Aruba Prime Minister “Prepared to Die” for Island’s Autonomy
EspañolIt’s been five days since Aruba’s prime minister, Mike Eman, started a hunger strike to protest the Dutch government’s interference in his country’s internal affairs. “I’m prepared to die,” said the prime minister during an interview on Monday. His decision follows an order issued by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to have the king’s governor of Aruba conduct an independent inquiry of the 2014 budget and the stability of the island’s finances.
“Aruba is kidnapped, raped, and humiliated by the Netherlands which is now only showing its merchant’s face, and not the face of a pastor. We cannot build a Kingdom together with a merchant because all is about money. Aruba wants cooperation, not money. We have nothing to sell and we are not for sale,” Eman said.
The Dutch minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk, recommended the Dutch government withhold its approval of the island’s annual budget until Governor Fredis Rufenjol carried out an investigation.
“It appeared that the Prime Minister of Aruba Mike Eman had a different vision on the matter than we had agreed upon earlier. So the Kingdom government decided to put the governor in charge of the investigation. We were left no other choice, because the financial situation is alarming,” Plasterk explained.
Last week, Governor Rufenjol refused to sign the budget, even though it had been approved by the Parliament. Aruba’s Finance Minister Juan David Yrausquin promptly resigned and suggested the governor had acted “unconstitutionally” and under pressure from the Dutch government.
The former minister described the situation as a “great injustice” and explained how the government of Aruba was forced to accept the governor’s investigation. “The prime minister had no choice but to give his consent or face the bankruptcy of Aruba,” he stated.
Prime Minister Eman was also highly critical of Rufenjol’s decision and denounced the lack of respect shown toward Aruba’s autonomy.
“Aruba has handled diplomatically for months, but the limit has now been reached,” Eman declared.
On Friday, Eman’s cabinet, several members of Parliament, and hundreds of Arubians joined him in a protest march to Fort Zoutman, where the prime minister says he will remain, without food, until the governor signs the budget.
“I will never tolerate that our autonomy is taken away from us,” said Eman.
The prime minister described the Kingdom Government’s decision as “illegal” and “with no legal power.” He says it violates the Charter of the Kingdom, the Regulation of the Governor, Aruba’s Constitution, and ultimately, the budget right of the Aruba Parliament.
“No organ of the country Aruba will be able to cooperate in the execution of decisions that explicitly violate the Charter,” the Government of Aruba affirmed in a press release.
Even though Dutch Minister Plasterk acknowledged that “the budget is a country affair,” he also insisted on the governor’s ability to “hold a national ordinance if it goes against Kingdom interests.”
In the past, the Kingdom government has expressed concern over the sustainability of Aruba’s public finances, including a national debt that has doubled over the past four years. The island’s debt is currently at 3.2 billion Aruban florins (approximately US$1.7 billion), over 75 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The 2014 budget deficit also surpassed the 3 percent that had been previously agreed.
The investigation, led by Rujenfol, will be carried out by an independent task force made up of members of the Committee for Financial Supervision (CFT), which also supervises the finances of Curaçao and St. Maarten.
During his strike, Eman has received the support of his regional counterparts, such as St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams.
According to Wescot-Williams, St. Maarten was also instructed to carry out an “integrity assessment” from the Dutch Kingdom back in 2013. She said this is what established the precedent for “the government of the Netherlands meddling in the affairs of countries in the [Kingdom].”
“I warned all stakeholders that this was going to happen, and they are using the same approach in Aruba. All of our requests were overruled at that time, and the Kingdom government refused; and they are doing the same thing in Aruba.”
Wescot-Williams expressed her solidarity with Aruba. “We cannot have outside influences from the Kingdom Council of Ministers interfere in the autonomous affairs of a country,” she concluded.