Junior Lake repeats the battle cry for independence: Little book, powerful message

POSTED: 09/15/14 11:41 PM

St. Maarten – A little book with a powerful message. That best describes Junior Lake’s latest publication 6 4 9. On Friday evening, Lake officially launched the publication at the Cultural Center in a setting that pleased the independistas in his select audience.

It was, let there be no mistake, an interesting evening. It brought the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Patricia Lourens and her husband to the Cultural Center. Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, acting governor Reinold Groeneveldt, and historian Daniella Jeffrey were also there plus at least three political candidates that did not make the cut on August 29 – Mike Ferrier (DP), Jeffrey Richardson (NA) and Claret Connor (UP), and one whom we will see in the new Parliament, National Alliance’s Christopher Emmanuel.

Ife Badejo emceed the evening and announced Leo Friday, who presented a compelling overview of what St. Maarten once was and what it has become. “In the fifties this was a small island where people were happy to see a boat arrive in the harbor. Once a month there was a boat from Curacao. We were one island, we never knew the difference between a French side and a Dutch side.”

In 1954, the status of St. Maarten changed with the signing of the Kingdom Charter. The economy grew and with the hotels, casinos came along.

In 1960, hurricane Donna hit St. Maarten. It left a quarter of the population homeless and killed seven people. “We rebuilt St. Maarten together,” Friday said with a touch of nostalgia.

A year earlier, Jose Lake Sr., Junior’s father, founded the Windward Islands Opinion newspaper.

In 1969, the announcement came of the construction of the Mullet Bay Resort. “That was the largest hotel in the Caribbean. It took two years to build,” Friday recalled. “Between 1971 and 1984 St. Maarten had 100 percent employment. We did everything ourselves with local people, we made it work.”

The fast economic growth had a downside though: “St. Maarten grew too fast; the infrastructure was terrible,” Friday said. Complicating matters was that everybody wanted a piece of the pie during the economic boom.

Then, in 1995, Hurricane Luis hit St. Maarten hard. “We rebuilt again, but a lot of the material came from elsewhere,” Friday said. “It is telling that during the reconstruction, two local hardware stores went out of business. They could not compete with the cheap imports.”

Turning to the current status of St. Maarten as an autonomous country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the French side as a Collectivité  d’Outremer, Friday said, with a reference to Junior Lake’s book 6 4 9: “What has been created is more disastrous than what it has ever been. We are more supervised now than we ever were under the Netherlands Antilles.”

Friday referred to paragraphs where Lake addresses the omission of a definition of the St. Maartener in the constitution. He also mentioned Friendly Anger, Lake’s epic 2004 book about the rise and fall of the labor unions in St. Maarten. “That book says a lot about who we are as a people,” he concluded. It is available at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.

Junior Lake told his audience that he is concerned about what is happening on the island and what the new statuses have brought. “I came to realize that it is not working in our interest. It could actually destroy us,” he said.

The political establishment is responsible for the situation, according to Lake. “In 1994 (leading up to the first referendum – ed.) all parties campaigned viciously against independence. They did the same in 2000. You have only two choices: you take your destiny in your own hands or you place it in the hands of others. When interest clash, they will always choose their own interest,” he said with a reference to the “colonial masters” in Paris and The Hague.

Lake claimed that the private sector in St. Maarten employs only 15 percent St. Maarteners. “For locals, the emphasis for employment is on the public sector. The Cft says that growth has to come from the private sector. But if hardly any locals find employment there, why would we develop the private sector?”

The author took Front Street as an example. “From the courthouse to the top of town you have maybe a hundred stores. With 4 people working in each store, you’re talking about 400 jobs. Have a look how many locals are working there, and then have a look in St. Peters how many youngsters are looking for a job. They let them cut grass and clean trenches.”

Lake added that, while the average income based on gross domestic product in St. Maarten is around $23,000,. The average worker is only making around $10,000 a year. “The population is not benefitting from the economy.”

He furthermore addressed the looming issue of equal rights in St. Maarten for all European citizens. If they would get indeed the same rights as Dutch passport holders (who do not need a work perm it in St. Maarten), Lake fears that the country will be flooded with Europeans. Contrary to his claim, however, this situation is not in existence yet. In 2013, the country refused to admit Svetlana Kostelnikova, a citizen from Slovakia, by right. In March of this year, the court voided that decision and ordered the minister of justice to take a new decision within six weeks.

While this term has in the meantime obviously expired, the current status of the case is unclear, also to Minister Richardson, whom we asked about it on Friday evening. According to the minister, there is still an appeal in process.

Lake remains pessimistic about these developments. “In both settings (on the Dutch and the French side – ed.) there is no future for us of for our children,” he said.

The author’s solution has remained consistent over the years and he expresses it again in 6 4 9: “Get rid of the Collectivité d’Outremer and of country St. Maarten and establish the Republic of St. Maarten,” he said. “I am sure that in a new referendum, independence is going to win. The gale will not stop at the border. When we win we will be independent and we will control our destiny.”

Lake has dedicated his book to Eldridge van Putten, the social activist who passed away after suffering heart failure in July 2012. Van Putten had promised Lake to send him data from the French side for his book, but Lake initially thought this did not materialize. Only after Van Putten passed away, he cleaned up his email and then found one from Van Putten containing the material he had promised to send. “He sent it to me just before his death,” Lake said.

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