~ Tension and difference of opinion by Dutch and French on border reopening.~
MARIGOT/PHILIPSBURG:--- The containers and barriers placed at the Oyster Pond and Low Lands French and Dutch borders were removed by Dutch Law enforcement on Sunday morning.
The barriers that were placed at the Bellevue and Belle Plaine (Belvedere) Borders were also removed however, gendarmes that were taking shelter at the Belvedere crossing under the various sheds were forced out of the shelter since huge blocks were placed at the entrance and exit avoiding the gendarmes from entering the Dutch part of the border. This leaves the gendarmes in the hot sun and no place to rest their legs as they continue to monitor the movement of people entering the French side of the island. Persons desiring to cross over to the French side must produce their identification cards and the C waiver that were issued by the Prefecture of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.
What was described as friendly closer by Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and Sylvie Feucher when the borders were closed on March 6th, 2020 certainly did not end on a friendly note on Sunday.
The French and Dutch residents have been co-existing for decades at least since the treaty of Concordia of 1648 however, the coronavirus allowed authorities on both sides to infringe on the freedom the island nation once enjoyed, residents on both sides have relatives residing on either side and they were all prevented from taking care of elderly family members during the lockdown and border controls. Residents on both sides including elected officials objected to what Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs did when she agreed to close the borders without considering the effects it would have had on the people.
What made matters worst this past week is when the Minister of Justice Anna Richardson decided to place customs officers at the border to search all vehicles crossing the borders. These custom officers that are supposed to lead by example with the measures in place to flatten the curve on the coronavirus were the ones searching vehicles without even sanitizing their hands. At no time the customs officers were getting assistance from the French customs (Duane). The customs controls were the sole initiative of the Dutch authorities. SMN News contacted Minister of Justice Anna Richardson on Saturday and she said that the authorities received tips that residents were not only exchanging food items at the border but much more than meets the eyes were being exchanged. Richardson said it has been a while now Dutch law enforcement officers have not been doing their duties and that these controls will continue whether or not the people like it, that however changed on Saturday evening when the Prime Minister sent out a press statement stating the Dutch law enforcement were going to be pulled away on Sunday, May 17th, 2020.
On Sunday morning some residents gathered at the Bellevue border in a silent protest of the border closers. Among those that protested was Member of Parliament Rolando Brison who said that he never supported the closing of the borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brison said there is something special about the borders on St. Maarten/St. Martin and there have to be reasons why the State of France and the Dutch Government wants to maintain the closing of the borders. Brison said COVID-19 is a pandemic that affects the world and while no one has a handbook on how to deal with the pandemic one thing he is sure of is that the borders in Spain and Germany are not closed even though the death rate in France is much higher.
During the border controls, many residents on the French side had to suffer due to the fact they were unable to access their money at banks on the Dutch side of the island, while this issue was raised by SMN News not much was done to assist those persons residing on the French side and have their money on the Dutch side.
While the Council of Ministers took a stand this weekend after several Members of Parliament including the Chairman of Parliament Rolando Brison openly objected to the decisions taken by his government, the damage is already done and those that did it will certainly pay at the polls come next election.
Today it’s good for the French State to take responsibility border management with the Dutch side
"The Minister of Sint Maarten, Mrs. Silveria Jacobs, kept me informed on Saturday, May 16 in the morning, of the decision of the government of Sint Maarten to lift border control as of Monday, May 18, the containment phase having taken effect late Sunday, May 17 in the evening, on the Dutch side.
During preliminary discussions in a tripartite meeting, Thursday, May 14, Prime Minister Jacobs had already expressed her willingness to end border controls with Saint Martin, as of Monday, May 18, while the local representation of the State, madame the prefect, wished to continue these checks.
The Community has no decision-making power in this area. However, from the start of the crisis, as elected representatives of Saint-Martin, I, with my First Vice-President Valérie Damaseau, participated in the weekly tripartite meetings in a spirit of cooperation and fraternity and in order to bring our vision.
We, therefore, communicated to our counterparts, during this meeting on Thursday, May 14, our favorable opinion as to the principle of stopping the controls. We have proposed to the competent authorities that their decision may take place during the following week, depending on the results of the last screening campaigns of the two parties, while the whole island has now started the phase of deconfinement.
After Minister Silveria Jacobs' official announcement on Saturday morning following the vote on Parliament's motion, I immediately contacted the Minister of Overseas Territories, Ms. Annick Girardin, to brief her on the situation in Saint Martin and inform her of the position of all the elected representatives of the Collectivity. I therefore asked her, also by post, that France put an end to border controls, in harmony with Sint Maarten; even if the decision was taken earlier than planned in a tripartite meeting.
The Collectivity plays its role in this cooperation between sovereign states, with the aim of harmonizing decisions as much as possible, in the context of this crisis.
But it is now up to the French State alone to take responsibility for border management.
Today, our common challenge with Sint Maarten is to revive the economy of the island and successfully complete the deconfinement stage jointly. This is a challenge that we must take up together, in the interest of the health of the inhabitants of the two parts of the island.
We will then have to prepare together for the opening of international air borders to boost tourism on the island.
Saint Martin and Sint Maarten are inseparable and must go hand in hand to face deconfinement in the context of this health crisis, but also so that the population of the island can relive and resume their habits of work and life while respecting the barrier gestures that are now part of our daily lives. Border control was instituted for reasons of health emergencies which no longer exist today. In fact, the current health resources, both French and Dutch, have been reinforced and must henceforth make it possible to deal with the occurrence of new cases. The health situation on the island was managed jointly, in good intelligence, with a common desire to face up together. Today, the government of Sint-Maarten and the French state services, in collaboration with the community of Saint-Martin, must be able to continue to manage the future health situation together and take the necessary decisions in the event of need.".
Press Release from President of COM Daniel Gibbs.