photo: Rainbow House Curaçao

THE HAGUE – With the upcoming elections for the Dutch parliament, Caribbean Network is having interviews with candidates about the Caribbean community. What’s grabbing the attention? There is only one eligible person from the Caribbean municipalities: Lysanne Charles (Bij 1).

You were born and raised in Saba, studied in Curaçao and then worked in Sint Maarten for about 15 years. Being back on Saba now, what changes have you seen so far?

“Some good things have happened for Saba [as Dutch municipality since 2010], including more funding for healthcare, education and infrastructure, especially around social issues and structural funding. But when it comes to our voices being heard in the Hague, they just don’t listen. I mean, for ten years already we’re saying that the Hague is ignoring our concerns.”

How come? Of all six islands of our Kingdom, Saba is the only one constantly receiving compliments from the Hague. That Saban politicians are governing the island outstandingly and are managing the public finance so well.

“What people need to know is that a lot of what we receive is project based money. That does not give us the room for long term planning. Saba isn’t receiving enough money from the Hague – like other Dutch municipalities. How can we invest in our own population for the long term? This is a serious issue. Despite the compliments, we are still not being treated equally.”

So far, the only politician to comment strongly on this matter was SP member of parliament Ronald van Raak. Sabans are not people who will complain out loud is what your commissioners, council members and civil servants say.

“That is true! Sabans in general tend to look at the bright side. But, be assured, that is changing. And rightfully so! Sabans are also becoming a bit frustrated that they are not being heard in the Hague. A trend also happening on the other islands.”

“This is also why I am running for the upcoming elections, because I believe Caribbean representation at the highest levels of government is important for radical equality.”

Do you believe that a European Dutchman or woman can fairly represent you in the Hague?

“No, but.. Well.. I’m really thinking about what I am going to say now. No, because they do not understand the reality we live in here. Working on the island, I noticed that Europeans still come here with an idea: this and this has worked so well in the Netherlands, so implement it and it works immediately. Well, it doesn’t work like that!”

“Also, they don’t often realise that the learning curves that the Netherlands had for their development, is something that is still not granted to us. They don’t give us that same space.”

“It is the same thing asking: can Dutch Caribbeans represent the Netherlands? No. So we need to sit equally at the table. And it begins with a fair representation of Caribbeans in the Second Chamber.”

You are the only candidate who lives in the Caribbean municipalities. You often introduce yourself as someone who stands ‘for a radical change within the Kingdom’. What is that you are seeking?

“We live in this hierarchy that is entrenched in colonial ideas and still continues to impact the way we treat each other. That Dutch is the way. That European is the way. That you have to look this way and sound this way to have power, to have access to power, to have your voice be heard and respected to be perceived as intelligent.”

“And this regardless of how much you have studied as a Dutch Caribbean person or how much expertise you have in our area. This is something that has to change, because this is not equality, this as my party leader Sylana Simons said, is just the façade of equality and tolerance.”

Some critics would say: ‘Look at Lysanne Charles being radical. So anti-Dutch. That doesn’t take us – the Caribbean community – any further forward.’

“First I want to say that I am not anti-Dutch at all, for all intents and purposes I am Dutch. I am also not anti-European Dutch. I am anti-colonial. There are things that the islands can learn from the Netherlands and there are also things that the Netherlands can learn from the islands.”

“Also, in Brussels, all politicians from all 27 European countries can speak in their own language during those debates and negotiations. So no delegation is forced to speak in this one language. But ironically, we – from the islands – are being forced by the Dutch to do so.”

How are your political goals attainable when Bij1 is the only political party that stands for ‘radical decolonization’?

“When those 8.000 people showed up in Amsterdam at the Black Lives Matter protest, and to stop that whole Zwarte Piet nonsense, suddenly you see a whole different approach of European Dutch politicians on these topics.”

“You see, when more and more people decide to vote for a party like Bij1 in these upcoming elections, the rest will suddenly start paying much more attention to what we’re saying. Until now, even people in the party who have never been on the islands, have proven to be truly interested in the stories from our community and also implementing my ideas. So please go vote.”

Lysanne Charles from Saba is eligible for the parliamentary elections: in 13th place for Bij1.  Photo: Rainbow House Curaçao