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Populism in the Caribbean; Curacao

Social and economic conditions

The distribution of income in Curaçao is uneven and the cost of living is high. Unemployment is high. The proportion of highly educated citizens is relatively low. Poverty is a great concern (Vierbergen, 2004). The cleavage between the “haves” and “have nots” is, to acertain extent, the divide between “black” and “white”.

The population is relatively small.Consequently there is no critical mass or economy of scale. The small scale also forges relationships that are extremely close, so that objectivity is almost impossible. This means that there is a tendency to nepotism and patronage. People have a preference for hiring and contracting people they know. People they know personally are considered not only loyal but also more knowledge able[1].  

Erosion of institutions

The institutions of Curaçao have been rapidly eroded by several factors. First, there was a lack of financial resources, because of the poor economy and the high national debt in the recent past. Secondly, all attention and resources have been dedicated to the constitutional changes, especially between 2005 and 2010, after the referendum held in 2005 which started the process of constitutional change. This has resulted in institutional problems in the civil service, healthcare system, educational system and judicial system, while there has also been a general deterioration of the infrastructure.

Charismatic leaders

Most leaders in Curaçao, as in other parts of the Caribbean (Allahar, 2011), are charismatic and to a certain degree populist. The leaders appeal directly to the people. They have good verbal and nonverbal presentation. They play the media very well. One can say that leaders in the Caribbean have always been charismatic (Goede 1999; Goede, 2004).But only a few of them have fully embraced a populist agenda.

In this context the erosion of established political parties should be mentioned. This creates the space for the emergence of populist leaders and movements.

The proliferation of media

The proliferation of media in Curaçao has been notable. The number of media in proportion to the population is extraordinary(Goede, 2006). This has become one of the most important factors for populists to gain ground. Despite having the population of a moderately sized city, Curaçao has 26 radio stations, three television stations and nine newspapers.

There has been an explosive growth ofthe use of social media, like Facebook and Twitter. Smart phones are an important aspect of the technical platform for the development of the social media. Public demonstrations are often organized via these media. Although figures are not available, one gets the impression that access to social media is universal. Combined with the small scale of society, this interconnectedness gives an additional dimension.

The media are dependent upon the sponsorship of the private sector and state owned enterprises. These sponsors are also the sponsors of the political parties.

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