Colonialism in a new jacket

Colonialism is the phenomenon that countries (usually of Western European origin) dominate overseas territories and the populations in those territories for economic, strategic and/or political considerations with the intention of earning money and/or protecting interests. From the 17th until well into the 20th century, the Netherlands owned large overseas territories: the Dutch East Indies, Suriname and the colony of Curaçao. The Netherlands created the conditions, the trade with which a lot of money was made was left to companies and/or private individuals who made extensive use of enslaved Africans. The Netherlands owes its present wealth largely to its colonial past.

Against this background, let’s consider the situation regarding Plantation Bolivia on Bonaire. The area is located in the northeast of the island, is approximately 3,000 hectares in size, forms 10% of the island, with the coastline of 15 km adjacent to currently untouched coral reef. The zoning of the area is ‘open landscape’, in order to preserve the open landscape and natural values for now and future generations. So it is not allowed to build.

The plantation was bought at the end of 2019 for 12 million dollars by the Dutch Quote 500 millionaire Breemhaar. It soon becomes apparent that Breemhaar does not actually know what he has bought. In an interview with De Telegraaf at the beginning of 2020, he calls his purchase ‘a devasted area’. He does not know that he owns the largest dry tropical forest of the Antillean islands, which is assessed by Wageningen University, among others, as an ecologically valuable area with a unique landscape. He does not know what he has bought, but he does know what he wants to do with it: earn a lot of money by ‘developing’ the area. A euphemism for clearing out vegetation and building. He wants to make a profit of at least 100 million, he confides to someone. This is also apparent when he declines an offer of 24 million from an American, who wants to leave it natural.

Breemhaar manages to convince the politically responsible commissioner of his intentions. He does this by presenting a plan that he knows will be well received. With social housing, nature development, cycle paths, vegetation restoration and agricultural activities. However, the plan is full of inaccuracies and also contains untruths. An example is his claim that he will build on 10% of the area and that 90% will remain a natural area. The commissioners give in and the lieutenant governor will even sign a letter of intent with Breemhaar in February 2022. Two years earlier, the same governor stated in an interview with Trouw that he is concerned about the balance between the economy and nature on the island, explicitly mentioning ‘developers who are making plans to build on open areas’. Why did the lieutenant governor change his opinion? Well, who knows, may say so.

What Breemhaar really wants will become apparent in April 2022. We managed to get hold of a housing survey that was reported on his behalf in September 2021 and which was kept secret. It states that he will develop 700 hectares of the 1,900 hectares that can be developed (almost 37%!) by building 1,900 homes in the middle and high price segment. In addition, it appears that the main ecological structure (corridor) of the island is going to be destroyed and that he wants to build houses above the caves of Spelonk and Roshikiri in which drawings of the first inhabitants of the island have been preserved. Social housing has disappeared and there is no word left about nature restoration and conservation.

No one on the island has asked Breemhaar to destroy Plantation Bolivia and build 1,900 houses there. The development of the area is also not necessary, according to the (draft) Spatial Development Plan. There are sufficient locations on the island that are suitable for new homes to meet the housing need, taking into account the population growth up to 2050. And yet Breemhaar continues his plans and manipulates the board and the island council members in the direction of his plans towards a change of zoning with shiny leaflets, smooth talk, urban planners flown in from the Netherlands (and perhaps also a few pieces of silver).

Breemhaar buys almost 3,000 hectares of ‘open landscape’ on an island 8,000 kilometers away from his Western European hometown for pennies on the dollar. He sees his chance to earn a lot of money by destroying the largest dry tropical on the Antillean islands, building almost 2,000 homes that no one has asked for and that will be bought by rich Americans and Europeans because they are too expensive for the average Bonairean.  If that’s not neo-colonialism?

Nature is the only ‘wealth’ that Bonaire has, the basis of the tourist economy and distinguishes Bonaire from other islands. In short, without nature no tourists, no income for now and future generations. Can we prevent the future of Bonaire from being colonized? Sure! First of all, it is up to the commissioners of the island and the members of the Island Council. They can block the change of zone to housing by not cooperating. Hopefully they are aware that there will be elections early next year and that Bolivia could play a very important role. But the parliament in The Hague also has the opportunity to protect nature on Plantation Bolivia and to stop Breemhaar’s plans. Nature and the environment represent a supra-local interest and that, in addition to the obligations under various treaties, makes the European Dutch government responsible for their protection. In short, responsible that sufficient natural and recreational space is secured in accordance with the future size of the population.

The most important question we need to ask ourselves is, are we good ancestors? How do we want future generations to look back on us?


Woningmarktonderzoek Breemhaar september 2021