Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, April 28th, 2019

Dinner & Dessert

Enjoy your day off – in my case I would require a week off, all that activity is killing, however in the event that you would like to do something different, here we go:

Restaurant Anno 1877. No need to mortgage your first born, or sell the dog, this place is reasonably priced and charming.

It’s not quite open yet, the official ribbon cutting in on May 5th, but the kitchen is testing recipes and the dining room is ready to receive patrons looking for tasty food, at reasonable portions, and fair prices!

The old cunucu house on Wilhelminastraat used to be the home of Cuba’s Cooking, today it hosts Chef Linda Pool, backed-up by partner Annie, who is still operating the F&B at Talk of the Town Resort until later this year, at which point she will join Linda in the kitchen at Restaurant Anno 1877.

Chef Linda has her loyal local following, a clientele that is fond of her classic French / International cooking, and likes to attend her special, monthly, culinary events, which will also continue at the new location.

Chef Linda was among staffers dismissed when Chez Mathilde declared bankruptcy, in 2010, and according to me that crew never received anything except the absolute legal minimum from the operator who shut it down.

The chef went out on her own and ran Twister Cafe for a few years, but recently a friend told her about the historic Wilhelminastraat location, prompting her to make the move.

Linda reports that her brother, bartender Heinj doubled up as carpenter and built the dining room’s rustic tables and chairs. Tall and elegant Maitre D’ Romalo is a familiar face, previously at Wilhelmina!

Look forward to the Asparagus menu, soon, and a Mother’s Day event, with an endless parade of small delectable bites at $55 per person, but hurry up, the three cunucu dining rooms accommodates just 32 reservations.

For dessert, the Piece of Cake dessert truck in Tanki Leendert is a new out of the box option, with very young pastry chef, Kyle Ruiz. The initiate is to be admire.

Chef Ruiz, an EPI graduate who tested the water working for others, reached the conclusion he would like to work for himself, best.

The night we came by, mom was in the driver’s seat of the Dessert Truck, and Kyle behind the counter. He offers classic Aruban desserts, cakes, cookies, tres leche, and quesillo.

My favorites pruim and cashupete cakes are on the menu, together with chateau, buracho and druif. I hear the grape cake is special, it’s on my bucket list to try!

My friend Monique arrived armed with bags of delicious butter cookies one coffee-morgen, and told us about the truck. Thank you, Monique.

It is easy to find adjacent to Stern Automotive. Kyle is hoping to get his permit soon so he can set up shop in a different neighborhood each night. Right now, the truck is parked on privately owned terrain, until the bureaucrats complete the paperwork.

As long as salaries remain low, and cost of living high, entrepreneurship is what saves us from poverty.

Goa’s EP, the Economic Policy

It is a 65-page document. By page 13 my eye-lids drooped. But I am a woman of grit and perseverance, and I will get through the document.

The EP goal, as stated by GOA is noble: “To turn the disrupted government finances into a sustainable, responsible financial policy, which is a prerequisite for creating a solid and resilient economy.”

We wish.

I understand there was also a lengthy presentation of the EP at the Surfside Marina, the MinFEC spoke, and I hear she did a fantastic job, breathing life into this fairy tale narrative, it all sounded spectacular in her 5-star Papiamento.

I hate to be the party pooper, and rain on her parade, but I am also reading between the lines of the report.

The Big Hurdle:

There is not a single word in the 65-page document that must have cost a pretty penny to produce by the economist-du-jour, about cutting the government payroll and reducing the overhead.

On the contrary, we know GOA is hiring.

So, to keep it short and sweet: As long as there is no massive human resources reform in which GOA looks at its most precious resource critically, recovery efforts will be microscopic.

And you can’t just lay everybody off – you will be creating a HUGE social problem, bigger than the one we already have – you have to develop a plan, to redirect, re-train, teach people new skills, or new applications for old skills, but you have to start managing your human surplus/shortage, start somewhere, small, but start!

Diversification:

It is a beautiful concept. A lovely word. I have heard it prescribed by five previous governments. This one identified “Tourism (specific niche products), Knowledge Economy, Agriculture, Logistics, Circular Economy and Creative Industries,” as centers with POTENTIAL, not physical, but digital promise.

We are already doing our best to diversify, but are hampered by our SIZE and by our LACK of resources. Agriculture?! Really?! We have no water. And to overcome the scarcity of water, we require science, but we have no science. Logistics? In principle the San Nicolas deep water harbor could be a great asset, but it is quagmired with the refinery. Circular Economy? We could not even teach our people to recycle or reduce household waste. We are a very wasteful society, always buying new, hardly fixing anything, it will take 200 years to teach us to extract the maximum of what we have!

So that put the kaibosh on diversification.

Speaking out of both sides of GOA’s mouth

On one hand: The EP wants to be in “alignment with labor policy, social policy, education policy, safety and security policy, and environmental policy that is so fundamental for a sustainable economic development.”

On the other: The EP aims “to improve the investment climate in Aruba and to stimulate an innovative, competitive and diversified economy, which contributes to a higher quality of life for all citizens”

Hogwash.  There will be no improved business climate in Aruba, until the labor policy is amended. Employees have a lot of protection in Aruba, and it works against business.

And how about that immigration plus permit situation. This works against business too. No tax holidays, no incentives, and try to open a bank account here – a test from hell.  

The two above stated noble goals contradict each other.

One speaks in socialistic terms the other uses capitalistic languages.

How can you have your cake and eat it?  

More tomorrow.

Three Rivers, Washed down the River

I wanted to tell you about tourism and poverty, two subjects covered by the EP published last week, but another story erupted.

I recently wrote about the hotel project in Seroe Colorado, a development coveted and approved by both MinTour and MinInfra. We saw them at a press conference sitting side by side, like besties, in honor of building a 3-star for $60 million dollars, they were getting via Three Rivers Real Estate NV, registered at the trust office in San Nicholas.

Then BonDia did a little digging, not complicated, a reporter fed the name Jose Luis Colmenter Guzman into Google, and the search-engine reported him #57 on the list of people closest to Chavez, a player in the cartel, the KING of money laundering, in business with Walid Makled, allegedly a key person among narcotraffickers in Venezuela – he financed a submarine in order to transport drug around central and north America.

And that poster-child for the Los Soles Cartel, in Venezuela, a buddy of the alleged Capo, Diosdado Cabello, was listed at the KVK, our chamber of commerce in Aruba as director for Three Rivers Real Estate NV, since February 7th, 2019.

So, Rainbow Warrior International, and BonDia were the whistle blowers, I wrote about it, but it took a while to reach the Central Bank of Aruba, CBA, and on March 19th, the PRESIDENT of the CBA issued a confidential, hand-delivered warning, to the management of ALL commercial banks and the AIB, Aruba Investment Bank NV to stay away.  She asked all banks to ‘apply most caution, if requested to provide services and/or facilitate payments incoming/outgoing, for Three Rivers Real Estate NV.’

You would also be interested to know that in May 2015, there was another inquiry questioning the Kosher-ness of Jose Luis Colmenter Guzman and the Public Ministry of Aruba declared that it did not know the man and that he never met with anyone. His name popped up, at the time, when the identity of the person related to the hotel project in Isla di Oro was questioned. The project did not continue however, the person, belonging to the intimate circle of Chavismo, currently appears as director at Three Rivers Real Estate NV., in bed with not one, but two GOA ministers.  

Surprise: Our former-former MinPres, Nelson Orlando Oduber, like a wounded lion, charged to the defense of his son our current MinTour and accused the President of the Central Bank of playing a political. Who will want to invest if you chase investors away, Nel asked?

Papi, you should not divert out attention from the fact that top criminals are AGAIN attempting to play footsie with our top officials. Any project with mafia members related to Diosdado Cabello is a no-no.

Side-note: About a month ago, on my way to the hairdresser, walking past the AIB, I bumped into a friend who works there, and out of the blue and out of contest he reassured me the bank will not support the Seroe Colorado project.

At the time I did not quite understand the remark but today I do, very good, this is criminal business, and we do not want to cast a shadow on our island’s business practices.

Next time Google the name of anyone presenting himself as investor. See what comes up!

Tourism did not save us from Poverty

I am reading the EP, slowly.

From page 11: “Finally, regarding tourism the government’s main objective for the period 2017-2021 is to increase the quality of the tourism product to attract high-income tourists and create more activities to increase the participation of tourism in our economy (Hunto pa Aruba, 2017).”

From page 15: “We are at the crossroad of important decisions related to the carrying capacity of the island, to balance the need to protect the environment and to create new economic development.”

From page 16: “Therefore, the government will enforce a moratorium on hotels in the region of north, only permitting those hotel and condominium projects that have already been committed. In the center of Oranjestad and San Nicolas small boutique hotels of maximum 15 rooms each will be permitted. In the Oranjestad port area the construction of a maximum of 100 rooms will be approved. To stimulate new business activities in San Nicolas a hotel of 600 rooms will be constructed. All these hotel projects must comply with regulations to safeguard the environment and use sustainable building materials and technologies.”

From Page 20: “With this analysis ATA reached an important conclusion; ‘Aruba has reached its carrying capacity, overstretching its resources beyond sustainable levels’.”

I wish GOA would read its own report; how do you reconcile all above three quotes?

The way I see it the drive to so called attract high-income tourists resulted in MANY more ATV/UTV, which exploded exponentially this year. And we can all see that the 600-room hotel in SN is on the books. I wonder if the project will get off the ground, on the wings of public protest.

(Nevertheless, we must come up with an alternative for SN, which leads into poverty, next.)

In the chapter about Sustainable Economic Growth, GOA asks the million-dollar question.

From Page 25: “So, do we choose to continue with the economic growth in tourism as we know even if it means environmental degradation? Is the economic growth really increasing the wellbeing and quality of life of all citizens?”

From Page 25: “Aruba experienced a remarkable economic growth since the 1990’s, and did withstand several global economic and financial crises HOWEVER ….  this economic growth did not necessarily translate into real improvement of economic and living conditions of the general population… there was likely no discernible RISE in the population’s material well-being during this period.”

How sad, we did this, we did that, and the general population did not benefit, and I quote: “The above-stated suggests that the working class did not benefit (from development) and hence, arguably did not get a fair share of the economic boom.”

The BOMB:

From Page 26: “Based on the 2010 Census data, one in five households was deemed poor when applying the normative relative poverty threshold of 60 percent of the median equivalized monthly income (Awg 2,300), and 27percent when applying the threshold of 70 percent, which equated to a monthly income of Awg 1,610.

In SN, for example, 22% are poor, 28% vulnerable to poverty.

How hope many people read this, we should all go to the rescue, private and public sector.   

 

Lolita Goes Places

When visiting San Nicholas, we always stop by Lolita, across from the bus stop, a piece of public art commission from ARTopia’s Gilbert Senchi.

Gilbert is reluctant to call himself an artist, according to him the term is misused, and overused. By definition, he says, he is a man who lives by his art, and makes a living creating art, which is the litmus test he believes, you gotta have a public, art is here to serve the society from which it springs.

He first created Lolita as a tribute to these hardworking female Caribbean merchants, descendants of slaves, who are free to navigate the world and support their families by selling boiled peanuts, candies and lottery tickets on street corners.

Gilbert’s Lolita is an old woman, with a proudly erect head and back, she wears two different color socks – who cares, she couldn’t find a matching pair that morning – her hands are oversized representing hard work, her sagging breasts and wrinkled face, suggest she didn’t have it easy in life.

San Nicholas had a real flesh-and-blood Lolita, and Gilbert sculpted her in bronze. The piece was cast in a Colombian foundry where he regularly works, then after a considerable delay, it was finally installed and graces a shaded square in the heart of the sleepy oil town.

These days Gilbert is marketing miniature Lolitas, they are already available at Papiamento restaurant, and will soon be stocked by souvenir stores at the hotels and the airport. The piece is nicely packaged in a cardboard box styled after the wooden clap-board homes in the Village neighborhood in San Nicholas.

There will be a chocolate Lolita, in honor of Chocolate City, he promises.

Some of his next project, Gilbert confirms, is a monumental shell, for an island hotel lobby, and another war related monumental piece for a Berlin residence. He was also entrusted with the creation of the AHATA award of excellence, for the second year in a row. He is busy.

And on his journey, he discovered the key to happiness. He calls it acceptance. Apparently, he totally abandoned the my-way-or-the-highway attitude he had, and now goes with the flow, open and accepting, and much happier as a result.

According to him, we are here to be happy, no more, nor less, happiness is his goal in life from now on, and all that ego-macho theatrics, behind him.

I love my small-scale Lolita, she is a liberated woman, no bra, mismatched clothing, working, independent, in need of no one, doing her thing, just my type of girl.

Gilbert works under a public art foundation by the name of ARTopia, with Mirla Passchier, Eduard Ellis, and Mich Biegstraaten, as the PR diva, chef/restaurateur and the businessman all appreciate the bohemian artist, working in Europe and South America on a variety of interesting art projects.

AHATA IS CONCERNED ABOUT MISLEADING TOURISM SALARY INFORMATION

The Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association has reviewed the recently published Economic Policy for 2019-2022 of the Aruba government, and wishes to clarify employment salary information included in the document.

On Page 26 of the “A Strong and Resilient Economy” policy, it is stated that according to 2010 census data there is a high percentage of workers in the hotel and restaurant sector that grosses a low (minimum wage) income and considered a “vulnerable” group. 

AHATA has completed a manpower study of 22 hotel and timeshare members, which directly employ a total of 7,560 residents of Aruba, and can report that only 3% of their employees are earning minimum wage.  It is important to add that a vast majority of workers in the tourism industry that earn below AFL 2000 (i.e. Housekeeping, Food and Beverage, tour guides, etc.) also earn significant untaxed tips, and therefore their total income is beyond what is reported to the local tax office. The additional and unreported income generates significant economic activity through the consumer purchasing power it enables.

Over the years, we have observed statements made by a variety of leaders in the community that is misleading regarding the tourism sector’s wages.  We consider this misleading information to be of great detriment to the tourism industry and the local economy, as it can deter the local population from applying for jobs in the pillar of our island’s economy.

Companies within the sector already report great challenges in finding qualified candidates for the various positions available, and AHATA urges local leaders to consider the full reality of data prior to distributing incomplete information. AHATA applauds the efforts to diversify Aruba’s economy and educational focus, however it is important that the primary industry can count on a robust workforce to ensure sustained success.

Meanwhile, AHATA was encouraged to note that the Economic Policy includes the identification of lack of flexibility in the labor market regulations as a bottleneck for doing business and productivity levels, while recommending reform of labor laws (Annex E).

AHATA endorses a review of the regulation that can impede Aruba’s ability to reach a more effective productivity level. In IMF’s recent report on Aruba, they illustrated that “the labor market regulation is rigid, impeding labor mobility and job growth”. The IMF recommends that policy should promote labor market flexibility and provide protection for workers (via unemployment insurance) rather than jobs, hereby supporting a productive private sector to stimulate our economy. 

 

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April 28, 2019
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