‘The degrading poverty of Curaçao is also slavery, especially for teenagers’

November 7, 2022 | John Samson

Anyone who starts talking about the colonial era and the past of slavery should also talk about poverty, says former Minister Omayra Leeflang (Education, Science, Culture and Sports). “Slavery still exists: widespread, humiliating poverty in Curaçao.”

Leeflang regularly talks to young people now that she organizes art projects as a pensioner. “These are terrible stories I hear,” says the former minister. She cares about the lives of teenagers on the island. According to Leeflang, teenage girls in particular are sexually abused by men because of their poverty situation in exchange for food.

A relationship since she was thirteen
“I have contact with a young girl who has been in a relationship with a 24-year-old man since she was thirteen years old,” says Leeflang. “It’s pedophilia. No stopping there! She also tells me: it’s the only way I can eat.

‘Our young people are bred to remain slaves’

“You see how it is accepted, under the watchful eye of her mother, who is also busy with various matters to get food for her young children. This is not normal. The worst thing about this is: she is not the only case,’ she says.

“Our youth are being bred to remain slaves. The slavery of dependence on older men is often their only way out.”

“Poverty has turned a blind eye”
“Growing up in poverty on Curaçao is hell for many young people,” says Leeflang. She has many more examples of what she hears from the young people. What has struck her in recent years are two things: the stories are ‘terrible’ and ‘they are not unique stories’.

Omayra longevity

“One boy I spoke to witnessed his brother’s murder at the age of nine because their father was a member of a gang. Now at the age of eighteen he has just witnessed another murder. How is this boy going to ever get out of here?” Leeflang says. “In response to this, this boy locks himself in. againafter all the family shootings back home, he’s not the only one.”

“How do you get out of this colonial past and the poverty that continues to spread? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves,” says Leeflang. “In fact, when I look at society as a whole, there is only one possible conclusion: Poverty is being turned a blind eye. Meanwhile, a group of our people are in slavery.”

‘Talk about poverty when you talk about the slavery past’
In the run-up to the apologies that the cabinet will make for the Dutch slavery past, the former minister argues for a dialogue – on Curaçao and at the level of the kingdom – to tackle poverty on the island.

‘If we don’t do it now, the situation will become unmanageable’

“My point is: we have come out of that slavery and colonial past. It is great that we are more aware of this, because the processing process must be done in a dignified way. At the same time, we must also tackle poverty when we talk about slavery. If we don’t do it now, the situation will become unmanageable.”

Self love through art
In the meantime, she is trying to offer ‘underprivileged youth’ perspective through the Performing Arts Foundation, she says. “You gain self-confidence and self-love by practicing art. I see what it does to young people, it sets them free because they find the positive force within themselves.”

“That way I can at least do something for those close to me, but this is just a drop in the ocean. This confrontation is so…” She falls silent. “I can’t find the words for that.”

“If you’ve ever helped people who are in poverty here on Curaçao and if you’ve heard the personal stories… It makes you hysterical,” says Leeflang. “You go to bed with it and you wake up with it.”

Finally sorry

The cabinet will apologize for the Dutch slavery past. 200 million euros will also be made available for a fund. Projects are paid for from this to raise awareness of the past of slavery.
There will also be a slavery museum, for which the cabinet is allocating 27 million euros. It is not yet clear when the apologies will be offered.

Leave a Comment