Bon nochi, y un caloroso bon bini na Roosevelt House. Happy Fourth of July!
Her Excellency Zita Jesus-Leito, Minister of Traffic, Transportation and Urban Planning
His Excellency Hensley Koeiman, Minister of Social Affairs, Labor, and Welfare
General Peter de Vin, Commander of the Netherlands Forces Caribbean
His Excellency William Millerson, President of Parliament
Honorable Ministers, Members of Parliament and dignitaries from Curacao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten
Commander of the U.S. Forward Operating Location, Lt. Col. James Wells and colleagues from the FOL
Fellow members of the Consular Corps
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you very much for honoring us with your presence this evening to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America. Thanks to those who travelled from the other islands to be here. And thank you to our many sponsors for their generous support again this year to make this evening possible. You will see our sponsors’ names listed on the Donor Wall in the foyer. Thank you also to Ghislaine van de Laarschot, who just graduated from the Berkeley School of Music, for that beautiful rendition of our national anthems, and to “The Other Level” for entertaining us tonight.
In the spirit of new beginnings of which the 4th of July is emblematic, I want to congratulate Curaçao on its recent elections. We look forward to working with the new government for years to come. We know that Aruba will also be holding elections in a few months and we wish them all the best. I also want to thank our colleagues in the DBB offices in all the countries who have been invaluable in helping us over the years on numerous matters, and I also want to thank my colleagues in the Consular Corps whose friendships have helped make my time here so rewarding.
Our theme for tonight’s celebration is partnership. Definitions of the word partnership include “A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.” Some of the words identified as synonyms with partnership include: friendship, cooperation, interest, community, sharing, and party. These are the words and the concepts that I think of when I think of the relationship between the United States and the countries and islands of the Dutch Caribbean. We are natural partners in so many areas, and that’s something we want to celebrate tonight.
Friendship: The friendship between our countries dates back even longer than the independence of the United States. Statia was the first to officially recognize the fledgling United States in November, 1776 with its First Salute and the islands of the Netherlands Antilles were critical in helping supply the American colonies during our war of independence; the U.S. established its first Consulate in Curaçao in 1793 and we’ve been here ever since. .
Cooperation: The U.S. and the Dutch Caribbean cooperate on numerous issues and in numerous ways. During World War II, the fuel that the refineries in Aruba and Curaçao supplied was critical to the allied forces fighting in Europe; conversely, the protection the U.S. helped provide to Aruba and Curaçao safeguarded your refineries, tankers, territory and people; today we cooperate to stop the drug traffickers and transnational criminal networks from ravaging our societies, and I’d like to take a moment to welcome our new Commander of the Forward Operating Location, Lt. Col. James Wells, and his team. We are also working together to increase law enforcement cooperation and information sharing under the Memorandum of Understanding signed last year and are developing a partnership program between the VKC and the U.S. National Guard. Our Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance unit in Aruba helps to facilitate travel and tourism between Aruba and the U.S. and increases security for both our countries. CBP recently announced that it would be working with the government of Sint Maarten to put a preclearance facility there as well. A few weeks ago, staff from the Consulate joined with Sea Turtle Conservation to help clean up the beaches after the oil spill. I was very sorry not to be here for that and I am so proud of all of them who participated and helped out. U.S. partners are also working with Curaçao on renewable energy, the film institute, tourism, and financial transactions.
Interest: The U.S. and the Dutch Caribbean share fundamental common interests: increasing business relationships and investment, promoting entrepreneurship, empowering women, developing sustainable energy and environmental programs, and securing education and economic opportunities for our young people. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. State Department, the Consulate will provide mosquito nets to the newborn ward at St. Elizabeth’s hospital to help protect against Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases, and we will bring a team from the Centers for Disease Control to Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten this fall to work with government experts and local health providers to raise awareness and share information on best practices against Zika. Tourism is critically important to all of our economies. I was delighted to see that tourism from the U.S. to Aruba and Curaçao increased substantially in May, and cruise ship tourism to Sint Maarten just continues to grow every year. As a fan of the TV game show Jeopardy, I’m always excited when I see the beautiful commercial for Curaçao during the broadcast, and the Times Square advertisement in New York was brilliantly done.
Community: As people get to know others from different countries and different cultures, they develop ties in common and relationships that are invaluable to promoting peace and prosperity. We continue to encourage the young people of the Dutch Caribbean to do some of their education in the United States, whether it’s undergraduate, graduate, or specialized education, and we are continuing to look for ways to make those studies even more affordable and beneficial. At the same time, universities in the U.S. continue to bring students to the Dutch Caribbean for a variety of programs and projects, on everything from coral reef preservation to technological innovation and renewable energy. Our people-to-people exchanges promote mutual understanding, new ideas, and strong and enduring friendships and networks. The Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative brought four young entrepreneurs from the Dutch Caribbean to the U.S. last year to build linkages among young leaders across the hemisphere, and two of them traveled to Peru to meet with President Obama. We are very pleased to share that some of the young entrepreneurs who applied will be selected to join this outstanding program this year. Our International Visitor Leadership Program continues to provide opportunities for rising young leaders to gain knowledge and build partnerships on specific areas of study. This year, our IVLP fellows focused on environmental protection, particularly related to ocean and coral reef management, and on entrepreneurship. I’m delighted that an IVLP alumnus is now the Governor of Aruba. And of course, let us not forget sports, especially baseball and football, well, soccer for us, which brings our countries and people together. All of my staff and many of you know how I went a little crazy last fall when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series after a 108-year dry spell. Wow, was it good to get that billy goat off our back and end his curse forever! Although the Cubs didn’t have a Curacaoan player on their roster, we all know how well represented Curaçao is in the major leagues and elsewhere in the world. And now Curaçao will be playing in its first ever Concacaf Gold Cup next month in the U.S. after winning the Caribbean Cup. Congratulations and best of luck to the team!
Sharing: None of the areas of partnership and cooperation I’ve mentioned would be possible if our countries and our people didn’t share similar values. We work together to promote human rights and equality for all our people; to combat trafficking in persons; to encourage good governance; and to take responsibility to safeguard our people and the future for our children. One area the Consulate has focused on this past year is women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, and we hosted a terrific event earlier this year that highlighted some of the challenges women still face, in government, in business, in law enforcement, and in schools. Curaçao has always been a leader in having strong women in all spheres but there is still more we can do, and I look forward to working with all of you to continue this effort.
Party: This can mean political parties and partnerships, or parties to an agreement or a business deal, but tonight I want to emphasize the type of party that we are all at right now. It is a way to bring together all of the people that make this partnership and all these efforts I’ve mentioned work. So, first, thank you all for coming tonight and joining in our partnership. Second, please join me in thanking our sponsors who made tonight possible, our wonderful caterer Divino Catering, and Hairodinie who will launch the traditional fireworks tonight at 9 pm. And finally, I want to thank our incredible staff at the Consulate and here in the Roosevelt House, without whom there would have been no party tonight, and who make our partnerships so much better. I do want to single out one member of our staff, however. Humphrey, who not only drives me around town and helps keep me safe, but is also a hero. Truly. A few weeks ago, he was on his way home when he saw a young woman walking barefoot along the Queen Juliana bridge. Most people probably would have simply wondered what she was doing but continued on their way. But not Humphrey. Humphrey stopped and asked her if she was ok. She was distraught and it was clear to Humphrey that she was planning to take her life by jumping off the bridge. Humphrey was able to calm her and to notify the authorities and together they were able to stop her from jumping. So, yes, we do have a true hero from Curaçao here in the Consulate and I am so proud of him, and of the entire team here. I am very lucky to be the U.S. Consul General in Curaçao and Chief of Mission to the Dutch Caribbean. Danki pa boso presencia awenochi. Thank you again for joining us this evening to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.
And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce Her Excellency Zita Jesus-Leito, Minister of Traffic, Transportation and Urban Planning who will make some remarks on behalf of the government of Curacao.
“Please join me, and Minister Jesus-Leito in raising our glasses to the strong friendship between our countries as we celebrate the 241st anniversary of U.S. independence. Salud!”