Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap, June 28th, 2020

GOA meets debt obligations, yippee

I saw a pretty picture with the following caption, on Friday: GOBIERNO CUMPLIENDO CU PAGO DI DEBENAN INTERNACIONAL, and immediately felt a burning-desire to tell you what I thought about the lovely image of our MinFec dressed in a stylish periwinkle suit, red lips smiling, flanked by two gents I did not recognize, and later remembered they were on her finance team, Chito Paris and Derrick Werleman.

But I announced I won’t be writing that day, so how can I be so fickle to say one thing and do the other?

Yesterday, Sunday, I still wanted to say something about that picture, from last Thursday.

It fills me with sadness and an immense sense of loss.

The image depicts the team that borrowed 253M to service our national debt which is a nice way of saying we repaid some of the money we owe, about half of the total of 583M DUE THIS YEAR, and don’t forget the same amount is also due every year for the next TWENTY.

We borrowed money to pay a debt, and since the Netherlands stipulated the funds had to come from the international market, MinFec managed to secure a loan, at 5% interest, much higher than the sweet-deals offered by the Netherlands. Remember, we were downgraded by Fitch & Standard and by Poor, which resulted in a higher interest rate charged for loans — we are now more of a risk.

5% interest means nearly 10M payable each year.

One never recovers from a situation like that, it’s just too much, the hole is too deep, we produce 0, we export 0, we eat and drink all day and night, and we litter the beaches. This morning, my walk to Arashi via Boca Catalina revealed much trash, from the recurring weekend assault by pigs.

When I looked at the picture I was reminded that our public organization is inflated and offers little value, and basically if we agree that a car cannot be fixed without mechanics, we will also agree that:

I see no mechanics.

I hear no plan to bring down the cost of government, from 5M a day to 2.5M a day in 6 months (?), and perhaps even lower at the end of the year (?).

Transform AZV to OZV, Optimal Zorg Verlening, make it responsible for more care and less ziekte.

Convert GOA into a lean, public-service machine

And make borrowing money against the law so we always hang-on to cash and save!

Promote and reward saving!

So it was a beautiful picture, but there is nothing to celebrate. Borrowing money to cover a debt is no achievement. What are you proud of? More debt?? We know you had no choice, and thank you for having the courage to get out of bed every morning and head to the office. Last comment, if you share the tableau with other people, and you thank them for helping structure the deal, tell us who they are.

Have a great week everyone!


An island of serenity in a sea of anxiety

I visited the charming Dr. Milly Lacle, a Holistic Psychologist & Hypnotherapist but foremost an emotional pain intuitive, in her space on Katunastraat 9, Ponton, and spent a most-enjoyable hour talking to her about – drum roll – inner peace.

These are such turbulent times, that we only talk about politics and the economy. Not on Katunastraat, here we tend to the soul.

According to Milly, and we all agree, life can be hard, but then she interjects with an astounding statement that finding inner peace doesn’t have to be.

Apparently, we have inner peace built into our systems, it’s there, all we have to do is tap into it, but early on in life, because of a traumatic experience – and traumatic sits on a wide spectrum and ranges from an insult to an accident, an incident or a loss – we begin building protective walls surrounding our vulnerable self, some even gain weight for added padding and protection, and we live our lives like medieval cities, behind layers of fortifications, that naturally prevent us from connecting to other people in a meaningful way. Duh.

This whole thing of being a snail, safeguarded in a bullet-proof shell has lots of physical besides emotional consequences, we become anxious, sleepless, fidgety, we medicate, drink, sleep around, we’re bitchy, and over-sensitive, drama kings and queens.

We are who we are, and we suffer enormously for not being able to get out of our way.

The most pronounced physical aspect of holding on to old hurts is shallow breathing, Milly explains, fast, and superficial inhalations and exhalations, which deprive our inner organs from much needed oxygen, and those organs then protest, delivering high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction and a whole dictionary of modern-day plagues. These short, shallow breaths freeze us in a permanent state of stress, resulting in fatigue, lack of motivation, anger, fear and general malaise.

Milly suggests a simple remedy, learning to breath anew, supplying our amazing physiognomy with the fuel it requires and then looking at those early wounds, in a safe and confidential space, acknowledging and honoring their effect on our life, and moving on.

Her patients she says, commit to a maximum of six sessions, no you don’t have to lie on her couch forever, and she will not medicate you, she will teach you to breath and the rest will take care of itself, you will be liberated, guaranteed.

Surprisingly, her journey began at Clinica Miseracordia in SN with Dr. Carlin Brown. Remember the affable medicine-man who was the island’s ONLY homeopathic physician-acupuncturist-certified nutritionist-reflexologist-chiropractor, all wrapped into one? He once told me in an interview: “Come to me, if all else fails, consult me anytime, if you are dissatisfied with the results of my treatment you can always have your pain refunded.”

Milly reports she has been interested in the holistic field since then, since she helped Dr Brown treat the causes, not the symptoms in his patients, and over the last 20 years, she has been involved with Human Resources of her family enterprises, and finishing her education alongside her kids. They graduated, and so did she! 

Over the years Milly obtained her Psychology degree from Columbus University in Panama and a Masters in Mental Health from the University of Leon, Spain. She is a certified Hypnotherapist by the American Board of Hypnotherapy and the National Guild of Hypnotists, as well as a Master Hypnotist by Banyan Hypnosis Center both in the 7th Path Self-Hypnosis and 5th Path Hypnosis programs. Additionally, Milly is a licensed practitioner for Neuro-Linguistic Programming by NLP Life Training. She has an entire wall festooned with diplomas.

Born in El Salvador and raised in Panama, Milly has been calling Aruba home for over twenty-six years, and she offers her services in English, Spanish and Papiamento. She is especially interested in kids, who suffer from health of behavioral trouble.

“With every opportunity to see my patients, my purpose remains the same,” she explains,” to offer a space and a method that leads to permanent healing. My mission is to inspire and allow each person to find the power they hold, to uncover their real needs, and to be fascinated by their uniqueness. My promise to my patients is to offer understanding without judgment and to help them achieve peace of mind. I am committed to total confidentiality, and I am thankful for the gift of trust.”

So, if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and all else failed, Dr. Milly Lacle is a good option, and if you are dissatisfied with the results of her treatment you can always have your pain refunded.

AZV in transition

Generally speaking, we had it good with AZV and we have been ungrateful. Itching and moaning, abusing the system in many ways, collecting prescriptions whether we need the medications or not, and deliberately visiting physicians and specialists, instead of using home remedies and maintaining good diets – which are way more effective.

Over the last decades, the established-by law AZV corrupted our old ways of stropi calbas and aloe potions, and taught us to treat symptoms, not causes.

Besides, pampering and over-indulging patients, AZV adopted a rich-kid mentality, it paid its own employees generously – check out the AZV report and the admin cost –  it overpaid its specialists, it was generous with stipends, adding perks above the law, it regularly opted for expensive fixes instead of health promotions, fussed little about the hospital’s exorbitant bills, and said nothing when the laboratory lost 4,000 pap smears, the cost went up, the value deteriorated, doctor appointments seemed harder to get than a Coca Cola in the desert, then Covid19 hit.

So now we really want to transform AZV to OZV, Optimal Zorg Verlening, and make it responsible for more care and less ziekte and in general convert GOA into a lean, public-service machine.

In walks a new broom, an improved Dutch model.

Apparently, all new brooms sweep cleaner.

He is thinking about a multi-year masterplan to introduce efficiency into the healthcare-systems in Aruba and in Curacao, with a three phase plan. He is right, we want less waste and more value. He is, I understand, headquartered at the hospital here.

One of the suggestions is to buy meds in bulk via a central office for medications, in collaborations with Curacao. If you are a population of 100,000 or 200,000 or 220,000; you are, and will, remain a village, as far as buying power goes.

Then with Curacao as the Dutch Caribbean medical hub, the hospitals will be grouped according to specialty, Aruba will perform certain operations, all stomach related, for example, while Curacao will specialize in others, all chest related. The two systems will then work together, which is a fantastic idea that’s logistically uber-complex. The masterplan also suggests some consolidation to fewer laboratories, all in search of efficiencies.

In the name of that cost-cutting initiative I read on the AZV website, and personally, I support self-participation, they just introduced Awg 5 per prescription, Awg 1 per lab test, Awg 5 for an office visit to the house doctor and Awg 10 to the specialist.

In reality, we have cost much better under control than Curacao. We grow at 3% a year, they reached 9%, still we must CHANGE OUR WASTEFUL WAYS, and the Ministry of Health is dictating changes in all directions to see how much the public will tolerate. They already started pedaling backward regarding transport of Dialysis patients.

They made changes without strategically thinking about consequences. The devil is in the detail.  

It is now clear that GOA should have listened a few years ago when AMC was asked to manage the hospital. I wrote about it at the time. AMC/VU (Amsterdam Medisch Centrum and Vrije Universiteit) was to take over the hospital in a Schiphol-type arrangement. GOA opted to ignore the suggestion, and now we will pay the price for this total mismanagement and start going for treatment to Curacao.

Of course, nothing is etched in stone, but it is clear that our politically-appointed minister needs all the help that he can get and our newcomer is turning all regulatory knobs at the same time.

He must also be thinking about Colombia, wanting to avoid the situation whereby that country shut the borders on our patients, in honor of the pandemic.

And perhaps if he also throws in Bonaire, as a Dutch territory, he can achieve even more savings, and utilizing his connection in the Netherlands to fly in a heart surgeon, brain surgeon, or cancer surgeon, and offer the same level of sophistication as Colombia, for much less money, right here in Aruba or Curacao!

Dear Rona: “I do share the fears of the specialists that Aruba is heading in a direction that is being forced upon us without us having much say in the matter. This could lead to Curacao becoming the center of healthcare for the Dutch Caribbean and Aruba being reduced to playing a minor part.  Our new man at HOH is representing Aruba in these talks. What, and how Aruba’s unique universal healthcare insurance will survive is a question of Hit or Miss.”

About the new broom: “I experienced him as a practical crisis manager. He is connected and is protecting the quality and accessibility of care for the patients. Up to now. Time will tell, more.”

When there is lack of leadership/vision at home, it must be imported.

The Lamentable Events in Curacao

Just to keep you up to speed, it is interesting to know what’s happening across the pond.

Midday Wednesday, a group of protesters started walking towards Fort Amsterdam, Willemstad, the seat of GOC, demanding that the MinPres, Eugene Rhuggenaath, step down.

Off with his head.

It was a small group, perhaps 50 people, all employees of Serlikor, Curacao’s Serlimar, they were protesting the 12.5% salary reduction, and GOC’s many failures.

My sources report that for years Serlikor served as the politicians’ dumping ground, when obliged to find campaign runners jobs. The accumulation of workers did not solve the trash nor the human resources challenges, on the contrary it brought a lot of needy, resentful, uneducated people together into a dysfunctional organization, where they were underworked, doing nothing meaningful, just getting paid, and languishing away, as frustration simmered.

The march was peaceful, and I did not see the ranks swell, they did not attract more participants along the way, apparently when they arrived at Punda and knocked on the fort’s gate, the doors were opened by a policeman who ‘struck’ a protester, with the butt of his gun?!

My information is sketchy. In a TeleCuracao interview the protesters accused the police of starting the brawl, and even shooting tear gas into the crowd.

The footage I saw of the unfortunate afternoon events, did not depict any of the above.

What I saw featured loitering hooligans and vandals piggybacking on the general atmosphere of public disorder in order to loot a store, overturn a police car and toss street planters around, also light some vacant houses on fire. The Fire Brigade reports a busy night.

The marines were then brought in. His Majesty’s Royal Dutch Marines arrived in military trucks, and fanned out in downtown Punda. A curfew was decreed. The police made a few arrests and send some of the offenders for complimentary overnights in the police station cells.

Serlikor aimed to light a match, apply pressure on GOC, we’ve seen similar irrational behavior here on behalf of the labor unions. Luckily, Arubans are better educated, and our MinPres came out of her fortress to face the music, when a similar manifestation threatened downtown Oranjestad.

In Curacao the MinPres announced a 6pm press conference and condemned hooliganism flanked by his MinJust, Quincy Girigorie. He did not come out into the street.

The protesters called for new elections. And in a TeleCuracao interview one of the protesters debunked the Covid19 myth as Dutch/American, “because we the blacks in Curacao are not affected.”

See my comment above, about better-educated Arubans.

The protests, looting, fires and arrests, have just created bigger problems for our neighbors. They will run into trouble with their saviors, the Dutch, who must begrudge the negative sentiment provoked by the unions, instead of gratitude for salary subsidies.  

Infuriating the masses, then repressing them with police clubs and tear gas doesn’t benefit the situation, it escalates it.

So perhaps the strategy should be REDUCE work hours, for less pay, perhaps some of these workers would love working less.

We have a lot to learn from the experiments conducted across the pond.

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, June 26TH

I talked to Audrey Croes Lacle in honor of the day. Audrey has done the most, in the field of drug and alcohol rehab, on the island. She has been running Stichting Adopt an Addict, for the past twelve years.

During Shelter in Place, the Moko home, Cas Esperanza, had about 9 recovering addicts in residence, and councilor Osiris Frias continued their treatment-program unintimidated by the pandemic. Four more clients who graduated still drop in regularly for learning-sessions but are able to work on the outside, as security guards, having regained control of their lives.

About 12 of the foundation’s clients were, and still are, in the Dominican Republic, undergoing extended treatment at Hogar Crea. Audrey was happy to report that since November last year GOA’s Department of Public Health, and the Department of Social Affairs, have been active partners, helping support the treatment initiative in the DR and helping carry the associated costs.

Audrey says she filed a plan with CEDE Aruba, for the Blessed Village, a small cluster of bungalows, designed to house the double -winners, those who suffer from psychological disorders AND addiction, a save environment where they may live under gentle supervision.

At the moment, she explains, Cas Esperanza can only help active drug addicts and alcoholics, stirring them towards recovery, and clean living.

Clients suffering from addiction and psychological disorders cannot be helped due to the fact that the foundation has no medical staff. The treatment it offers is spiritual, and emotional, clients aren’t medicated, which is often required in cases of schizophrenia, anxiety-, panic- and obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias, depression, bipolar and mood disorders, eating and personality disorders, PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychotic, mental challenges, which could be treated in the future by the medical staff at the ‘Blessed Village,’ on Audrey’s wish list.

We live in an alcohol culture, she says, and the island casinos will be opening shortly, on the 27th, and I worry, she says, people will gamble and go hungry.

In the foreseeable future, she informs, the foundation is expecting more clients, as it will be making efforts to collect addicts off the streets prior to the tourists’ arrival making Oranjestad a safer, more orderly destination.

Former Minister Otmar Oduber awarded the foundation the home in Moko, though the deed hasn’t been passed yet, because the foundation must raise the 6% notary fees, first. I told Audrey we will all help, Awg 10 at a time, to quickly raise that amount, whatever it is, probably around Awg 12.000 – 15.000.

Foundation hotline: 594-2494

The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is a United Nations International Day against drug abuse and the illegal drug trade. It is observed annually on 26 June, since 1989. The date June 26 is to commemorate Lin Zexu’s dismantling of the opium trade in Humen, Guangdong, ending in June 25 1839just before the First Opium War in China. The observance was instituted by General Assembly Resolution 42/112 of the 7th of December 1987.

Around 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018, which is 30% more than in 2009, while over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders, according to the latest World Drug Report.

About Cas Esperanza: The home in Moko 28 is a halfway house maintained by Adopt an Addict foundation. The foundation takes drug addicted homeless people off the mainstreet to alleviate the pressure on the merchant community downtown, suffering from frequent break-ins and vandalism. Supported by friends and NGOs, Adopt an Addict forged a partnership with Hogar Crea in Santo Domingo, a rehab facility, where those lucky to been adopted, are sent for treatment, all expenses paid.

Upon their return, clean and serene, they had nowhere to go, so Audrey identified the house in Moko, and set it up as a boarding facility for men in early recovery.

The home provides 24/7 guidance by a resident counselor. Residents cook for themselves and maintain a modest, well-organized home, they garden too, growing corn, beans and papaya.

Conditions are basic, bunk beds, 4 in a room, no air-conditioning, just 2 small windowless bathrooms for more than a dozen adults, but the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with the assurance that none of the residents will be drinking or drugging today; a huge victory over the insidious, ugly disease of alcoholism.

Government subsidy? No, except since November some collaboration to cover treatment costs. The home paid rent to FCCA, but it will be transferred to the foundation soon, when we raise the funds.

Cas Esperanza welcomes volunteers, individuals who contribute a few hours each week to help with maintenance, companionship or occasional errands.

Opinion from an economist friend: About Insurance

I believe it is non-ethical for any insurance company to participate in this mandatory scheme. The insurance companies have no data on which to base the estimate of costs they will have to cover. No one can possibly estimate, in advance the share of tourists, with recent clean tests, who will get infected AFTER landing on an island with currently no virus visible; and the share of these infected tourists who will be unable/unwilling to pay their medical costs.

The insurance business then becomes a casino when rates are set without reliable data. Ethical insurance companies don’t do that, especially not when the clients have no choice and companies have no competition.

The mandatory daily COVID insurance for tourists, doesn’t take into consideration that tourists who have a house on the island, have insurances that covers COVID treatment, so Aruba will not get stuck with their costs.

Tourists with private additional insurance policies, should not be asked to double dip.

All the rest should be offered the option of COVID coverage, but not mandated.

No doubt, date will be collected in July & August, and the information will emerge what percentage of tourists get sick, despite all entry measures, and what percentage of these require hospitalization, what percentage of hospitalized tourists has no insurance covering medical costs, and what percentage of the latter are deadbeat.

The last figure is likely to be small. That is where analysis comes in. Are these deadbeat cases in a cluster from a particular country? Then you know which country’s citizens not to trust.

At the end this mandatory insurance seems like a lucrative subsidy scheme for local insurance companies. Tourists who get sick will rely on their Aruban COVID insurance even when they have a medical insurance at home that would have covered most of their medical costs here. Most foreign insurance policies have a deductible, so sick tourists will not even mention that they could also use their medical insurance from their home countries. 

In an optimal scenario, there would be 200,000 tourists coming to Aruba the second half of this year. Looking at the reactions to the mandatory insurance scheme on Facebook, about 10 percent of these tourists may cancel their trip. These 20,000 tourists would have stayed on the island an average of ten days, which adds up to 200,000 days. Assuming each would have spent on accommodation, food, entertainment, and other activities US$300 per day, the island loses $60 million. About half of what tourists spend stays on the island, taking into account imported food, beverages, remittances of foreign workers, profit repatriation, etc. So the end result is the loss of $30 million. The gross revenue from COVID insurance is about $20 million, and assuming also that half of this stays on the island, the net loss is $20 million. 

So the island loses $20 million in order to subsidize insurance companies.

Minister of Health and Tourism on Aruba Visitor Insurance:

Aruba’s special COVID Insurance will cover: isolation and or quarantine accommodation (with max of days), medical costs, testing (except testing at airport).

Aruba’s COVID Insurance is required for all visitors, except Aruban Students and residents from Bonaire and Curacao.

Guests that need to leave a hotel for isolation or quarantine shall be refunded by the hotel for unused nights. 

Arubans that live abroad have same entry requirements as visitors.

Aruba Visitor Insurance pool consists of:

Massy United Insurance 

Boogaard Asurantien 

Ennia Aruba

Elvira Verzekering

Boogaard Assurantien on Visitor Insurance:

Pool formed by local Insurance companies under supervision of local authorities will be responsible for this coverage

COVID Insurances at the moment are limited in coverage. Aruba’s insurance includes more coverage.

MASSY United on Visitor Insurance:

Led the technological aspects for the platform and will lead the pool of brokers.

Insurance can be purchased via the Online Entry Platform on 

Claims handling will be done by Boogaard.

The Insurance policy covers a maximum of $75,000.

Insurance does not cover 24-hour quarantine while visitor awaits test result (if they test after arrival).

Other benefits of the insurance:

Will not exclude coverage for those with preexisting medical conditions

Coverage for max 14 days of isolation

No deductible

Insurance will pay providers directly. No out of pocket expenses for the visitor. 

All medical expenses related to COVID-19 (doctor, medication, transport, hospital, x-rays, lab and nursing).  

Rates (based on length of stay) for age 15-75:  

First 7 days: $15.00 per day

8-14 days: $10.00 per day

15-36 days: $5.00 per day

37-90 days: $2.00 per day 

Over 76 of age has higher daily rates. 

Children 1- 14 will have one-time administration flat fee of US$10 for whole vacation. 

Program will be evaluated after 2 months and adapted if necessary. 

An Economist on the Talking Stool

About the Hole We’re In, from a friend-economist

Aruba has a massive national debt nearing 5 billion florins. None of it can be forgiven, and it will not go away magically … and Holland has been explicit about NOT helping with that.

So as it stands Aruba will have to pay every year about 600 million florins in principal and interest, for the next 20 years.

Aruba does not generate even 1 florin in surplus that is needed to bring down that debt (and its interest).

If Aruba should fail on ANY debt related payment, we risk DEFAULT. That means the 600 million per year arrangement ceases, and the full national debt becomes payable immediately.

Think about that for a minute. It’s the size of the economy. The Central Bank will be left with zero reserves.

Every single property holder and corporate investor will have to reconsider staying on this island. Banks and hotels may have to relocate; everybody will be hurt. Crime …

I know the default sequence-scenario very well… it is the most horrible scenario.

COVID19 was the black swan that brought us face-to-face with defaulting. We had over $250 in debt payments to make, but … all the ports closed, inflows ceased, one rating lost and capital market investors were fleeing from weak economies.

Huge uncertainty worldwide made COVID19 into a liquidity crisis.

And there is little Aruba with its massive debt, no economy and holding one investment grade rating by the skin of its teeth.

Holland was again very explicit …”go help yourselves”. Their help is always welcome. But they did not want to assist with the debt-payments. So that the $253 million deal is not a new debt or extra debt. Aruba needed this deal if only to avoid default…on top of COVID19.

And we managed, against great odds. LONG days and nights, for weeks, nameless people, working hard, and we got it all at a 0.5% increase over the average price.

That deal is an important signal to all our investors that Aruba will not fail. Even in COVID19.

Worldwide the secret service is seldom acknowledged for terrorism acts that they thwarted. In this case default was prevented. A handful of people knows how close we came, and they shall remain anonymous.

They’d rather keep silent and shared only with investors, publicity is not in their sphere of influence. But you should know what went on!

(Another economist friend promptly informed me that Aruba could have gotten a conditional loan from the IMF: Reduce your overhead by 20% and we’ll give you a 1% loan. Goa did not want to go that way.)

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June 28, 2020
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