Opinion by Dr. Jay B. Haviser: Defending Fort Amsterdam

POSTED: 03/12/15 12:52 PM

As the basis of my commentary here, I remind the reader that one of the most iconic cultural sites of St. Maarten, Fort Amsterdam, was sold to a private sector entity in the 1960s. Even with our legal Monument List status designation, and restricted zoning for the peninsula, any final decisions about the preservation, restoration or development of the fort must include the private owners! Since 2007, there has been a very positive working relationship between the Sint Maarten Archaeological Center (Simarc) as a local non-profit foundation, and the owners of the fort. This relationship resulted with the creation and placement of information signs, benches and clearing around the ruins of the fort, which opened as a simple Heritage Park in 2008 having enthusiastic participation of the community and the owners.

Since Hurricane Omar in 2008, significant structural damage has occurred to the main bastion of the fort, which is an ongoing crisis, such that without repairs the bastion walls will collapse. Since 2008, the urgency of this problem has been repeatedly notified by myself for the VROM offices, to various other government authorities, such as the Monuments Council, and the Department of Culture. Even in 2010, parliament passed a motion passed for the restoration and preservation of Fort Amsterdam.

But alas to no avail, nothing has been done by the relevant government authorities to find a solution to this urgent and significant problem at the fort, and the private sector owner is not legally required to maintain the structure. Therefore, when a local viable organization, such as the Port of St. Maarten, offers to negotiate with the owners to find a real solution to the problems at Fort Amsterdam, Simarc was ready and willing to support such an initiative and to maintain proper controls of respect for the integrity of the site. Because if the government is not willing to take action, and the problem is so very urgent, then why not allow the private sector to lend a hand, and in this case with assistance of Port of St. Maarten. Instead of antagonism towards those who are truly trying to save our Fort Amsterdam, why are we not supporting them, in a spirit of cooperation for our national heritage!?

Reading in the papers recently, I see the position that government authorities should be informed of proposed development projects, I absolutely agree both morally and legally, however in this case they have been notified for over 7 years, with no serious action taken. If waiting for the preparation of a potential World Heritage nomination is the government’s argument, it is kind of like saying when we win the Nobel Peace Prize we will have the funds for saving the fort, such a reality takes very many years to prepare and often is not successful. So the fort walls continue to crumble before our eyes, due to this type of bureaucratic distraction, and those walls will surely fall one day, sooner rather than later! For me this problem raises two key issues, of particular importance for the Monuments Council to consider.

First, we need to re-evaluate the role, rights and duties of monument owners in the preservation of their properties for national patrimony. As well, we need a realistic approach to public-private sector cooperation programs for the preservation of St. Maarten heritage with dignity and respect for the local community whose heritage these sites represent, yet also having viable economic development concepts for the sustainability of these heritage sites, to not just let them collapse into decay.

Dr. Jay B. Haviser



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