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Dutch Deploy Troops After Riots on Curaçao

Demonstrators forced their way into the government palace and looted stores.

Dutch frigate Zeeland
Dutch frigate HNLMS Zeeland on patrol in the Caribbean Sea (Ministerie van Defensie)

The Netherlands is deploying troops on Curaçao, one of the kingdom’s islands in the Caribbean, following several days of rioting and unrest.

The decision was taken with local police, who announced that, as a result of the deployment, a two-day curfew could be lifted on Friday.

Unrest

Unrest broke out on Wednesday, when demonstrations against austerity measures — enacted to qualify for financial support from the European Netherlands — turned violent. Some two hundred demonstrators forced their way into the government palace, Fort Amsterdam. Stores in central Willemstad were looted. Various other buildings, including a school, were torched. Dozens of rioters were arrested.

Local gangs and trade unions are held responsible for the violence.

Taking part in the protests were members of the pro-independence opposition parties Kòrsou di Nos Tur (Curaçao Is All of Ours) and Movementu Futuro Kòrsou (Movement for the Future of Curaçao, MFK), which have seven out of 21 seats between them in the island parliament.

MFK denies involvement, but one of its deputies egged the protesters on in a video and a self-declared spokeswoman for the activists ran on the MFK party list in the 2017 election.

Intervention

The Dutch previously intervened in Curaçao in 2017 to prevent MFK leader Gerrit Schotte — who had been convicted of bribery and money laundering — from forming a government without calling elections.

The liberal Eugene Rhuggenaath won the election that year. He is now being called on to step down by the protesters for agreeing to Dutch demands.

Dutch terms

Curaçao is nominally autonomous but in reality dependent on the European Netherlands. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy, and most tourists are Dutch. There are normally direct daily flights between Amsterdam and Willemstad.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic starved the island of income, Curaçao was running deficits as high as 10 percent and unemployment was 21 percent. Income inequality is high (PDF).

The Dutch are providing emergency food and health care conditions-free, but for another €370 million in financial support they are demanding salary cuts in the public sector of 12.5 percent and a salary cap of 130 percent of the prime minister’s salary (which already exists in the European Netherlands) for all government-paid jobs.

Companies must also pay 20 percent of idle workers’ wages for the government to pay the remaining 80 percent.

Soldiers

There are some 800 Dutch soldiers in the Caribbean, including members of the Aruba and Curaçao Militias, who are locals. 150 Dutch Marines are stationed on Aruba. Some 120 soldiers are on Curaçao, which has a population of around 160,000 in addition to tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees.

The Dutch minister of defense has said the troops will primarily guard public buildings, freeing up the police to focus on their other duties. There are no plans to send soldiers from the European Netherlands.

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