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Assassination of political leader in Curacao

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The assassination of Helmin Wiels, leader of the political party Pueblo Soberano in Curacao, came as a real shocker to me. It is not only that we should be concerned when events like this occur within our part of the world, but I happened to have known Helmin and to have been impressed with his drive and commitment to the development of Curacao. This is not, of course, the first of its kind in this part of the world. We should always remember Walter Rodney, who, although not a member of parliament, was a political activist and was assassinated on June 13, 1980. But back to Wiels!{{more}}

In 2009, I had received an invitation to address a conference of the Pueblo Soberano party. This party was founded in 2005 by Wiels and has as one of its chief plans, independence for Curacao. As they indicated to me, the Federation of the Netherland Antilles was in the process of disintegration. The island of Bonaire had agreed to have closer ties with the Netherlands and Curacao was looking at its options, with Wiels and his party having independence as their ultimate goal. I was asked to deal with the history of the small Eastern Caribbean islands from colonialism to independence and to give a motivational message to embrace the route to sovereignty.

I accepted the invitation, but had two reservations – the fact that I had to use an interpreter and that although I had knowledge of the early history of Curacao and its sister islands, I had not been following recent developments. But what they wanted from me was to share with them the experiences of the Eastern Caribbean.

I went to my hotel and soon after to the party headquarters, where I met Wiels and other members of his executive. I was given an update on the current political and constitutional situation. I was tremendously impressed with Wiels, although having seen him for only a short period of time. He looked well organised and knew what he was about. His relationship with those around him was excellent and they had a great deal of respect for him.

From what I knew of the non-independent islands of the region, I was not expecting any large gathering of people. I was truly amazed when I got to the conference centre two days later. We arrived when the session had already started. I then handed a copy of my speech to the interpreter so that she could familiarise herself with it. I was confronted with a packed hall of about a thousand people, as was reported in one of the newspapers. I was thoroughly surprised that there would be such a large gathering prepared to discuss the independence option.
 
When I spoke about the history of colonialism in the British colonies, I realised even more that the history of colonialism was no different in the colonies, regardless of the coloniser. They were able to relate to all I said about education, culture, language and other aspects of colonialism. I ended my speech by giving the analogy of one wanting to learn to swim. I said that you could only learn to swim by going into the water. Similarly it was pointless sitting around, trying to figure out whether or not you should be independent.
 
I was greeted with a standing ovation. Then, I realised the amount of work that Wiels and his party had put in. I was also pleased to see that there were a number of Caribbean people. I met some from SVG, St Lucia and Dominica. Very often when our people migrate, they are reluctant to get politically involved. So, I was pleased with what I saw. I also saw how Wiels interacted with the people around and realised that they, too, had a great deal of respect for him.

Wiels was murdered on a beach and I suspect that was the same beach we had gone to. There were some issues with the land that he had pointed out to me, although I do not remember the details. I had been trying over the past three years to monitor the political and constitutional developments in Curacao, but it is extremely difficult to do so since a lot of the information I was able to access was not in English. In 2010 Curacao became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the Netherlands still maintaining responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, a similar arrangement, I guess, to our Associated State status, granted in 1969.

Wiels’ party was the largest in a coalition government and they had a one-seat majority over the opposition. He had developed a reputation for, as one source put it, his “no fear of airing the truth about the government.” He opted not to seek control of the coalition, but to focus his attention on issues like corruption. It is believed that he was about to uncover information about major corruption in the society and might have suffered because of that. The U.S Consulate General in Curacao said that he was “a passionate advocate for the disadvantaged and unemployed” who “bravely fought against corruption and to expand education opportunities for Curacao’s youth.”

From the news reports I have seen so far, one realises the impact this gentleman who was regarded as the most powerful person in Curacao, had on the people. The ABC news carrying an Associated Press release noted “… his body was driven in a hearse Sunday night and people lining the road leaned in to tap the roof and windows.”

His death by assassination really saddens me, for what I saw of him convinced me that he was genuine and deeply committed to serving his people.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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