards the Caribbean islands as colonies, with which it can do what it pleases. While Antillean and Aruban politicians think they are not being taken seriously, the Netherlands tends to point to the high level of debt built up by the Antilles and the cases of corruption which come to light. All these issues provide fuel for conflict.
Hero Brinkman has managed to throw all these sensitive issues into a very harsh light with his over-simplistic and generalised statements about corruption, incompetent politicians and the bottomless money pit which he claims the islands have become. The fact that he has been called to account for his comments by other MPs back at the Dutch parliament in The Hague has made no impression in the islands of Aruba and the Antilles. As a member of the Dutch delegation to these talks, his colleague MPs keep backing him up, thus providing yet more reason for irritation among the Antilleans and Arubans and for them to go on mistrusting their Dutch counterparts.
Gijs van den Heuvel