Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, January 4th, 2016

SWIPE TOURISM TROUBLE. Breaking news: The Central Bank convened with the Commercial banks yesterday, in the presence of MinLab, representing MinFin, and agreed to extend the cap on ATMs withdrawals to $400 or $500, how much exactly is to be advised in the coming few days. Common sense prevailed, my compliments to all involved. This better decision makes my column for today obsolete, but I am posting it anyway, because I can! This is what I wrote: The latest decision by the Central Bank to put a cap on ATM withdrawals constitutes collective punishment, which is always the easiest, and always the least effective. Let’s just ground everyone without addressing the issue, or fixing anything. CLA. So what do you suggest, Mr. Central Banker? For North American tourists to use their credit cards, right? Do you think that the beach bums operating the banana boat take credit cards? How can papa tourist explain to his kid that he has no cash in his pocket for a fun watersport ride, while on a family vacation? And mom wants to get a massage at an excellent spa that guess what, has no plastic facilities. All these small annoyances add up, and visitors are inconvenienced big time. So don’t brush it off, it is a major hassle. Aruba is not a totalitarian regime, nor is it a dictatorship, and you can’t tell anyone how much money they should carry around in their pocket and in which form; this is their money, and they should have unlimited access to it. That said, I understand that the Commercial Banks were against the cap imposition, but the Central Bank bullied the decision through with the promise to review in 6 months, which is light-years away. Our banks really don’t care about the rush on the ATMs because when they settle with the international credit cards companies they get their dollars back. Not exactly, they care about the long lines and the constant outflow of dollars that results in empty ATMs and bad service. BUT it’s the Central Bank which is applying the brakes, to prevent its dollar reserves from being depleted, because then the country won’t have enough currency to pay for the importation of goods and services, and it will affect our BP, our sacred balance of payments. Aruba is an easy target for the desperate Venezuelans, determined to survive, and the Central Bank decided to fight back on our behalf to restore law and order, which is a very positive development, but why by means of collective punishment involving our European and North American visitors?? OUR SUGGESTION: Can’t the ATMs recognize and differentiate between cards? The machine knows if you’re in Miami, Amsterdam, Berlin or Caracas. It’s no rocket science.  They are using a bin number to prevent locals from withdrawing US dollars already; they could do the same with Venezuelan credit cards WITHOUT inconveniencing the masses. Think about it, if you limit the Venezuelan cards to $200 a day, they will stay THREE TIMES longer. And incidentally, if visitors get florins and convert those into dollars paying a 1.3% exchange tax, it means more than a quarter million dollars income for the Central Bank. PIERRE RAFINI: The makers of the ATMs, NCR and Diebold, as well as the software companies in charge of connectivity Maestro & Cirrus, do not facilitate discrimination, and do not offer card recognition features, to exclude Venezuelan cards. The island would be better off just slowing these tourists down at the border, by imposing greater cash requirement, so they must come in with money. Additionally, limit the number of flights and air-seats, to reduce the number of visitors coming in. Just to give you an idea: Traffic from Venezuela was up by 34.6% from 30,009 stopovers in October 2014 to 40,387 in October 2015. In the first ten months of 2015 traffic from Venezuela grew by 44.5% compared to the first ten months of 2014 from 187,467 stopovers to 270,889. We’re talking at least 20 million dollars a month, in Venezuelan credit card charges.

WE WELCOME A 10% REDUCTION IN UTILITIES.  We are grateful for the government’s announcement today regarding the 10% reduction in utilities, now that oil prices are down, which reminded me what I almost forgot, we could have had these reductions many months ago, if the utilities company hadn’t lost a gazillion dollars with their failed, totally ridiculous hedging practices, when they hedged 95% of the island’s need for the year, instead of conservatively hedging 35%, every few months. Anyway, the big announcement was in the works for many months, and it arrived suspiciously on December 30th, escorted by wall to wall ministers in dark suits, against a backdrop of flags, and it smacked of PR, please and appease the voters on the last day of the year. If I were you, I would save the surplus, if any created, for future alternative technology investment, because to become truly green would cost a pretty penny!

HOT SHOWERS AT A PREMIUM. I guess we use a lot of gas at home, operating a stove top and an oven in the kitchen, a gas dryer, right next to the washer, and a 70 gallon hot water heater. I usually keep the temperature of the gas water heater low. I am a frugal individual, and I conserve resources that way, but recently it became cooler and the prospect of a hot-hot shower sounded great, so I upped the temperature. Bad decision because the gas finished just before the yearend festivities and I called for another bottle, begged to be included in the delivery route before the holiday craze. Gas was delivered, on time, alright, but at Awg 122 per bottle. It was my 6th or 7th this year and my shameless consumption was penalized by tripling the price of the product. What do you think? Ok, not ok?

LE BLANC CHARITY EVENT, POWERED BY XCLUSIVO MAGAZINE AND GARAGE CENTRAAL. Xclusivo Magazine and Garage Centraal partnered to throw a glamorous party on Tuesday. The stage on which the party unfolded was, believe it or not, the showroom floor at the garage which was totally transformed into a Cirque Du Soleil setting with dancers, acrobats and clowns, all decked out in white and silver, creating the perfect party venue for Jacqueline Wernet and her dream team of artists and designers, Rosetty Elenora and Andrew Curiel, who did an exceptional job decorating, catering and entertaining the group of beautiful people, sipping champagne and fancy cocktails, nibbling on lamb chops and shrimp ceviche served in paper cones. The guests list was super powerful and interesting including lawyers Lalo Croes and  Arlene Ellis Schipper, artist Elvis Lopez, retailers Mary Wever &Jodi Tobman, educators Hellen Bas Leidekkers, IOC member Nicole Hoevertsz,TV personality Tabitha Fecunda & businessman Robert Croes, marketing guru Jairo Boekhoudt, sales executive Gerard Halley, timeshare authority Bettina Gonzalez, hair designers Favio Lucchi & Joseph Cuozzo, model Vivian Chow, PR Diva Maria Silva, travel specialist Isabelle Welage and wine purveyor Herdy te Lohuis,  bankers Armin Solognier and Pierre Rafini, fashion authorities Andrew Ras and Sohaira da Silva, press members Mark Benson and Arien Rasmijn, dentist Marielle Ho Kang You, chief supporters Cristine Hintz and Ligenne Trimon, and partner Alwyn Lin. Jacqueline invited Blanco, a performance artist, to participate in the party and allow himself to become a communal work of art as all party goers participated in the transformation of Blanco into a group painting. The performance had a sexy element about it, as guests collaborated painting the tall mime, in every possible area of his physical self, respecting unspoken boundaries. We are a polite and well behaved bunch. The charity event collected some serious money for the Clown Doctors organization and Peter Balliere was there to express his appreciation. Mich Biegstraaten of Garage Centraal should be proud of the end results, supporting “Be kind and kindness will come back to you,” and Managing Director Rene Knijn should share the fabulous champagne he won with me!

MOVE FIRST, THINK LATER. We have developed a peculiar pattern over the past years that can be described as bash-bam-boom move first, think later. Remember how AZV was introduced in a rush, post elections? And how BBO was ushered in, then tweaked? And how BAZV landed shooting first, asking questions later; And how Aruparking fees were revealed and then reformulated; and how the new profit tax returns filing was legislated, and then rescheduled? And how the cap on ATM cash withdrawal was decreed, and then adjusted? A quote from Forbes: It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.  Generally speaking, Act First, Strategize Later is an unhealthy pattern, ‘cause fixing is more expensive than doing it right the first time. For best business results:  Think first, act later.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. Happy New Year. Thank you Arion Wine Company for the gorgeous Bollinger, the big year 2004, it was indeed powerful, sophisticated and complex in style closing a decent 2015 and heralding a stellar 2016. What shall we talk about today? Let’s discuss New Year’s Resolutions. You know they are doomed to failure, because most of them revolve around me-me-me. Lose weight, is big, exercise more and stop smoking, are popular, remove makeup before falling asleep, brush better and floss, things like that are on everyone’s mind. But, after a week or two of religious adherence to diet and exercise regimes, resolve fades. Why? Talking to a friend recently, it became clear to me that we have to make those resolutions about other people, not about us, then they have a chance to live longer. My friend Ellen shared her three resolutions, the ones she was going to keep in 2016, and I would like to share them with you: She said that she will tip generously and say thank you to any toilet cleaning lady she meets, in public restrooms. She added that she will listen intently and be fully present when her father calls, instead of tuning him out after rolling her eyes. She also declared she will enjoy her house more, and worry less about dishes in the sink and dust under the sofa, entertaining friends and family members as if cleaning takes care of itself. Wow, those are great. So please share your new year’s resolutions with me, and make them about other people, not about you! Another good idea, always amazing: My friend Janet just paid it forward the other day, when sitting in a local restaurant in Oranjestad, she noticed a woman with two little girls, they debated what to share and checked out the prices. Janet finished her salad, paid for it, paid for the woman and the two kids’ meal, and told the waitress to tell the trio to pay it forward!

NEW YEAR’S EVE IN ARUBA IS THE BEST. Our long-standing ritual of going downtown at 12:30pm on New Year’s Eve was truly enjoyable. Imagine, we’ve been doing it for 21 years. I parked just behind the Arubus central station where a diligent homeless has been building up the parking lot’s stock of wooden pallets. I am not making it up, but the parking lot now enjoys a crazy system of partitions, which must be the handiwork of a mad man, otherwise they are impossible to explain. I got to the waterfront in time for a fast track up the Renaissance bridge to Cilo City Lounge for a beer, and then in a counter-traffic maneuver we crossed the bridge back to our strategic location across the band setup at the Renaissance Mall. The traditional millions of firecrackers delivered plenty of smoke, hopefully sufficient, to run the fucu out of every business in town and usher prosperity in, for 2016. The marina deck where Carpe Diem Restaurant resided was empty, every stitch of custom furniture removed from the spectacular and oversize waterfront location. That was one of the most beautiful restaurants ever created in Aruba and it proved that having a great vision is not enough. In order for a good idea to be successful it requires strong field support, in the operation area, and in this case, it was unfortunately anemic. As the pagara came to its climax, we walked around the mall to mainstreet for more noise and smoke. Apparently, Sport Caribe, had a fashion show earlier in the day, and when were walked by NBO and Kevin James just started their instruments, with a loud and extra pounding base, building up the excitement for the pagara blow-up. Moving on, I would like to thank SunSpecs for another cold beer, just before catching a charming, young Dande band on one of the street benches. The adorable teens dispensed a general blessing, without asking for our names. I think I like the old way of individual blessings, better. So down the street we went, tracking the bang-bang. Caribbean mercantile Bank had a huge set up in the heart of mainstreet dropping a large blue ball into a high-tech music system, but their schedule conflicted with the Renaissance pagara, and we missed it. Sometimes, before or after we had some more refreshments at the hole-in-the-wall across Mango which gave us sufficient fuel to trot further down to the hopping Pastechi House, for our annual treat, then to the end of the main street to congratulate Kono Pizza on the opening of their new location at Plaza Nicky Habibe 108, store 7, Tel: 5861444. By 3pm, the main street was rocking, and on the way back to my car more merchants concluded the last business day of 2015, detonating million of firecrackers to ward off the evil eye, and guarantee their own individual business success in 2016. We stopped for incredible lunch at the Hollywood Smokehouse at the Alhambra Casino and Shops, enjoying slow cooked BBQ ribs and salads, chased by the best hand-crafted Bourbon Old Fashioned. Expertly made coffee at Piazza Italiana at Palm Beach Plaza Mall concluded our adventure. We arrived there just in time to watch Kelly Alwani and his family ignite a surprise pagara for the mall. We also heard from friends that the 12 million firecrackers from the Marriott Surf Club to the Marriott Aruba Resort and Stellaris Casino were of mythical proportions, but alas we missed the spectacle due to conflicting downtown schedules. The old year was escorted out with a ton of activities, and the New Year was welcomed with open arms and an air of optimism. The first baby was born at 3am, a boy. His mom, just fifteen years old reports it was a natural birth and that the baby arrived at 52cm, weighing 3,420, in perfect shape. The fact that she is only 15 is the less-than-perfect reality of babies having babies. Additionally, in the case of the Chevrolet Celta discovered burned at the ruins of the Gold Smelter at Frenchman’s Pass, I suggest giving Aruba’s men in blue a few compulsory hours of TV instruction, Hawaii Five-O would be helpful to demonstrate how to open a car’s trunk following its discovery. Steve McGarrett and Danny Williams would have checked the trunk for sure, immediately, so I suggest a few hours in front of TV sets, aiming to improve performance. Aruba’s Police Force is reportedly transitioning its people to desk jobs, and TVs would provide additional learning opportunities for them, especially from the Hawaii Five-O experts.

PROFOUND KINDNESS. La Cabana Beach Resort & Casino Timeshare owners, Tom & Pat, encountered profound kindness here. On their last night, the couple attended the Plaza Cafe Christmas show along with 300 other people, taking pictures and enjoying the moment. Upon leaving, Tom unknowingly left his cell phone where he was sitting, and went back with Pat to the hotel. He realized the phone was missing when he reached his room, and jumped back into his car, to return to the Plaza Cafe immediately. There the security personnel did not have any information and asked Tom to come back the following day, but Tom was leaving the island and considered the phone lost. The next morning, after breakfast and  before going to the airport, he decided to stop back at the front desk to see Aichel Lynch, and explain the challenge to her. She went into action immediately by calling the phone, and amazingly it was answered by the Christmas Show’s EMCEE Ruben Garcia who was happy to return the phone to the hotel a few minutes later. The story only comes to show, says Tom, how great the people of Aruba are, when strangers found and turned the phone over, to Ruben Garcia, who went out of his way to return it, and most of all, La Cabana Beach Resort & Casino executive Aichel Lynch, who took the initiative to find it. Tom made it on time to the plane with his phone!! It is very clear why Aruba is named ONE HAPPY ISLAND, he says, it’s all about its people!!

WHERE CAN I FIND A GOOD AREAPA. The answer is Tanki Leendert, as it is now Aruba’s Arepa headquarters, with the Taste of Venezuela/Colombia, offered in a great number of snack bars and restaurants, as many as there are Hardware Stores in Noord. Antojitos Venezolanos Y Algo Mas, El Sabor Zuliano Restaurant & Bar, and Los Cafeteros, are all located within the same block, with Café Capri marketing itself as Colombia’s soccer club. I stopped at Delicias Zulianas for some Guava and Mango juice and got a full day’s supply of sugar in my drink. The patrons biting into the just-fried worm-like brown donuts, Mandocas, promised me they are the best in town, so I guess I have to go back. Other options, El Rincon de la Arepa and of course Mi Boca Dushi in Ponton, already a very popular breakfast place, are all excellent option for death by carbs and salt. I used to love the corn cachapa served in one of the previous incarnations of Zuliana, a slightly sweet flat bread, served with slightly salty gooey Mozzarella. Now that you know where to find a good arepa, where can I find a good cachapa?

ISLAND OF MERCANTILISM. In general I noticed a proliferation of new businesses in Noord and environs, a Turkish Shoarma takeout in a red ocean container shares the lot with another pastel-colored snack shack. Another car wash, El Boris, at the beginning of the Palm Beach road, sporting a provocative, colorful, sexy sign. Do you think that a car wash is as lucrative as a snack truck? Or is a hardware store more profitable? I just recently received a visit from an officer in the Police permit department. He was questioning the residents of my street, within 200 meters of an upcoming business as to how we feel about the increased mercantile activities in our laid back neighborhood. He asked common sense questions such as: What are my reasons and/or complaints and objections pro or con the building and/or operation of a business close by?! And do I feel that the presence of this business near me will or could create or cause public disorder in our residential area. Do I believe that the presence of a business practically next door to my home will or may interfere or disturb the peacefulness and tranquility that I have always enjoyed here, etc. you get my drift.  The officer was super friendly and scribbled every word I said in long hand in his book, in Dutch, which I then signed. So why am I telling you all this? Because apparently, we citizens of Aruba have a recourse, the Police Permit Department, not that they can do anything, but it feels good to be heard. So that’s how it works: If a Shoarma takeaway container decides to move in next to you, setting up shop on government leased land, then you can complain to the Police. However, on privately owned land, anything goes, there is little you can do. So apparently if your neighbor decides to install a row of public bathrooms on his privately owned land, tough luck, take it on the chin, but on leased land it’s another story, you may complain, but if one of the ministers gives a green light, then refer to the above option I already described, tough luck, take it on the chin. Basically my visiting policeman said that we have no detailed regulations in place, thus it’s all so difficult to curb the general public’s appetite for mercantile activities. He also said that those wishing to open businesses are in principle required to place paid adz in the newspaper declaring their intentions, forewarning their neighbors, but the adz they place are usually so small, that no one ever sees them.

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January 03, 2016
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