Influencer Ruben Severina

Picture: Jan de Jager

Ruben Severina as someone who has spent a great number of years as an advocate for Antillean people in Holland, could you share something about your educational background and your experiences?
I was trained to be a teacher, graduated from the ‘Akademia Pedagoliko Korsòu’ and I was and still am an advocate for the Antillean people in Holland for over 30 years.

We have seen the narrative regarding diversion and inclusiveness change over the years. Can you share with us your views on these developments, and also tell us how you got involved in this subject?
I came to Holland in 1989, and I was 33 years old. I got more actively involved in the Antillean Cause about 30 years ago. When in 2005 – 2007 the VVD politician Rita Verdonk, started suggesting changes that were going to affect Antilleans living in Holland deeply, I was chair of the organization MAAPP (Movimentu Antiano i Arubano pa Promové Partisipashon). Rita Verdonk was planning to introduce the so-called VIA regulation, that would require mandatory registration of all Antilleans living in Holland. This triggered me as well as some other people and we mobilized against this initiative we ended up in the Dutch parliament (Tweede Kamer) where we met with some members of parliament and this also lead to the end of the VIA regulation initiative.

MAAPP – Movementu Antiano i Arubano Pa Promové Partisipashon.
We started MAAPP at the turning of the millennium, on 21 of June 2000. Our goal was to mobilize as much as possible so that Antilleans would become more actively involved in politics at all levels of government in Holland. This meant to mobilize them to cast their votes during the different elections that are periodically held in Holland for the different levels of government, like the lower house elections (Tweede Kamer), the provincial and the Senate, and Municipal or European elections. But it also included mobilizing Antilleans to become an active member of a political party and strive to become elected politician so that they could ultimately appear on the election list during the elections. We were very successful in reaching this goal, as there were years when we had 60 candidates participating in different elections in one single year and the number of people with an Antillean background that cast their votes, also increased. Not all of those that participated in the elections on the elections lists were elected as there are several obstacles to overcome, making it not an easy feat to accomplish. First, you have to strive to be on an election list of a political party on a position as high as possible. If you are not high on the list, then you need to get the general assembly of that party to appoint you high on the list. This is why it was so important to stimulate as many Antillean as possible to become member of the political party you were affiliated to. If you weren’t high on the list and there was no change to be elected by ‘normal’ vote, you had to try to get elected by preferential vote. The biggest challenge is to become a member of the lower house (Tweede Kamer) or the Senate (Eerste Kamer) because it requires more votes that you need to get.

Antillean consultative organ
Beside trying to obtain direct political influence by way of elections, we also organized Antilleans socially. Till 2012 we had the so-called Antillean Policy (Antillianenbeleid) financed thy the national government during a moment in time. Because of this policy, we were able to stimulate and organize Antilleans in consultative organs in at least 19 municipalities. We used the Dutch word ‘Beraad’ to indicate those consultative bodies. These organ supported municipalities in achieving the goals set for the local Antillean communities. They were also a mean to organize the Antillean community in those municipalities. These platforms met frequently and their meetings were impressive, as they tried to give professional assistance to Antilleans and they tried to organize their influence. It was a larger platform than what we had before, and it aimed at collecting votes and making Antillean politically relevant. After a while the Antillean Policy stopped, the municipalities stopped their support for these Antillean organs and in the end, this structure collapsed. See in this our weakness: we were to dependent of governmental support to maintain our organization.

In 2008, I stepped down from MAAPP. I was asked by the board of the SPLIKA Foundation to again assume the position of chair. I was one of the founders of SPLIKA in 1990 and was chair till 2002, when i left to dedicate more time to MAAPP.

 “SPLIKA”was and still is a cultural platform, less effective if you wanted to exert political influence. MAAPP was a political organ. SPLIKA had weekly radio programs presenting cultural content, that was little known to many people. I became the president of SPLIKA back in 2009, where we focused on the recognition of “Papiamentu” in under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of  the Council of Europe. For It is our wish to achieve the highest grade of protection for Papiamento in Bonaire, this means protection under part III of this. In Holland, we strive to achieve protection under part II. It took a lot of time and effort since 2009, but at last, we see that there is some light in the tunnel. In April of this year, the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom decided positive on the recognition of Papiamento in Bonaire under this charter. It is expected that the procedure of getting parliamentary support will take 6 months. Where are not fully done yet, we will continue our fight and stay alert.

But I believe that some words of criticism regarding our policymakers on Aruba and Curaçao are in place. I often hear people express themselves in words like “Papiamentu is such a “dushi” language” and Papiamentu is our ‘dushi’ language” but when we ask for funding to support it, we don’t get the support we might expect.

You have been involved in different dialogue groups of late related to our slave history. Can you expand a little on this?
As the president of SPLIKA, we noticed that politicians started to look us up for advice on our slave history. I was approached to become a member of the ‘Dialogue Group of our Slavery Past‘. The official committee was instituted on 1-7-2020 and on 1-7-2021 we presented our recommendations to the minister of the Interior. This report is called ‘Ketenen van het verleden’. I believe that via this dialogue group, the dialogue on our islands regarding slavery past got an impulse. For example, when former Governor of the Antilles and Curaçao, Frits Goedgedrag suggested continuation of what the dialogue group started, on all 6 island people were enthusiastic and so the Interinsulair Exchange regarding the Impact of Slavery became reality. Frits became the president of this consultation and I was appointed secretary. Giby Basilio is the representative of Curaçao, and Luc Alofs from Aruba. Arthur Sealey is the representative of Bonaire and for Sint Martin we have Ludmilla Duncan, the representative of Saba is Vito Charles that of Statia Alida Francis. We jointly try to define the impact of slavery on each island and try to look for ways to support what every island wants to achieve in this matter. I made it my mission to open the door also for the Antilleans narrative in regard to this subject. As Caribbean Islands forming part of the Dutch kingdom, we want to be seen and heard. One great achievement of the Insular Exchange is that the representatives of all six islands participated at the round tables talks of the Tweede Kamer on June 27.

2022 Board member NiNSEE
After that, I recently was asked by the NiNSEE, ‘Nationaal Instituut Nederlands Slavernijverleden en Erfenis’, that the 1st of July exists 20 years, to become a board member. I am a board member since the end of March of this year (2022).

It seems like the whole discussion on the historical role of Holland concerning slavery has accelerated very much after the apologies of the municipality of Amsterdam and Utrecht last year. Is this true and how do you explain this development?
As I explained already a lot was going on, but the momentum changed after George Floyd’s assassination by a policeman in the USA in 2021, which became a catalyst also in Holland. It resulted in a demonstration of over 10.000 people in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost. All this happened during our work in the ‘Dialooggroep Slavernij Verleden’This generated a lot of attention to Holland’s role in slavery.

Also ‘Kick Out Zwarte Piet‘ helped create momentum, it lead to a lot of manifestations against “Zwarte Piet”. All this resulted in specific suggestions formulated on how to make Holland a less racist country and less anti-black people, with no discrimination, this became so prominent, but after that peak momentum last year, the overall attention for this subject matter seems to be weathering down. Prime Minister Rutte talked with different people, and slowly but surely the hype seems to be evaporating.

July 2022 Cooperative Black Economic Empowerment UA (Uitgesloten Aansprakelijkheid)
But we didn’t give up and  I am now involved in a new initiative. Activists both from mostly Surinam and Antillean descent started to develop a new initiative named Cooperative Black Economic Empowerment UA (Uitgesloten Aansprakelijkheid). On 22-07-2022 this initiative was officialized via notary and on Sunday the 17th of July we had our first formal meeting. The Coöp BEE UA intends to unite the knowledge that is available under black professionals to influence government and institutions in Holland.

President Ad Interim of OCAN
As for myself, I contribute gladly to the fortification of OCAN. OCAN changed its structure to a Supervisory Board and a Board of Directors structure. Lionel Martijn is the CEO and I am the President of the Supervisory Board. On the 31st of December this year, I will step down. I sincerely hope that I will be replaced by a worthy and competent next (younger) leader.  

Do you believe that the Dutch government will soon offer its apology for its role in the slave trade?
The George Floyd manifestations last year served as a catalyst. Several municipalities started investigations on their slavery past. Like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. They all offered excuses based on these investigations. More municipalities and provinces, even financial institutions like banks and insurance companies, are following their examples. Particular is the action of the municipality of Utrecht and ‘De Nederlandsche Bank‘. They did not only offer excuse, they also provided an amount of money to start reparations with. I hope this last example will trigger the national government to do the same.

In the Surinam community, the issue of apologies and reparation is not over yet and they will not let the Dutch Government get off the hook. But we should be careful that this doesn’t become an obsession. The Dutch government in its turn is afraid of the recovery payments that might be demanded. But at the other hand Holland is a rich country, they permitted slaves to be held. I believe strongly that the state should offer some gesture to sustain apologies. This gesture could be based on the compensation the government paid to former slave owners when slavery was abolished in the 19th century. But we should take in account that since the trans-Atlantic slavery started, there were more slaves than those who gained liberty on July 1st, 1863. Ant then there is the inflation.

Due to the efforts of NiNSEE and Kick Out Zwarte Piet, as it turned out to be, not an exclusive struggle by black people, as white people and youngsters and elderly also demonstrate. There is broad support and this is a positive sign that times are changing.

Some years ago, politicians could say, “no” we are not going to do this. But times are changing fast.

I believe that on the first of July 2023 it might happen, it would be a symbolic date for apologies to be offered by the Dutch government, as it would be 160 years of the abolishment of slavery. This is what I expect as the official reaction of the Dutch government to the report on ‘Slavernij Verleden’ is due in the latter part of this year. But apologies without a solid gesture in the direction of reparation is unacceptable.

” I believe that we have responsibilities too.”

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
If Prime Minister Rutte would offer his apologies, that would not be the end of our challenges, as we would still have to discuss issues related to recovery payments. The 10 million Euro that the DNB offered was a specific deed of the director of the DNB. The moment this happened, people started expressing themselves like: “Only this amount? It is too low.” But at the other hand, it is our challenge to calculate a just restoration payment. Therefore, we must search ourselves to determine what the negative impact of slavery is. Bases on this, we must figure out what we think should be done – and by whom – to eliminate that negative impact. Only then we will be able to talk about a suitable gesture. So I believe that we have responsibilities too.

Talking about responsibility. As an example. “Amigoe di Korsòu” years ago had a forum on their website. One of the topics was: “What are  you going do to help build our country?” Only a few of the contributions expressed what the writer really wanted to do. All other contributions referred to what other people should  do, not themselves. ‘De beste stuurlui staan aan wal’. People do not seem to assume responsibility. It was noticeable that people were looking to the government for answers and action; they were talking about what was not possible, and this whilst we have so many knowledgeable engineers and academic graduates that have studied at the same Universities as Dutch people. We are unable to progress fast enough because of these disempowering mindsets that we are unaware of that hold us back. Is this an example of the impact of slavery.

“Who is going to take over…?

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
My concern is, who is going to take over? We have achieved some milestones over the past years, I have high hopes concerning this youngster Gilberto Morishaw. Things will continue one way or the other. There might be changes, but things will continue.

Furthermore, last year during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there we black and white people, youngsters, adults, and elderly people involved in the protests, thus people from all walks of life. That is what gives me hope for the things that will happen in Holland. 

Contact information
+31 6 1733 6180

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Ruben Severina is a dedicated, alert, collaborative, and consistent advocate for the Antillean Cause in Holland for many years. As a board member in different organizations and platforms, he has always been mobilizing, organizing, educating, and creating political awareness among Antilleans and influencing different people and institutions that one way or the other, affect Antilleans. As a board member of SPLIKA, Ruben has also been a lifelong advocate for “Papiamentu”. What stands out about Ruben is his consistency and his at times, still diplomacy approach, in different crucial moments in times over the past 30 years. Of late he has again been involved in one of the most pressing themes regarding the impact the slave trade has played on the Dutch Caribbean islands and the role Holland has played. For all these reasons, we consider Ruben one of the 250 influencers of the island, representing the “Cultural and Political” sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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