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The status scandal on the island of Saint-Martin

De
198 pages
The adverse effects of the 1986 law of defiscalization generated an unprecedented upheaval on half of the island of Saint-Martin. From a quiet rural life, the northern half moved into a rampant urbanization, an exponential increase of the population, a chronic unemployment rate...Twenty years later, another law is looming on the horizon: the organic law defining a new status for this commune. The content of the "road map" was decided in the sole interest of the political leaders and of a few businessmen.
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Daniella JEFFRY

THE STATUS SCANDAL
ON THE ISLAND OF SAINT-MARTIN

L'Harmattan 5-7, rue de l'École-Polytechnique;

75005 Paris

FRANCE
L'Hannattan Hongrie Espace Fac..des L'Harmattan Sc. Sociales, BP243, Université Kinshasa Pol. et Adm. ;

Kônyvesbolt Kossuth
1053

L. u. 14-16 Budapest

KIN XI - RDC

de Kinshasa

L'Harmattan Italia Via Degli Artisti, 15 10124 Torino ITALIE

L'Harmattan Burkina Faso 1200 logements villa 96 12B2260 Ouagadougou 12

http://www.librairieharmattan.com diffusion.hannattan@wanadoo.fr harmattan 1@wanadoo.fr @ L'Harmattan, 2006 ISBN: 2-296-01564-6 EAN: 9782296015647

Acknowledgments

With the people of Saint-Martin in mind primarily, and Caribbean and American readers on a wider scale, it was necessary for me not to present them with just a translation of the book, Le scandale statutaire sur l'île de Saint-Martin. It was my belief that there should be no obstacle to their understanding of the complex implications involved in such a confusing drama. Not to be too explanatory in my text, I thought that I needed to add a glossary of select words. However, as I finished sorting these words, I felt that readers from Sint Maarten, the southern part of the island, would not fully grasp the implications of, for instance, "referendum" or Hautonomy" in the northern part, as these words cover different situations in two different political systems. So, I chose rather to place these words within the political and administrative context of France and, in particular, the northern part of Saint-Martin. The intended glossary became "Appendix 2: Administrative Organization". I therefore recommend the reader who is not familiar with the French political system to begin with Appendix 2.
I am thankful and grateful to Signe Nelson, who so willingly accepted to read my translation, adjusted the language, and indicated the areas that would need further explanation. l greatly enjoyed her reassuring comments. I would also like to thank the graphic designer, Alain Paméole, who skillfully reproduced my idea of what the cover of the book should be: the island of Saint-Martin emergingfrom its region, the Caribbean.

CONTENTS

Ackn owledgmen ts

.......

5 Il 17 18 18 19 21 22 24 26

INTRO DU CTI ON ....................................................

I. QUE RIES

.............

..

1. Split in the Municipal Majority .......................... 2. The People were Puzzled.................................... 3. Consultations...................................................... 4. Studi es ................................................................ 5. Political Unity..................................................... 6. Choice of Article 74............................................ 7. Electoral Rivalry.................................................

II. SAINT-MARTIN, A SPECIAL COMMUNE OF GU ADELO UPE 29 1. Colonial Period 30 2. Commune of Guadeloupe 32 3. Customs Crisis 35 4. The Mayor's Disaffection Towards a Change of
Status. ................................................................ 36

III. PLAY OF INFLUENCES ................................. 1. Work Done by the Steering Committee.............. 2. Attempt at an Agreement.................................... 3. Session of Local Liberties................................... 4. Congress of Basse- Terre ..................................... 5. Point ofView of the Mayor's Cabinet ................ 6. Pressure for Unity............................................... 7. Split Within the USM Party................................

41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50

8. Strategy for Unity 9. Vote of the Motion 10. The Second Steering Committee Il. Unitary March 12. Trip to Pari s IV. INFORMATION AND STUDIES 1. Pre-eminence of the Steering Committee 2. Withdrawal of the Population 3. Turbulence Within the Steering Committee 4. Conferences and Studies 5. Orientation Document 6. Support Committee for 74 V. DECEMBER 7, 2003 CONSULTATION 1. Voice Against Article 74 2. Political Upheaval 3. Consultation 4. Cantonal and Regional Elections VI. FIRST DISSATISFACTIONS 1. Municipal Commissions 2. Mission led by the General Inspectors of Administration 3. Visit ofOverseas Minister 4. Reactions VII. THE STATUS HAS DRIFTED 1. Pre-draft Organic Law 2. Reactions 3. Second Version 4. Reactions 5. Trip of the 'Top Elected Officials'
6. Lobbying in Pan s .. . .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. . .. . .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. . .

51 54 55 57 59 63 68 70 74 76 80 86 89 89 92 96 101 105 106 108 110 112 119 119 123 131 135 138
146

7. Reactions 8. The Draft Organic and OrdinaryLaw of
Saint

153
164

- Martin.

. .. .. .. .. .. . . . . . .. ... . . . . . . . . .. . . . .. . . . . .. . . .. . . .. . . . . . . ...

8

9. Ousting of the Municipal Council. 10. Statement of Grounds for the Organic Law Il. Senate Information Report N° 329 CONCLUSION APPENDIX 1: LAST MINUTE APPENDIX 2: ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANIZATION ABBREVIA TI 0 NS. BIBLIOGRAPHY

168 172 175 181 187 191 197 199

9

INTRODUCTION

Throughout the process towards the change of status under Article 74, I have decided to take record my concerns on what has been taking place on our island since the beginning of the year 2003. This was quickly after the conclusions of the inquiry carried out during the Session on Local Liberties, organized by the Paris government relative to the constitutional reform and, in particular, to the proposed new decentralization. The reform aimed at transferring more State administrative responsibility pertaining to the running of their affairs to the French departments and regions, including the overseas departments and regions. The way the politicians interpreted this reform to the population led to ideas of autonomy and even, for some, to ideas of independence. In fact, this transfer of more administrative responsibility, even if the finances were made available to carry it out, meant for the Paris government a mere transfer, and not a sharing of the power held by the central administration. Yet, the headline of the Steering Committee's press release was: 74 is the power with thefinances. The transfer of administrative responsibility could even mean something more painful. It could become a financial burden for overseas departments and regions: a withdrawal of the State from the responsibilities that it used to assume towards the overseas departments, as was stated by some rightist politicians of Guadeloupe. This

was undoubtedly why the voters in Guadeloupe and Martinique, eventually, voted massively against Article 73, whereas the presidents of the general and regional councils, representing the Left and the Right respectively, forcefully campaigned for this reform. What this reform proposed fell far short of the past or present aspirations of Saint-Martiners. It came at a time when the financial situation of the commune has been crippled by a chronic budget deficit due to poor management, waste of public funds and the satisfaction of personal interests. At this stage, the percentage of the native population was dwindling at an alarming rate on account of the exponential increase, through immigration and birth of the non-native population. This additional population was no longer a product of the imagination but a blatant reality. Therefore, it seemed paradoxical that the people of Saint-Martin were happy to move towards a change of status. They wondered for whose benefit? It is strange that for this change of status under Article 74, both French businessmen and professionals, and local politicians referred to the long-time desire of the natives to have an administrative and political status that would be adjusted to the realities of this half island of Saint-Martin. Were the natives being seduced as to the advantages of Article 74 that would bring them what they desired? These same French businessmen and professionals had expressed their fierce opposition to any change of status requested by Saint-Martiners in the early 90's. They had instead contacted the President of the Regional Council in Guadeloupe, Lucette Michaux-Chevry, to ensure that Saint-Martin be granted simply a fiscal and social status. In the euphoric state of this political seduction, the natives did not think. They did not consider their already 12

diminished position during the last twenty years or so in this society created from scratch, in which natives were resolutely pushed away from the economic development and consigned to social and linguistic quasi-inexistence. Of course, the few natives, who have facilitated the development of such exclusion, have enriched themselves in the process. How can a population accept that others lure them into self-destruction? What is happening to the natives? Are they too busy squabbling with each other and scrambling to survive that they do not see? They do not understand. They do not realize that they resist when there is no reason to do so. They talk when nobody wants to hear them, much less to listen to what they are saying. They make attempts at negotiation when everything is already decided. This is the condition of those who have been seduced and rejected. This is the state into which an ugly system puts anyone who allows himself to be cheated; it is a state of general anesthesia. You do not feel for yourself any longer. You lose grasp of reality. I call that zombification. This happens to all peoples who are brainwashed by a shameful system of domination and exploitation and who are compensated by privileges and bribes. Wasn't it just such a system that made Saint-Martiners a minority on their own island? How could they forget that? Aren't these the same unscrupulous and greedy elected representatives that some fanatics are following blindly in this new venture? The State did not protect SaintMartiners from the adverse effects of the law of defiscalization, and why should it? Wasn't that the role of the local elected representatives? And today, will the State protect Saint-Martiners from the adverse effects of Article

13

74? Why should it? Isn't that the role of the local elected representatives? The savviest player in this drama is still the State. The people were made to believe that they were the ones who would decide about their own future. To confuse the voters, the State shrewdly created a slick distinction between referendum and consultation. And the naive politicians fell into the trap. For, the State has readily confirmed today: now that you have voted for Article 74, you will get it. You have overwhelmingly approved it. However, 75% of voters out of a participation of 44% of the electorate only represented 33% who voted 'yes'. For all those who thought that the transfer of more administrative responsibility from the State, the Department, and the Region to the new collectivity was a transfer of power, I would like to remind them of a few elements in the overseas minister's speech 'delivered before the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies in Paris on Friday, November 7, 2003. She insisted that the Constitutional Reform of March 28, 2002 has officially confirmed that the overseas departments belonged to the Republic, because they were mentioned by name in Article 72-3 of the French Constitution, which at the same time sealed the union of the French People and the Overseas Peoples. She avoided using the term 'overseas populations', as stated in the said article of the New Constitution. In fact, according to her, the overseas populations were an integral part of the French people. This illustrates the concept of assimilation. In other words, since this 2003 Constitutional Reform, the overseas departments could no longer aspire to selfdetermination in the sense of the United Nations Charter. 14

The minister stated that, it was because these departments and collectivities were mentioned by name in the Constitution. She added that, if an overseas collectivity wanted to withdraw, whatever its status, the Constitution would have to be modified. It is unlikely for this to happen in a near future. With this Constitutional Reform, these collectivities have fallen into a trap, and it is necessary for them to be conscious of it. Such a clarification from the overseas minister was directed at all those who could have pretended that Article 74 would bring more autonomy, even possibly lead to independence. Those who were promoting the status change never referred to this warning from the minister. The overseas minister emphatically stated in the same speech: The days when Article 74 represented a sort of waiting-room for independence for overseas territories are definitely over. (St. Martin's Week ofNovember 10, 2003) Consequently, there is no independence in sight for Saint-Martin under the provisions of Article 74, and the level of autonomy that the new collectivity will enjoy will depend on the manner in which the elected representatives will handle the problems that they face today and those that are awaiting them tomorrow. Whether they succeed or not, the State will be overseeing and the substitution process will continue for the sake of better governance. In reality, the outrageous growth of the population will require urgent solutions and the widespread problems will remain unsolvable. It will be in the interest of no ones to solve them. They will be too costly.

15

I. QUERIES

December 7, 2003 was the date when the voters of Saint-Martin were consulted with a double voting. The voters of Saint-Martin also had to vote for the "consultation" of Guadeloupe on the same day and in the same polling booths. The second election was announced in October 2003, just before the opening of the electoral campaign, without any explanation. Why did the voters of Saint-Martin take part in the "consultation" of Guadeloupe? Why, in Saint-Martin, did the five political leaders, forming a Steering Committee together with a few French businessmen and professionals, choose Article 74 without previously discussing matters with the voters? Obviously, it was the only possible choice, they said. Why, at the beginning of the campaign, did the President of the Region call in to a radio program of the Steering Committee, to invite the voters of Saint-Martin to vote for Article 74, whereas she advocated Article 73 for Guadeloupe, which meant one council instead of the two current ones? Did she fear a vote favorable to Article 73? Why in the world was she interested in encouraging the voters of Saint-Martin to vote for Article 74, when this choice contradicted her usual logic, which was so clearly expressed in the 2002 legislative elections, to keep SaintMartin under her wing? What then was this new logic that she was displaying with such conviction?

1. Split in the Municipal Majority Why, three weeks prior to the "consultation", after it was announced in the press that the mayor of Saint-Martin was quitting politics, making him the last mayor of the commune, did he suddenly reverse his statement. "He stays" was the headline in the press. At the same time, his municipal majority split into three political groups: one, the Steering Committee group supported a status for SaintMartin, without the mayor, although he would campaign for a straight 'yes'; another, Horizon 2007, dominated by the first deputy mayor, supported the 'no/yes'; and a third, Reform and Responsibility, dominated by two municipal councilors of the majority, supported a straight 'no'. What a collapse! Then, a whirlwind hit. The groups shifted. Horizon 2007 corrected its position. The press has misinterpreted its intentions. This group was, then, in favor of a 'responsible yes' to save the unity of the municipal majority that had just turned to 'no'. No one publicly disclosed why. One of the municipal councilors of the group in favor of a straight 'no' shifted to 'yes' with the mayor. He was misled. The name of the mayor could not be found on the list of any of the political groups. Did this absence enable him to better change position? All this took place in a matter of three days. That was a lot of confusion for such a simple referendum: 'yes' or 'no' for the change of status under Article 74.

2. The People were Puzzled What do you want the people to do, when they have not obtained any satisfactory answers to their troubling 18

questions during the last nine months of information - or rather, propaganda - from the Steering Committee? They were the spectators of a frantic scrambling on the part of all the political leaders, which bewildered everyone - at the least - three weeks prior to the "consultation". Then, the press announced that the "Big Boss" was not quitting politics anymore; he had managed to calm down his troops. The campaign resumed in a subdued atmosphere. It was dominated by the Steering Committee, with a limited following, though very much publicized on the channels of local television and radios on both sides of the island. The overseas minister intervened from a distance in this fracas in a threatening tone. It was understood from her statements that if Saint-Martin did not vote 'yes', the commune of Saint-Martin would return to the automatic implementation of French Law, without any possibility to claim the historical exemptions that the island has enjoyed to date. Did she forget that the orientation document placed Saint-Martin in the automatic implementation of French Law that characterized Article 73? A somewhat strange statement, this intervention on November 7, 2003 before the Senate! It was vaguely commented by the supporters of Article 74 in their attempt to get back everyone on the right track. Didn't the overseas minister declare that the State would not interfere and that it was the responsibility of the voters to decide? Why has she changed her tune?

3. Consultations The referendum dates were decided for Guadeloupe, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, and Martinique. The island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean had already 19

withdrawn from this reform by means of an amendment to the Constitution. La Reunion waived its rights permanently. This overseas department has excluded itself. French Guiana struggled in vain to have its "consultation", but French interests in the Guiana Space Center seemed too important to be left in the hands of French Guiana. French Guiana was excluded. We heard so many times that this reform was not intended only for the overseas departments and territories. All French departments and regions were concerned. In Saint-Martin one carefully avoided to explain then that decentralization was automatic and that only the overseas departments were subject to consultative referendums. In fact, two aspects were present in this constitutional reform: the mandatory decentralization of eight State administrative responsibilities for all, and the status change by means of a consultative vote in overseas departments. The right to be different! Why decide about the fate of overseas departments with the exception of French Guiana in such a rush? If French Guiana can wait, why not the others? And why not SaintMartin, in particular, since the northern part of the island has been under the higher supervision of the Prefect of Guadeloupe and the Regional Audit Chamber since 1999 on account of a huge budget deficit. The local administration had difficulty in reducing this budget deficit in spite of its yearly budgetary maneuvering. The recommendations of the Regional Audit Chamber, especially with respect to the registration of potential taxpayers in order to reduce this deficit, remained the same even in November 2003. How then, could the municipal majority, after having already voted in 2003 for 20

the rise in the price of running water, a 15% increase of local taxes, and a loan, make up in 2004 for the deficit that the Regional Audit Chamber evaluated not at some 1 M€ and plus, as the Administrative Account indicated, but at some 8 M€? How then, would the municipal majority handle the transfer of more administrative responsibility from the department and the region of Guadeloupe, in addition to the four State administrative responsibilities requested under Article 74 for the end of the year with such a deficit, actually amounting to about 20 M€, considering that the Administrative Account had always shown blatant discrepancy?

4. Studies Why was the reality of the financial situation of the Commune not at all taken into account in the financial study commissioned by the Steering Committee, whereas the transfer of administrative responsibility was entirely based on a hypothetic reform of the fiscal system? It consisted of creating indirect taxation while levying direct taxes and increasing the number of taxpayers for the absolute benefit of the new collectivity. In this way, more people would pay their taxes, even the illegal immigrants, according to the document, and those who pay today would pay less tomorrow, but also those who are evading their taxes today would pay tomorrow out of good citizenship (Saint-Martin towards its Status Change within the French Republic). It is as simple as that. Maybe too simple to be true. Nevertheless, these were the arguments that the Steering Committee, under the direction of the mayor, used to convince the voters to cast their vote in favor of 21