Dollar Days in the Dutch Caribbean   January 2nd, 2011

Yesterday, New Year’s Day 2011, marked another significant change for my small part of the Caribbean. It was the day that the Netherlands Antilles Guilder (also known as the Netherlands Antilles Florin or just NAF) ceased to be legal tender on the islands of Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius. Replacing the NAF is the U.S. Dollar, which is now the sole legal tender. (More here on this subject.)

This was a change wrought by the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010 (see post below). It was decided that although our island were now part of a special municipality of The Netherlands – appropriately called the Dutch Caribbean, the U.S. dollar would be a better currency for use than the Euro. I agree.

Neighboring Curacao and St. Maarten in the north, both of which are now countries under the Dutch crown, much like Aruba, will continue to use the NAF as their official currency for the rest of the year. In 2012 they will switch to a new currency – the Caribbean Guilder. No idea why they would waste time and money on a new currency unless it’s part of the nepotism protection actions favored by their politicians. Seems like they should have switched to the dollar too.

In any event, here on Bonaire, at the stroke of midnight, ringing in 2011, all NAF-based bank accounts magically became U.S. dollar accounts, at a conversion rate of NAF 1,79 = US$1.00. Likewise, ATM machines now only dispense dollars here on Bonaire (with one exception – apparently the ATM at the airport will dispense Euros if asked nicely).

So far, things are smooth, but it’s also a holiday weekend, so local businesses are closed. The fun starts tomorrow as locals with little or no familiarity with U.S. coins get to deal with them for the first time (dollar paper money has been widely used as a substitute currency for years, so that should not be a problem). It was pointed out to me, however, that folks who play slots at the sole casino on the island would have little problem with the U.S. coins because the slot machines use them too. I never thought of a casino as an educational facility – at least not in this context.

Of the two on-line banking web sites I regularly use for my local accounts (both from the same bank but one for personal and the other for business), the personal one is functioning properly, but the business site results in a blank page. I’m hoping they fix that soon so we can pay some bills. Also, the dollar-based checks we should have received last week were no shows. Hopefully they show up this week too.

I plan on braving the bank lines tomorrow to deposit the NAF we had in our pockets at the end of 2010 and to see how difficult it will be to deposit a dollar-based check from the U.S. Wish me luck.


Update – 01/03/2011: The commercial banking site was operational by 5:30am this morning. The bank was a zoo. I got there early, and was sixth in line, waited over a half hour to see a teller, and it then took over twenty minutes to take care of my transactions. By the time I left, there were nearly three dozen people waiting in line. I learned later in the day that a number of businesses were unable to obtain U.S. coins for their cash registers. Off to a rough start, but it should stabilize in a week or two.

The really interesting thing will be seeing how people who have never dealt with U.S. coins cope with the lack of numerals on them to indicate their value – an especially challenging fact, as U.S. coins’ size also does not reflect their relative value, with dimes being the smallest coin, and the half-dollar being the largest (larger than the dollar coins which will soon be popular here).

 

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New Day, New Country, Same Place   September 23rd, 2010

In about two and a half weeks, on the symbolic day of “10-10-10”, I will be participating in a little bit of real history. That’s the day that Bonaire, the island I live on in the Caribbean, switches countries.

Spirit of Bonaire by Jake Richter

Spirit of Bonaire by Jake Richter

Presently, Bonaire is part of the country of the Netherlands Antilles, which presently consists of four-and-a-half Caribbean islands: Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius (also known as Statia), and Dutch St. Maarten (which shares a geographic island mass with French St. Martin). Up until the mid-1980s Aruba was part of the Netherlands Antilles as well, but then split off to become its own country.

While the Netherlands Antilles (and Aruba) have always been part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, they have their own parliament and government infrastructure, based in Curacao (Aruba has its own, of course).

Some years ago, referendums were held on the five islands of the Netherlands Antilles about future status, and the result of those referendums as well as various political processes, is that on 10-10-10 the Netherlands Antilles fade into history as a country that has ceased to exist.

Taking its place will be two new countries – Curacao and St. Maarten, with the same status as Aruba – countries under the Dutch kingdom. ┬áThe three smaller islands, referred to locally as the BES islands (Bonaire, Eustatius, and Saba) will become municipalities of The Netherlands. What is a municipality of The Netherlands? It’s not particularly clear because Holland has never really reabsorbed past colonies, and as a result, many things are still in flux and being decided. And other than mostly vague policies, the details of the rules, laws, and procedures that will be in place after 10-10-10 have not been communicated to the people of the BES islands yet. In fact, it’s looking likely that many of these things, two and a half weeks before the changeover, still aren’t decided or determined.

And I don’t think everything will get figured out until later in 2011 because there are just so very many things involved in running remote islands from afar – from telecommunications and labor issues to governmental structure and the environment.

One thing is clear, though, and that is that the BES will not be treated the same as a province in Holland. Dutch citizens will still need a residence permit to live on Bonaire, for example (although these cannot be unjustly denied).

Also, on a monetary basis, we will be switching over to the use of the U.S. Dollar on January 1, 2011. Switching to the Euro would have been terrible for the local economy since most of our trade is with North America and in dollars, but it requires complete reeducation of locals who have no idea what a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter are. There will be quite a bit of chaos when the mandatory switch to the dollar happens.

We also end up with interesting logistical issues, such as how to properly address mail being sent to our island. Currently, people either put “Netherlands Antilles” or “Dutch Caribbean” as part of the address when they mail things here, but after 10-10-10 the former will no longer be correct, while the latter has never been a country per se, just a geographic identifier. Technically we should be “Bonaire, The Netherlands”, but that would mean our mail would get routed to Europe first before getting here – who knows how many weeks or months that would add to current mail delivery (which is already horrifically slow). The Dutch Kingdom office on Bonaire recommends we continue to have such mail addressed with “Dutch Caribbean” for the foreseeable future, incidentally.

In any event, even with all the planning that has gone into the process, there will be countless adjustments we will all have to make in dealing with a country dissolution and transfer, especially in rather untested waters, as no modern western nation has reabsorbed previously semi-independent locales in recent times (outside of the result of warfare, of course). It will be very interesting to be part of the process as well, instead of merely observing from afar.


A note about the image that appears in this blog post: Spirit of Bonaire is an original digital painting I created a few months ago to commemorate the transition of Bonaire back into the unknown of direct Dutch rule. More specifically, with the bright colors of the flag, which reaches out into the infinite, I meant to show that the spirit of Bonaire and its people is up to the challenge of transition, and strong enough to survive anything, even in the face of change and uncertainty.