A few weeks ago, I was at the Curacao courthouse to report on the sentencing of a Curacao-born Olympic athlete for the Netherlands who was arrested carrying cocaine while attempting to board a plane for Amsterdam. While waiting for his hearing, I sat on the wooden benches with other local journalists and watched as other cases were brought before the judge. One by one, the defendants, (all of whom were black men) were led into the room by their translators and lawyers (advocaten). My Dutch is still pretty pathetic, but I could make out that each of these men were answering for drug offenses. A Dutch journalist, who was kind enough to be my translator for the day, said, “This is pretty normal. And so many times its the black poor chaps that get caught. The white Dutch are also smuggling too.”
It is no secret internationally that Curacao is a hub for smuggling. There’s a healthy menu of trafficking options to choose from: cocaine, gold, humans, even counterfeit cigarettes. But what effects do these things have on the island itself?
Many of my friends tell me that cocaine here in Curacao is as cheap as it gets. “And its the good stuff,” they always say. I’ve heard stories of young Dutch interns who pick up cocaine habits, and frequent parties high as kites, grinding their teeth while they grind to the music. Walking down the street, one may see cholers, some of whom are drogadictos walking in a daze in the street. Unfortunately, sometimes these wandering drug addicts are subject to abuse and attacks by ill-intentioned souls. Plenty of times, I hear the stories of business owners and big men who have fallen prey to drugs. Usually the story starts like, “See that guy over there? He was/used to be/used to work at ____________ before the drugs set in blah blah blah.”
One of the major drug addiction rehab clinics in Curacao shut down earlier this year. How will people get help? That is, if they got help in the first place…
Another side effect to this whole drug business is the rise in violent crime. Talk to many people on the island and they say that the level of assaults (atrakos), shootings, and violence with weapons has risen drastically. While there could be other economic explanations for people turning to crime, many people blame the drug trade from Colombia and Venezuela. In the last few weeks, authorities have admitted to the existence of a gang war that has been resulting in reports of shootings and attacks quite frequently.
Let me not forget about alcohol. Drinking culture is heavy here in Curacao. As expected from a small island, there is not always much to do. Happy hours are big here. Every day there is a drinking time at some popular spot. While the happy hour life may be fun for a two week vacation, it can be too much for some living here. I know people who have gotten into serious accidents while driving intoxicated. My boyfriend tells me that numbers of Dutch people who come to Curacao pick up alcohol abuse problems and smoking habits. One of the tour operators, the quirky “Mr. Goodlife” (more about that trip at another time) told me, “Yeah, many Dutch people cannot handle it here, you know? They come here and then gotta go back ‘cuz they pick up alcohol problems. Too much freedom here sometimes.”