Historic lowering Antillean flag and raising Curaçao flag

Thousands of people witnessed the historic, symbolic elimination of Country the Netherlands Antilles and the birth of Country Curaçao at Brionplein, Curaçao's largest square, Saturday night.

The Antillean flag was lowered a few minutes before midnight Saturday and Curaçao's flag raised a few minutes after 12 o'clock.

In the presence of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Máxima and a score of other invited guests, the formal part of the programme kicked off with the national hymns of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Curaçao. The Antillean hymn, written by Zahira Hiliman from St. Maarten, was played in English and Papiamentu.

After blessings from Pastor Simon Wilson, Curaçao Commissioner Sheldry Osepa addressed the audience at Brionplein, which was decorated with Curaçao flags, but also with flags from the other islands of the Dutch Caribbean as well as the Netherlands. Osepa said the birth of Curaçao had involved a tough pregnancy and complicated delivery.

Lt. Governor Lisa Dindial called on the people to grasp the opportunity to build Country Curaçao with both hands. "This is what we wanted, right? Now we have to make something of it. This is our chance. Everyone should contribute. It doesn't matter what you look like or where you come from," she said.

Aruba's Prime Minister Mike Eman called departing Antillean Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage and Prime Minister of the Country Curaçao designate Gerrit Schotte forward. Eman put his arms around the two and, full of emotions, he stated that the islands would always remain companions.

Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten said the image of the Antillean flag being lowered for the last time and the raising of the flag of Country Curaçao would not be easily forgotten.

"Still, this is not a simple transition, not only a ceremonial exchange of symbols. This is the moment when we celebrate the start of a new cooperation between four free, autonomous countries. Four even partners, the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, within one Kingdom, our Kingdom. Besides this we also celebrate the joyous inclusion of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba into the Netherlands," she said.

Bijleveld-Schouten urged the four countries to keep supporting each other in the shaping of their own future, whereby the well-being of the citizens would be the primary goal. "But also as countries that, through the ties of the Kingdom, want to share responsibility for each other's future," she added. She referred to constitutional reform process as "the largest project" of the Balkenende IV cabinet.

De Jongh-Elhage addressed the gathering for the last time as Antillean Prime Minister. She thanked the Windward Islands for their cooperation in the Netherlands Antilles. "To St. Maarten, Statia and Saba, a word of gratitude from the bottom of my heart for your friendship during all these years. May God bless you all and may the future of your island be a brilliant one!" She thanked Aruba for its support in the process of constitutional reform.

To the people of Curaçao De Jongh-Elhage said that the new status implied much more than simply being a country. "A country is a community with all of us together, regardless where our ancestors came from, where we all help form, build and strengthen. Everyone should help, so Curaçao can move forward, continue to develop and prosper."

With twelve o'clock rapidly approaching, it was then time to start the ceremony to lower the Antillean flag. The flag was handed over to De Jongh-Elhage, who placed it in a glass and wooden display which will be placed at the National Archives. It was visibly a very hard moment for the outgoing Prime Minister, who was supported by members of her cabinet.

Lt. Governor Dindial gave permission to raise the Curaçao flag. The immense flag went up, accompanied by the sound of a single trumpet. As the flag reached the top of the pole in the centre of Brionplein, fireworks lit the sky and people started cheering loudly, waving their small paper Curaçao flags.

Curaçao Prime Minister designate Schotte called on the people to "live and work in unity in the new country." He said country status implied more freedom, taking one's own decisions, but it also means more responsibility.

"We need to work on giving content to our future. Our country is us all together, more than 160 different nationalities," he said. He said the new government, which would be sworn in the next morning, would work for everyone. "That is a solid promise." He especially thanked De Jongh-Elhage for her dedication.

Schotte's speech concluded the official part. The festivities lasted well into the night with an elaborate cultural programme.

10 October 2010

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