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Populism in the Caribbean; Curacao

Curaçao is an interesting location for the study of populism. With its 444 square kilometres, Curaçao is inhabited by approximately149,679 inhabitants of over forty nationalities. This means that it has  tremendous heterogeneity in a population and geographical location that is comparable in size with a small city.

Since 10 October 2010 it has been an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It has three official languages: Dutch, Papiamentu and English.

The island of Curaçao was “discovered” in 1499 by theSpanish and went through several life-cycles. The social and economic structureof Curaçao was formed over time, creating a complex, traditionally segregatedand partially rational western society. There are deep social divisions, andthe various actors do not trust one another. The heritage of slavery means thatethnicity plays an important role (Goede, 2008). The main stages in the island’s development were:

Anagricultural period from the seventeenth century until 1863, which was dominated by slavery;

The oil era started in 1918 and lasted until it went into decline in the 1960s. This was an industrial period. The refinery is still operating and is a hot issue on the political agenda, in connection with sustainability;

The financial services era started began in the 1960s and went into decline in the 1980s. This was the early post-industrial period;

Tourism started early in the 20th century, and since the late 1980s has grown to dominate the economy. It is currently in a phase of accelerated growth.  

Curaçao has not done too well socially and economically over the last twenty years. In other words the conditions for therise of populism have existed for a prolonged period. The indications are that the economy is now coming out of those depressed conditions, having finally taken off in 2006 and 2007, and Curaçao partially escaped the global financialcrisis of 2008 and after. This was the result of special local conditions, including debt relief by the Netherlands which was offered as part of the process of constitutional change in October 2010. But on the negative side it also indicates that the local economy is not very well integrated into the global economy. The most recent figures from the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten indicate that the economy came to a halt again, as a consequence of poor government policies and excessive spending.

In very general terms, the conditions are favorable for the development of populism in Curaçao. The elites are under heavy pressure. Established political parties no longer appeal to the voters and institutions are heavily criticized. Young people have no interest in history. This has all lead to the growth of populism. The conditions of depressed social and economic development, the erosion of trust in political institutions, the presence of charismatic leaders and the spread of  modern media are all pronounced elements in the society of Curaçao. In the following sub-sections, these conditions will be set out in detail.

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