Opinion: Of Old Grumblers and a Well-Deserved Acclaim

Minster Carola Schouten (l) and Alexandra van Huffelen during a press conference on October 2023

By Harald Linkels

KRALENDIJK – State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen and Carola Schouten seem to strike a chord with a group of embittered critics, and not in a positive way. Especially Van Huffelen bears the brunt in a so-called ‘briefje van Jan.’ The commentator accuses Van Huffelen of recruiting votes in the Antilles with a bag of money.

“I saw on the website of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations that just before the elections for the 40th, 45th time in almost two years, Rutte 4 made the crossing for a week-long working visit to the three islands where residents had the right to vote in the parliamentary elections.” And: “Making administrative agreements (read: managing the money flow from here to there), sponsoring social housing, assisting small entrepreneurs, chatting with MBO students and local politicians, checking if the sponsored solar panels are looking good and giving a speech at the celebration of Statia Day.” According to Jan Dijkgraaf, Van Huffelen received only 0.1% of all votes cast in the Netherlands. “Now you say: Van Huffelen came with a bag of money, in exchange for their vote,” the commentator concludes regarding the voting behavior on the islands.

It seems that the residents of the BES islands, according to ‘Jan,’ are not only seen as naive but also highly corruptible. Van Huffelen brought money, and as a kind of “Pavlov reaction,” the majority of the inhabitants voted for D66 and Alexandra van Huffelen. Quite simple, right?

What Dijkgraaf doesn’t know – and, well considered, can’t know – is that Van Huffelen approached things differently from her – mostly male – predecessors from the very beginning. From the start of her tenure, she engaged in conversations with citizens, went running on Saba with a local gym owner, and went to the store on St. Eustatius to see for herself how much higher the prices are there than in the Netherlands. But most importantly, she made progress with files that had been dragging on for years. Concrete examples include the delays in determining the Social Minimum, the return to democracy on St. Eustatius, and matters such as the introduction of a Citizen Service Number, Burger Service Nummer or BSN. Something you really need in this digital world if you want something from the Dutch government.

Many residents of the BES islands feel actual gratitude to both Van Huffelen and Minister of Poverty Carola Schouten (CU). Together, after more than 13 years as a Special Municipality, they ensured that the social minimum was established, even during the caretaker status of the Dutch cabinet.

In my opinion, D66 and the ChristenUnie performed well in the elections, not because it involves two cunning ladies who ‘stole’ or ‘bought’ votes from other parties in a cunning way. Nor because voters in the Caribbean Netherlands would be ‘less intelligent’ than those in the Dutch part of the Kingdom. They voted in large numbers for both D66 and the ChristenUnie because they felt that the two genuinely worked for the islands and their residents. People on the islands are often critical, but also recognized a honest effort. 

There is, by the way, another reason to believe that the residents of the Caribbean Netherlands are not only no less intelligent, but actually a bit smarter than many voters in the European part of the Netherlands. Something to ponder about for ‘Jan’ and those who enjoy reading his notes full of vitriol.

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