Front Cover
 Front Matter
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Social Movements and Social...
 Curacao History and Developmen...
 Contemporary Scene: Social Change...
 Emergence of the May Movement
 The May Movement and Social Change...
 The May Movement in the Context...
 A: The Agreement of Kralendijk
 B: Conclusions and Recommendations,...
 C: Data Collection
 Back Matter
 Back Cover
 Grant of permissions

Title: Social movements, violence, and change
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00087346/00001
 Material Information
Title: Social movements, violence, and change the May Movement in Curaçao
Physical Description: x, 175 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Anderson, William Averette, 1937-
Dynes, Russell Rowe, 1923- ( joint author )
Publisher: Ohio State University Press
Place of Publication: Columbus
Publication Date: [1975]
Subject: Labor -- Curaçao   ( lcsh )
Violence -- Curaçao   ( lcsh )
Working class -- Curaçao   ( lcsh )
Social conditions -- Curaçao   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Statement of Responsibility: William A. Anderson and Russell R. Dynes.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00087346
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000108938
oclc - 01256868
notis - AAM4555
lccn - 75006769
isbn - 0814202403 :


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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Front Matter
        Front Matter 1
        Front Matter 2
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
    Social Movements and Social Change
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
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        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
    Curacao History and Development
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
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        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
    Contemporary Scene: Social Change and the Response to Social Strain
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
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        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
    Emergence of the May Movement
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
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        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
    The May Movement and Social Change and Reform in Curacao
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
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        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
    The May Movement in the Context of Other Social Movements
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
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        Page 157
        Page 158
    A: The Agreement of Kralendijk
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
    B: Conclusions and Recommendations, May 30, 1969; Report of the Commission for the Investigation of the Causes of the May 30, 1969 Riots in Curacao
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
    C: Data Collection
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
    Back Matter
        Page 184
    Back Cover
        Page 185
        Page 186
    Grant of permissions
        Page 187
        Page 188
Full Text
William A. Anderson
and Russell R. Dynes

Social Movements
Violence and Change
The Mlay Nlovement in Cuiracao




I /




The May Movement in Curacao

By William A. Anderson and Russell R. Dynes
Before the shocking events of May, 1969, the
popular picture of Curagao and the other
islands of the Netherlands Antilles was of a
thoroughly attractive, charmingly quaint, re-
mote, and relatively isolated remnant of a van-
ished empire that had, through some happy
accident of history, managed to remain
blessedly free from the political strife and labor
unrest that have come, with greater frequency
and more alarming results, to disrupt the com-
plex societies of the modern world. The in-
habitants of the islands, including the 140,000
or so living on Curacao, the largest of the
group, impressed tourists and other visitors
as eminently peaceful.
This appealing image of the Antilles was to
S be abruptly and dramatically shattered on May
30, 1969, when what had become a widespread
/ strike reflecting a general discontent among
workers, was to erupt into a massive riot in-
volving thousands of workers who took to the
streets. The end result was millions of dollars'
worth of property destroyed. The Antilles were
not, after all, it seems, an isolated and placid
outpost protected by distance, temperament,
and inclination from the complexities of a
S troubled world.
In tracing the "natural" history of the chain
of events that has become known as the May
Movement (or, among some Antilleans them-
selves, as the May Rebellion), the authors of
this fascinating study discuss the preconditions
and evolution of the movement from the eco-
nomic strike phase, through the destructive
N riot, and to the shift to a political phase that
successfully toppled the Antillean government
and led to the creation of an effective new
(Continued on back flap)





~-- -'. .1I s



Social Movements, Violence and Change




William A. Anderson
and Russell R. Dynes

Social Movements

Violence and Change

The May Movement in Curagao

Ohio State University Press: Columbus

Photographs used as the Frontispiece and on the endsheets
are reproduced by permission of Amigoe di Curaqao.

Copyright 1975 by the Ohio State University Press
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Anderson, William Averette, 1937-
Social movements, violence, and change.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Curaqao-Social conditions. 2. Labor and laboring classes-Curaqao. 3. Violence
-Curaqao. I. Dynes, Russell Rowe, 1923- II. Title.
HN247.A53 301.24'2'0972986 75-6769
ISBN 0-8142-0240-3

to Candice, Norma and Sue


The Riot; The May Movement as a Synthesis;
Social Movements and Social Change
Population Sources; The Impact of the Refinery
on Curaqao; Curagao s Place Within the Kingdom
of the Netherlands
The Population Base and the Stratification
System; Politics and Government; Politics and
Labor; Personal Politics; The Labor Movement;
The Growth of Radical Politics
Labor Unrest; Emergence of the May Movement-
Economic Mobilization; Elaboration of the May
Movement-Politicization; Significance of
Internal Conflict; Significance of Structural
Political Change and Reform; Economic Change
and Reform; Sociocultural Change and Reform;
The Societal Capacity for Reform

viii Contents

The Nature of Violence and the Direction of Protest;
The Importance of Labor in Social Movements in
Developing Countries; The May Movement
and Racial Disturbances in the United States; The
May Movement and Other Western Social
Movements; The Consequences of the May Movement
for the Curaqao of the Future

A. The Agreement of Kralendijk
B. Conclusions and Recommendations, May 30,
1969: Report of the Commissionfor the Investiga-
tion of the Causes of the May 30, 1969 Riots in
C. Data Collection


1 Number and Percentage Unemployed Based on
Education and Vocational Training 56
2 A Sample of Wages in the Netherlands Antilles 58
3 Costs of the May Violence 83
4 Seats Held in the Staten Prior to the May Movement 97
5 Seats Held in the Staten After the Special
September Election 99
6 Results of 1971 Curacao Island Council Election 107

Map of the Caribbean 8
Map of Curacao 34


When we first casually read a brief account of the May, 1969,
violence in Curaqao in a local newspaper, little did we know at
the time that we would become involved in a study of events taking
place there over a two-year period, and would make three field
trips to the small island. We both had an interest in the sociology of
the human response to crisis, and had been involved in studies on
natural disasters and civil disturbances. This interest led us to
undertake the present study, which we found to be a most reward-
ing intellectual experience.
The focus of this study is upon the May Movement, the violence
that initially attracted our attention being only one of its many
phases. We have devoted most of our attention to those sociologi-
cal aspects of the May Movement which we hope will contribute
most to furthering the understanding of social movements in gen-
eral: the conditions that gave rise to the movement; its career; and
its consequences for Curagao and possible implications for the
future. The notion of social change has been used to tie these three
aspects of the study together. Drawing on the literature in the field,
we have attempted to indicate some of the general implications of
the study by comparing the May Movement with other social
Many people assisted us in this effort. There were those in

x Preface

Curagao, too numerous to mention individually, who gave will-
ingly of their time and knowledge. Researchers from another
society could not have asked for better cooperation and hospitality
than we received during our field work in Curaqao. We especially
appreciate the help of Stanley Brown, A. J. Kusters, and Rolof van
Hovel. We also owe a special thanks to fellow sociologist R. A.
Romer who read the entire manuscript and offered many valuable
The assistance of Norma Anderson, who made valuable com-
ments and typed part of the initial draft of the manuscript, is also
appreciated. The study was financed by two grants from Arizona
State University's University Grants Committee and a grant from
the Ohio State University's Mershon Center. We gratefully ac-
knowledge this support.

Social Movements, Violence and Change


Social Movements and Social Change

This is a study of social protest and change in Curacao, a small
developing island-society in the Caribbean. Located 35 miles
north of Venezuela, it is the largest and most populous island of the
Netherlands Antilles, a former Dutch colony that also includes
Aruba, Bonaire, Saint Maarten, Saba, and Saint Eustatuis. The
population of Curacao is around 141,000, of whom over 65,000
live in Willemstad, the capital of the Antilles.1
In studying social change in Curacao, we have chosen to focus
on social movements, especially the May Movement that crystal-
lized in 1969. This movement grew out of a labor dispute and
assumed several different forms, the most dramatic being a riot in
which there was loss of life, many injuries, and millions of dollars
in property damage. One of the local newspapers provides an
initial introduction to this event.

The capital of the Netherlands Antilles. Willemstad, on the last day
of May 1969, looks like a city struck by disaster. A tidal wave of
violence flooded the city yesterday and it seems many lives were lost
and many injured. There has been damage of many millions due to
fires and looting on a large scale. Trade has suffered heavy loss and it
may be assumed that many people lost their lifework in a few hours
In less than 24 hours, the leaden mask of an unconcerned and

4 Social Movements, Violence and Change

carefree life has been ripped off a large part of Curaqao in the
Caribbean Sea. From behind this mask came the ugly face which was
lined with suppressed racial sentiments. The view which the world has
was one which revealed itself in arson and looting. The myth of the
carefreeness of the Antillean people was destroyed abruptly in the
burning ruins of buildings.2

As the newspaper excerpt suggests, the violent episode sur-
prised many persons because the inhabitants of Curaqao, most of
whom are nonwhite, were considered among the most peaceful in
the Caribbean and perhaps the most unlikely to engage in radical
protest of any sort. It is even doubtful that the few self-proclaimed
radicals on the island could anticipate that the inhabitants were
prepared to protest in as dramatic fashion as they did, on May 30,
such conditions as low wages, high unemployment, and the domi-
nation of the economy by local and foreign whites. The central
government of the Antilles had attributed the labor tranquility in
the society to Antilleans' strong traditional family ties that al-
ledgedly made them immune from radical politics and forms of
protest. In fact, this theory was mentioned in a 1965 government
publication aimed at prospective foreign investors.

Antillian families are bound together by unusually strong ties and
therefore extremist elements have little chance to interfere in labor
relations. There is no communist party. Labor unions and their leaders
refrain from excessive demands which might result in more

On May 30, 1969, however, this image of the Antilles was
dramatically shattered as striking workers were mobilized into the
mass movement that we now call the May Movement and that
some of the inhabitants refer to as the May Revolution. Thousands
of workers, led by black radical and moderate labor leaders and
some radical teachers, took to the streets and battled police,
harassed whites, and destroyed millions of dollars in property.
This violent episode was only one part of the May Movement, but
it was certainly an important phase. We will describe it in more
detail in order to set the stage for the context in which the May
Movement will be examined.

Social Movements and Social Change 5

The riot in Curacao had its immediate roots in a labor dispute
between the Curaqao Federation of Workers (cFw) and
Werkspoor Caribbean (WESCAR), a contractor for the most im-
portant business enterprise on the island, the Royal Dutch Shell
Company. The CFW was seeking a wage agreement that was
equivalent to one that had been negotiated earlier for Shell em-
ployees by another union, the Petroleum Workers Federation of
Curacao (PWFC). On May 6, 1969, the CFW led a group of 400
workers on a strike against WESCAR. From this initial action, the
labor unrest was to spread to Shell itself and, more important,
take on political and racial overtones.
The crucial point during the crisis came on May 30. After
calling a sympathy strike against Shell in support of the CFW,
members of the PWFC, along with members of several other
unions that had also gone on strike against their employers,
gathered in the morning at the entrance to the Shell refinery. Labor
leaders began making speeches to the crowd, which had grown to
an estimated size of between three and four thousand men. A few
of these leaders, including one popular figure in particular by the
name of Papa Godett who was head of a radical union, began
advocating that the strikers' protest take on broader dimensions.
Godett called on the strikers to march on Fort Amsterdam, the seat
of government located in downtown Willemstad, to overthrow the
government, declaring that it was basically responsible for the
economic plight of workers, especially black workers. He was
quoted as having said, "If we don't succeed without force, then we
have to use force. I will lead, but if I get killed, then I want the
struggle to continue. But I will lead, and I want you to follow
me. The people is the government. The present government is no
good and we will replace it."4
The crowd began to move toward downtown Willemstad, led by
Godett and several other labor leaders, to register its protest with
the government. Along the way, cars were overturned and burned
and some whites were harassed. Stores were also looted. Youths
began participating in the protest march. Before the marchers
could reach Fort Amsterdam, they were met by the police, and

6 Social Movements, Violence and Change

during the ensuing confrontation Papa Godett was shot. Left
leaderless because most of the other union leaders on the march
went to the hospital with the wounded Godett and remained there
until they saw that he would recover, the bulk of the crowd broke
up into smaller groups and quickly spread through the downtown
business district breaking windows, looting, and setting fires.
Some of the buildings that were set afire by the rioters were several
hundred years old and thus burned quickly. Also the compactness
of the business district made access difficult for fire-fighting
equipment. The fires in the downtown area were not brought under
control until the next day, ending the danger of fire spreading to
other parts of the city. A curfew was enforced on Friday, May 30,
and remained in effect over the weekend. On June 1, Dutch
Marines arrived in Curacao from the Netherlands to provide relief
for weary local security forces.
One of the most significant consequences of the disturbance was
that the unions, through the threat of calling a general strike,
forced the government to resign and call for new elections. In
issuing their ultimatum, the unions claimed that the government
had "used weapons in order to stop the desires of the workers."
This development overshadowed a new agreement negotiated by
the CFW with WESCAR during the riot.
There were many persons in Curaqao who attempted to explain
what occurred on that "most historic day," May 30, 1969. Among
them was a writer, Edward A. de Jongh, who observed the day's
events by walking the streets of Willemstad and later wrote a book
titled May 30, 1969: The Most Historic Day.5 The author used a
fictitious young man named Boy Kalino as the main character in
the book. Boy is the youngest son of a fatherless family of three.
His sister, Rosita, works at one of the stores owned and operated
by a Jewish merchant. His sick mother receives a small amount of
relief from public funds, and Boy is unemployed. Through this
poor family, de Jongh paints a picture of what he sees as the social
causes underlying the rebellion against authority, the wanton de-
struction, arson, and pilfering on May 30.
Boy Kalino and his family are seen as victims of widespread

Social Movements and Social Change 7

unemployment in Curacao, the lack of adequate social laws (in-
cluding those governing termination of employment and layoff
procedures), and discrimination based on color and race. Boy puts
on his one good shirt to go and look for a job. He finds one, but is
arbitrarily fired on the very first day as he arrives late through no
fault of his own. He is not given the chance to explain what
happened. As the story develops, Boy is first a shocked eyewitness
to the May 30 events, but then after some liquor he becomes a
participant and vents his pent-up aggression by throwing a
Molotov cocktail at the store where he was fired. He accepts three
very expensive gold watches that were looted from the well-known
jewelers Spritzer and Fuhrman and is apprehended and sentenced
to jail for seven months.
As de Jongh indicates in his book, the May riot resulted from
both immediate and deep-seated problems in the society. Thus the
May Movement did not come to an end with the termination of the
riot and the government's forced resignation. For example, a
group of dissenters formed a new labor party and in the special
election held after the May rebellion managed to capture seats in
parliament by campaigning on an Antillean nationalist platform.
Somewhat later, a second party was formed with an emphasis upon
black nationalism.

One of the highest government officials in the Netherlands
Antilles astutely observed that the evolution of the May Movement
in Curacao was related to the fact that this Caribbean island, like
most societies in the modern world, did not live in isolation from
events transpiring in other lands. He pointed to Curacao's well-
developed mass media as a major means whereby information
about happenings and circumstances in places like the United
States, Europe, South America, and other parts of the Caribbean
was channeled onto the island. It could be added too that Antilleans
go abroad for many reasons, such as for business and educational
purposes, thus having the opportunity to come in contact with new

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Social Movements and Social Change 9

ideas and perspectives. This has been especially true of students
who have gone to universities abroad. Of some importance also is
the fact that Antilleans are exposed to many outsiders who visit
their country as a result of its location, climate, and oil industry. Its
location in the Caribbean makes it a sort of crossroads, as indicated
in the following excerpt.

This capital of the Netherlands Antilles is becoming embroiled again
in Caribbean politics. Willemstad, a tranquil center of tourism and
Dutch trading has become a relay point for hundreds of political and
technical expeditions to Cuba. Because of geography and transporta-
tion advantages, Curaqao has long been known as the gateway to the
Caribbean from the Latin-American mainland. However, the Gov-
ernment is finding it increasingly embarrassing that the island's role is
turning it into a staging area for Cuba-bound Soviet, Czechoslovak
and Chinese technicians, Polish "tourists" and Latin American "stu-
dents." The number of ideologically receptive Latin Americans
streaming through here toward Cuba is increasing daily. Several
hundred arrive monthly.6

The climate also attracts many tourists from North America and
the Netherlands, and the oil industry has attracted many workers
from the Netherlands as well as other Caribbean islands. With
Curaqao's openess, then, it is not surprising that the May Move-
ment was a blend of characteristics manifested by movements
elsewhere. It articulated themes that could be seen in youth, labor,
and ethnic movements found in many parts of the world, including
the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe along with many
indigenous ideas. These themes were reinterpreted in the light of
Curacao's own sociohistorical experience. This synthesis made
the May Movement similar to, yet different from, many other
political movements that have emerged around the same period.
The Netherlands Antilles is a developing society, or part of what
is now commonly referred to as the Third World. In this part of the
world, there are many movements aimed at eradicating color
barriers and the political and economic subordination of the mas-
ses. In Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, there has been a
proliferation of movements attempting to transform colonial and

10 Social Movements, Violence and Change

neo-colonial systems. The May Movement is a part of this trend.
The recent revolutionary changes Cuba has undergone, of course,
have captured the imagination of many developing nations. Unlike
what some government officials in Curaqao were prepared to
believe, however, there was no concrete evidence that the May
rebellion was sparked by communists or was directly influenced
by Cuba. Yet in a sense the Cuban revolution did have a kind of
indirect influence. It became a romantic symbol for many of the
leading dissidents in the May Movement. For example, some of
them imitated the khaki military dress made famous by Castro and
his followers and rode around the island in a jeep. This practice
provoked disapproval from many persons it was probably de-
signed to bother, for example, government officials, which more
than likely contributed to its continuation. Cuba was also used by
some of the dissidents as a standard by which to compare circum-
stances in Curaqao, as in the case, for example, of the leader who
suggested that Antilleans should be as free as the Cubans have
been since the Castro-led revolution.
Recently in the Commonwealth Caribbean or West Indies,
black power movements have been the major form that radical
movements for change have assumed. Such movements have been
active on such Caribbean islands as Barbados, Grenada, Saint
Lucia, Jamaica, and Trinidad-Tobago. McDonald provides us
with insight into the conditions that give rise to such movements in
the following observation.

The Caribbean is a beautiful "house with an African personality"; but
its wealth and beauty have been the privilege and property of Euro-
peans or North Americans for over three hundred years. And all the
while, the Afro-Caribbean character of the region has been continu-
ously exploited or oppressed. It seems inescapable that this contradic-
tion, dehumanizing both for the oppressor and the oppressed, will
have to be radically changed, one way or another.7

The most dramatic action by any of the black power movements
took place in Trinidad from February 26 to April 22, 1970. During
this period, a small activist organization called the National Joint

Social Movements and Social Change 11

Action Committee led a mass movement consisting of students,
unemployed blacks and East Indians, and trade union leaders in
protest demonstrations against the political and economic estab-
lishment. One of the leaders voiced the goal of the movement in
the following way.

Our movement is working toward the day when each black person will
be able to get a fair deal, be he of African or East Indian descent, will
be able to feel that he has a stake in the future of our society. We are
therefore against the present system in Trinidad which can only result
in the perpetuation of the status-quo. In Trinidad we have a black
Government which is not working in the interest of the people, for
they strive to perpetuate a system of capitalism, a system which serves
to provide huge profits for the foreign firms like the Royal Bank of
Canada, Alcan, or Texaco Trinidad. We cannot and indeed will not
allow our black people to be further dehumanized. And I say to you,
there must be change."

The movement kept Trinidad in a state of turmoil for eight weeks,
with even half of the army rebelling, before the government was
finally able to end the protest.
As was true of events in Cuba, the black power movements that
developed in Jamaica, Barbados, and other parts of the Caribbean
touched Curacao indirectly rather than directly. There was no
evidence, for example, that local dissidents in Curaqao were
"advised" by black power leaders from other islands. Yet what
developed in Curaqao was not isolated from happenings in the rest
of the Caribbean. Dissidents in Curaqao were not unaware of what
was occurring throughout the Caribbean, just as they were not
unaware of the riots by ghetto residents and the black power
movement in the United States. Some of the symbols, rhetoric,
and issues used by May Movement protesters were similar to those
associated with movements on other Caribbean islands and in the
United States. Again this is understandable since Curaqao shares
with other Caribbean islands and the United States problems of
race and poverty, and the ease with which strategies of protest can
be shared among societies given the effective means of communi-
cation and transportation available in the modern world. Seeing

12 Social Movements, Violence and Change

parallels between the May Movement and black power movements
in the Caribbean and the United States, some Antillean govern-
ment officials looked for an explanation in some type of conspir-
acy. One conspiracy "theory" that gained considerable attention
in Curaqao involved a man by the name of Fox. This man was an
Antillean who had spent many years in New York before returning
to Curaqao sometime before the outbreak of the May 30 rebellion.
In conversations around the island, Fox often used black power
rhetoric and told people that he had been associated with the black
power movement while living in the United States. He wore a
dashiki and showed his identification with the cultural aspects of
the black radical movement in other ways, such as giving the black
power handshake and the clenched fist greeting symbolizing the
call for black power. Because of his mode of behavior and because
he arrived just before the May 30 violence, some government
officials were of the opinion that he might have been sent by black
power groups in the United States to organize the riot in Curaqao.
However, there was no evidence to support this view. And a
commission that was later appointed by the government to investi-
gate the causes of the riot did not mention Fox as having any
responsibility for the violence that took place (see Appendix B for
the conclusions and some of the recommendations that appeared in
the commission's report).
Although similar to the black power movements that evolved in
the Caribbean and the United States around the same period, the
May Movement was also different from them in many significant
ways because of Curaqao's different sociohistorical background,
which we will consider at some length later. Strictly speaking, the
May Movement was not a black power movement. There certainly
was a call for a more equitable distribution of power between the
races and an end to racism in the Antilles. But the movement's
basic message was a demand for greater Antillean influence over
the affairs of the former Dutch colony and a new, more dignified
identity to replace the one that had been badly damaged by years of
Dutch colonial rule and more recently by the foreign domination of
the local economy and way of life. Certainly black Antilleans were
seen as those most in need of such changes in the society, but many

Social Movements and Social Change 13

May Movement dissidents also felt that local whites would and
should benefit from them too. Furthermore, whites were hardly
excluded from participating in the May Movement. In fact, a white
school teacher was one of the principal leaders of the May Move-
ment and was largely responsible for the involvement of many
teachers and intellectuals in its activities. Clearly, too, some of the
dissidents were inspired by other forms of radicalism in addition to
black power politics. For example, some of the teachers who
participated in May Movement activities had been radicalized
while attending universities in the Netherlands. For them, the
student experience afforded the opportunity to associate with per-
sons possessing different outlooks, leading in many cases to their
acquiring a new political awareness and involvement in demonst-
rations and radical youth movements while in Holland. One young
teacher and participant in the May Movement reported that she had
had this kind of experience to the dismay of her parents, whom she
felt had wanted her to attend a Dutch university in order to find a
husband and settle down there rather than return to Curaqao. In
order to combat this influence on the youth, one Antillean legisla-
tor proposed a new law that would have required that recipients of
government scholarships attend college outside the Netherlands.
In summary, the May Movement arose at a time when consider-
able protest abound in the Caribbean and other parts of the Third
World, as well as in the black ghettos of the United States and parts
of Europe. Thus the May Movement reflected many of the charac-
teristics of such protest efforts outside of the Netherlands Antilles.
Still the May Movement represented a different mixture of charac-
teristics since its participants reshaped ideas that were borrowed
else here to make them fit their experiences and added many new
ideas of their own. These ideas will be elaborated in succeeding
chapters. Now let us turn to a discussion of the mode of analysis we
used in this study.

Although our initial interest in Curaqao was in the violence
described above, as we attempted to understand it, we found
ourselves considering the past; and as we took time to understand

14 Social Movements, Violence and Change

the past, questions came to mind regarding Curacao's future.
Thus, we became involved in a study of social change. We soon
found it useful to see the violent incident as one part of a totality of
collective action that we call the May Movement. We came to
appreciate the importance of this social movement in the process of
social change in Curagao. Thus Turner and Killian s definition of a
social movement seems adequate for the purpose of this study: "a
collectivity acting with some continuity to promote or resist a
change in the society or group of which it is a part."9
We will consider the several ways in which the May Movement
was related to social change. Many of the ideas that guided us in
our analysis were drawn from the growing, but still diffuse,
literature on social movements.10 Some of these ideas will be
introduced before we move on to further description and analysis.
We will briefly discuss (a) the relation of social movements to
social strain, (b) some of the internal dynamics that characterize
social movements, and (c) some of the considerations that have to
be given in assessing the success of a movement.

Social Movements and Social Strain
Simple societies are less likely to have social movements since a
certain level of complexity is required. With increasing complex-
ity, there will be increasing heterogeneity and more diversity of
viewpoints about the necessity of change. In such societies, it is
more likely that people will be able to find others with similar ideas
to join collectively to press for change. Too, some of the dimen-
sions that have created the increasing complexity are likely to be
productive of social strain.11 Social and cultural conflicts, depriva-
tions and discrepancies are the types of strain that scholars have
most often associated with the rise of movements. For example,
social movements are likely to develop when there is conflict
between two cultures, especially when one culture threatens to
dominate another. In such a case, the threatened cultural group
may form a social movement to protect or to revitalize its cultural
heritage. Different types of deprivations have been identified as
contributing to the generation of social movements. Some groups

Social Movements and Social Change 15

in a society may see themselves, relative to others, as being
economically oppressed. They may thus form a movement to
collectively improve their economic position. Also, deprivation
may be interpreted by groups in political terms. For example, the
belief may be shared among certain segments of a population that
they possess insufficient political power and influence. In colonial
and neo-colonial societies such beliefs have served as the catalyst
for the organization of nationalist movements. Discrepancies such
as inconsistencies between ideal and real norms also have been
identified as possible sources of pressure for change in societies.
Groups that are denied rights guaranteed by their society s legal
statutes may, through collective action in a social movement,
attempt to close the gap between their actual experiences and the
ideal norms and values specified in law. Civil rights movements
represent this type of response.
As we shall see, there were various themes of protest in the May
Movement that suggested that it too grew out of strains somewhat
similar to those referred to above. The movement eventually
addressed itself to various economic, political, and sociocultural
problems in the society. And like movements generally, it
emerged when more institutionalized means for bringing about
desired change seemed inadequate.
In addition to preexisting strains, some major event often plays a
significant role in the final crystallization of a movement. In some
cases, this may be a dramatic crisis that emphasizes the need for
innovative behavior or increases the opportunity for it. The riots of
the 1960s in the United States, for example, were the catalyst for
the formation of several new black movements. Similarly, a period
of labor unrest in Curaqao and the violent incident previously
described culminated in the emergence of the May Movement.
Without this crisis, a serious collective effort to reduce certain
strains in the society might have been longer in coming.

Social Movement Organization and Social Change
One of the topics we will discuss is the various organizational
changes the May Movement underwent. Thus it would be useful at

16 Social Movements, Violence and Change

this point to make several comments on how social movements are
organized. Students of collective behavior and social movements
characterize the organization or structure of social movements as
being emergent in nature. Turner and Killian note, for example:

As a collectivity, a movement is a group with indefinite and shifting
membership and with leadership whose position is determined more
by the informal response of the members than by formal procedures
for legitimizing authority.'2

Like other collectivities, then, a movement has a structure and a
division of labor, but these tend to be less clear cut than in
established groups and organizations. Typically, movements have
highly dedicated cadres, or core groups, that are heavily involved
in trying to reach desired goals, and larger and less committed
groups of members. Usually, because of their visibility, and often
charismatic appeal, certain members of the core group come to
symbolize the movement to outsiders as well as insiders.
There is, however, considerable variation among social move-
ments in the degree to which they are organized or integrated.
There are some social movements with well-defined roles,
mechanisms for coordination, and explicit criteria for member-
ship. Generally, however, integration and coordination tend to be
problematic. Social movements tend to be marked by considerable
dissensus. As Killian has noted: "Many movements are comprised
of diverse segments, each with its own structure, loosely united
only by their allegiance to the central, explicit values and by the
tendency of outsiders to view them as parts of a single whole."13
In fact, the interaction between the various components of a social
movement is often characterized by conflict. A case in point is the
civil rights movement in the United States.
The organization of a social movement has a dynamic quality.
At a later point in its history, a movement may manifest considera-
bly more coordination and integration than it did earlier. Scholars
employing a natural history model have been particularly sensitive
to the possibilities for the internal transformation of movements.
For example, Dawson and Gettys in their classic statement suggest

Social Movements and Social Change 17

that movements begin during a preliminary stage of unrest, pass
through a popular stage of collective excitement into a third stage
of formal organization, and finally reach a fourth stage of
institutionalization.14 Particularly relevant to our analysis is a
model employed by some social scientists which suggests that
movements tend to move from a low to a high degree of organiza-
tion and concomitantly from a low to high degree of political
awareness. For example, Oppenheimer says, "Historically, it
would seem, urban mobs and riots give way to more sophisticated
political forms, such as modern social movements (trade un-
ionism, for example, or working class political parties), where
such forms are feasible."1'1 This kind of model of social move-
ment transformation seems useful if a simple determinism is
avoided. We will employ such a model in this study. The May
Movement experienced increasing organization and politicization,
and we will seek an explanation of these internal changes in factors
both internal and external to the movement.
The interplay between internal consensus and conflict gives
movements much of their dynamic quality. Movements are often
comprised of diverse groups. Such heterogeneous components
may be held together by their general agreement on goals, tactics,
and ideology and by the interpersonal ties between leaders and
followers. In addition to creating stability, the emergence of grea-
ter consensus within a movement may also at times produce
internal change. A coalition or merger may be formed between
once competing factions, and even a more inclusive social move-
ment may be created that includes elements once considered out-
side the original movement.
Although the social organization of movements may change
because of factors that increase consensus, it is internal conflict or
dissensus that perhaps plays a more significant role in making a
movement dynamic. Internal conflict and competition often lead
to factions and splits within movements.16 Indeed, such processes
as conflict and competition are so ubiquitous to movements that
outsiders and critics of movements are often unable to see how
they can achieve their goals. In our analysis of the May Move-

18 Social Movements, Violence and Change

ment, we will show how internal conflict, like consensus, be-
comes important at certain points in the career of a movement.
What are some of the internal sources of dissensus that give
movements much of their dynamic character? The ideology may
be one important area of conflict. Even though various groups may
generally subscribe to a common ideology, so that we can say that
they are part of the same movement, there nevertheless may be
disagreement over specific and even basic points, which leads to
internal competition and conflict. Opposing factions may vie for
recognition and the acceptance of their particular position. Dissen-
sus may also exist within a movement over tactics and strategy.
Among civil rights groups in the United States, for example, there
is disagreement over the means to be employed in reaching the
goal of equality for black Americans. Personal antagonisms and
ambitions may also lead to factionalization and the emergence of
competing elements in movements. Aspiring leaders constantly
appear in movements to challenge the existing leadership. Too,
groups and organizations belonging to the same movement often
have links to different outside organizations. Such extramovement
associations of member groups and organizations often create
internal conflict within a movement. This occurs when certain
segments of a movement view these associations as a potential
threat to the success of the movement or when the outside group to
which a member organization is linked is generally viewed in
negative terms.
Quite obviously, external factors affect social movement or-
ganization. The structure of a movement may be transformed in
response to environmental pressures, and in some cases the very
existence and viability of a movement may be threatened by
external elements. The response of groups in power to a move-
ment, and, in particular, the response of social control agencies, is
important in determining its character. Those in power may effec-
tively defuse or can contribute to the breakup of a potentially
radical movement by granting certain reforms or by coopting its
leaders."7 On the other hand, an incipient movement may be able
to continue its development due to outside support.

Social Movements and Social Change 19

In this study, then, we will examine both internal and external
factors in accounting for the dynamics of the May Movement.
Also, we will look for characteristics it shares with other move-
ments in this regard, as well as differences.

Social Movement Success Through Social Change

The success of social movements has to be judged by the extent
to which they are able to initiate change in society or reduce
particular strains. It is not easy to determine whether a movement
has succeeded or failed. The goals of movements are often stated
in such vague or general terms that it may be almost impossible to
measure the extent to which they have been achieved. It often
becomes exceedingly difficult to credit a solution to a problem or
an instance of social change to a particular movement since many
movements and organizations may be operating in the same areas.
Yet in spite of such problems, we do know that some social
movements meet with a degree of success. In some instances this
may be minor success, whereas in other cases it is major, with the
movement having a profound effect upon society. Even move-
ments that "fail" and disappear sometimes have an impact on
society by spawning other movements.'"
There are several ways in which movements may achieve suc-
cess. Killian notes that third-party movements in the United States
have been successful in an indirect way.

One way in which a movement may contribute to social change is
through forcing the established structure of the society to come to
terms with it and its values, incorporating some features of its pro-
grams into existing institutions. This is best exemplified by the fate of
"third party" movements in American history which, although fail-
ing to win political power, have at times forced major parties to adopt
modified versions of their programs."'

A more direct way for a movement to achieve success is through
revolution. Again Killian notes, "A movement which is suffi-
ciently ambitious in terms of its goals and is strongly power-
oriented may be successful in seizing control of the entire group or

20 Social Movements, Violence and Change

society-a revolution is effected. The movement is rapidly trans-
formed into a particular type of association, a government."20
What determines the degree of success a movement experi-
ences? The answer to this question lies in the character of a
movement itself and the environment in which it operates. A
political movement, for example, will be successful to the extent
that it has power to force other groups to accede to its demands.
Such power comes from the possession of valued resources: or-
ganization, finances, manpower, knowledge, and the like. Being
emergent phenomena, social movements are usually quite limited
by their own internal make-up, often suffering from a lack of
organization, experience, and financial resources. For example,
the lact of experience by those in nationalist movements has been
known to be particularly limiting. In such instances, movement
personnel may win political office only to find themselves still
dependent upon unsympathetic administrators from the old regime
who had to be retained because of their expertise. Structural
conditions, vested interest groups, and countermovements can
limit the success of a social movement. Thus, as we will examine
in the case of the May Movement, the success of a movement in
achieving its goals and initiating change in society is likely to be a
function of the relative strength of facilitating and limiting forces
within and outside the movement.
Many movements undergo a violent phase during their careers.
Such violence often involves arson, looting, and, in some cases,
even personal attacks. This kind of violence typically has a low
degree of organization, but it may have implications for the ulti-
mate success of a social movement. This possibility is often
overlooked. Gary Marx, for example, chided the National Advis-
ory Commission on Civil Disorders for not considering the "posi-
tive" consequences of the riots of the 1960s in its report.

The Commission asserts that violence can never be a factor in bringing
about change. Nevertheless in a majority of the cities it studied there
was evidence of positive change following the disorders. Just as
Negroes taking to the streets in civil disobedience in the early 60's
seemed to inspire much civil rights legislation and activity, so recent

Social Movements and Social Change 21

violence has spurred great concern with what is called the "urban
crisis. "21

Violence can have an effect on both those inside and outside a
movement. It may, for example, motivate those in power to try and
accommodate some of the movement's demands. But perhaps
even more significantly, violence may result in increasing solidar-
ity and political awareness within the protesting group. Marx
suggests that this happened in the United States following the riots
in the 1960s.22 In our analysis, we will show that a similar
development occurred in Curaqao after the May 30 violence.
It is usual, however, to view violent protest as irrational and, by
definition, nonproductive. The actions of hostile crowds are often
seen as isolated episodes, unconnected with other events in soci-
ety, and having little real purpose. However, in our conceptual
framework, we will place such violent crowd outbreaks in the
larger context of social movements. Geschwender sees the recent
urban riots in the United States in much the same way.

The earlier discussion of looting strongly suggested that current urban
disorders were a developing part of the civil rights movement. ... The
present author no longer questions that the urban disorders are, in fact,
creative rioting. Creative rioting falls clearly within the evolutionary
pattern of the civil rights movement, a social movement which may or
may not eventually become revolutionary.23

Thus crowd violence may be, in itself, a phase of a movement, less
organized perhaps than other phases, but yet not necessarily irra-
tional and without purpose. Furthermore, the nonutility of such
behavior cannot be assumed since it may contribute to the success
of a movement by making a social system more open to change and
reform. Collective violence may also lead to the increasing organi-
zation and political sophistication of a movement, thus enabling it
to more effectively pursue long-range goals. We shall examine
these possibilities in Curaqao.
Our orientation regarding the relationship of social movements
and social change can be summarized as follows. (1) Social
movements are important to study in their own right because they

22 Social Movements, Violence and Change

are a type of social change. Thus we see them as significant events
in the history of a society. Also, since they are dynamic social
forms, their analysis over time, that is, the study of their careers,
should provide further insight into the nature of social change. (2)
We assume that the deliberate and conscious efforts of men to
modify existing political, economic and social arrangements are
not doomed to failure. We further assume that a movement's
actions may have both manifest and latent consequences. That is, a
movement may not only realize its goals and produce planned
social change but may also precipitate unanticipated changes. (3)
Finally, we take the position that preexisting changes and other
conditions in society should be taken into account in any analysis
of the relationship between social movements and social change.
However, these variables should not be emphasized to the point
that the internal dynamics and careers of movements and their
impact on society are ignored.
In our analysis, we will first locate the emergence of the May
Movement in particular preconditions and changes in Curagao.
Then we will analyze the internal dynamics of the movement.
Finally, we will assess the consequences that the May Movement
had for the society over a two-year period. The major questions we
will seek to answer about the May Movement, in one way or
another, involve the matter of social change. Why did the May
Movement emerge? Did it emerge because of changes in Curaqao
or because of the unwillingness of those in power to make changes
desired by certain groups? Did the May Movement undergo inter-
nal changes similar to other movements? What changes, if any, did
the movement initiate in the society? Was its success in achieving
change limited by internal or external conditions? Through our
analysis, we hope to answer these and related questions.
Curaqao has had a long and interesting history. Some under-
standing of it, particularly the sources of the population and the
background of certain political and economic issues, are important
in understanding the May Movement. The next chapter provides
the initial background.

Social Movements and Social Change 23

1. Netherlands Antilles 1969 Statistical Yearbook (Willemstad: Bureau of Statistics,
1969), p. 23.
2. Amigoe di Curacao, May 31, 1969.
3. Investment Factors: Netherlands Antilles (Willemstad: Department of Social and
Economic Affairs, 1965), p. 30.
4. Amigoe di Curacao, May 31, 1969.
5. Edward A. de Jongh, May 30, 1969: The Most Historic Day (Willemstad: Privately
published, 1969).
6. New York Times, September 21, 1962. Copyright 1962 by the New York Times
Company. Reprinted by permission.
7. Frank McDonald, "The Commonwealth Carribbean," in The United States and the
Caribbean, ed. Tad Szulc. Copyright 1971 by the American Assembly, Columbia
University. Published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Used by
8. Geddes Granger, quoted in Ibid., p. 164.
9. Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian, Collective Behavior (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall, Inc., 1972), p. 246.
10. For a review of this literature, see, in addition to Turner and Killian's book: Anthony
Oberschall, Social Conflict and Social Movements (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall,
Inc., 1973); Gary B. Rush and R. Serge Denisoff. Social and Political Movements (New
York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971); and John Wilson, Introduction to Social Move-
ments (New York; Basic Books, 1973).
11. Those familiar with Smelser's theory of collective behavior will recognize that we
have collapsed his "structural conduciveness" and "structural strain" together here. Neil
J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: The Free Press, 1962).
12. Turner and Killian, Collective Behavior, p. 246.
13. Lewis Killian, "Social Movements" in Handbook of Modern Sociology, ed. R. E.
Faris (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), p. 440. Used by permission.
14. C. A. Dawson and W. E. Gettys, An Introduction to Sociology (New York: Ronald
Press, 1948), p. 690.
15. Martin Oppenheimer, The Urban Guerrilla (Chicago: Quadrangle Press, 1969), p.
16. Mayer Zald and Roberta Ash, "Social Movements: Growth, Decay and Change,"
Social Forces 44 (March, 1966):327-40.
17. Oppenheimer, The Urban Guerrilla, p. 167.
18. Killian, "Social Movements,' p. 452.
19. Ibid., p. 453.
20. Ibid.
21. Gary Marx, "Report of the National Commission: The Analysis of Disorder or
Disorderly Analysis?" (paper presented at the 1968 meeting of the American Political
Science Association), p. 8.
22. Ibid., p. 9.
23. James Geschwender, "Civil Rights Protest and Riots: A Disappearing Distinction,"
Social Science Quarterly 49 (December, 1968):484.


Curaqao: History and Development

To some, Curagao is a quaint stop on the Caribbean cruise circuit
and is remembered for being a bit of Holland, since this impression
is given by the architecture around the port at Willemstad. The
shops downtown contain a cornucopia of items for the transient
traveler to purchase. Some pick up a bottle of the locally made
liqueur and go back to their ship to be off to another exotic island.
Others who stay longer remember Curagao for its hotels-the
Intercontinental nesting within the walls of the old fort, the lavish
Hilton, the Flamboyant Beach, and now the inevitable Holiday
Inn. To others, because of its oil industry, Curagao may give the
appearance of a technological monster-a mass of intertwined
pipes, oil storage tanks, tankers, and gas burn-off torches, which
eerily illuminate the night. All of these manifestations are the
result of a long and interesting history.
Curaqao's history involves people whose fame came elsewhere,
such as Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote about Curaqao as being an
"Isle of Giants," and Peter Stuyvesant, who left a leg (sometimes
rumored to be buried in Curagao) in the Caribbean before he went
on to what was to become New York. Spanish buccaneers sailed
the waters around the island as did German U-boats several
hundred years later. The British captured it and Venezuelan re-
volutionaries almost did a century later. Until 1825. it was the site

Curaqao: History and Development 25

of the largest Jewish community in the Americas. It is the site of
the oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere, founded in 1654,
and the oldest Jewish cemetery, in 1659. Curaqao also became an
important slave depot, which supplied the Spanish colonies and
other customers. Later, Curacao, with the Shell refinery, supplied
most of the fuel oil used by the Allies during World War II.
From this overview, one can see that Curacao's history is long
and complex.' It encompasses invasion, colonization, slavery,
recruitment of an industrial labor force, as well as different streams
of racial and religious groups. Some background in three impor-
tant areas is provided here: (1) the sources of the island's popula-
tion and how these sources affected the dimensions of class, status,
and power in the development of the stratification system; (2) the
island's economic history, with emphasis on the building of the
refinery and the role of the labor unions; and (3) the island's
semiautonomous status in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the
role of political parties in island politics. This information will
provide some understanding of how this Spanish cattle ranch
became an island "kept afloat by oil."

Since the Arawak Indians were ultimately poor historians, we
do not know their reaction to their "discovery" on Curagao by one
of Columbus's lieutenants in 1499. Amerigo Vespucci was a
member of this expedition and must have been impressed since he
wrote about an "Isle of Giants." If his description was aimed
toward stimulating interest, for home consumption, it did not
attract immediate attention since it was not until 1527 that the
Spanish colonized the island and placed it under the control of the
governor of Coro in Venezuela. The Spanish subsequently used
the island as a cattle ranch and did little to defend or develop it.
Holland, at the end of the sixteenth century, needed a trade
outlet for the business that had been made possible by the growth
of her naval forces. The success of the Dutch East India Company
led to the formation of a similar company to exploit the West
Indies. In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was organized

26 Social Movements, Violence and Change

and received a monopoly of trade on the west coast of Africa and
the eastern coasts of the Americas. The charter gave the company
all the rights of sovereignty usually reserved to political states. It
gave the company control of the slave trade in this territory.
In 1634, a 400-man expedition from the company occupied
Curaqao with little opposition. The Spanish surrendered on the
condition that the garrison-32 Spanish and 450 Indians-be
transported to Venezuela. The Dutch, by their conquest, came into
possession of an island that had several excellent harbors to assist
them in their effort to harass Spanish shipping. They fortified the
island. Large warehouses and slave pens were built and gradually
the island became a transshipment port for great quantities of
sugar, cocoa, and tobacco. In 1635, there were 412 Europeans
(almost all military personnel) and 50 Indians.
In 1642, Peter Stuyvesant came to the island as director. There
are indications that he did not like the island and he recommended
to the company that the island be abandoned. His opinion toward
the area was probably not enhanced when he lost his leg on one of
his various expeditions outside the island. When his authority was
expanded to include New Netherlands, he left Curaqao in 1647 to
go north where he gained lasting fame. He continued to administer
Curagao from there for the next seventeen years and the North
American colony furnished Curaqao with food while the island
supplied some slaves, salt, and horses.
Just prior to the time that Stuyvesant came to Curaqao, the
company had seriously considered giving private individuals the
right to colonize and trade freely in Curaqao. Even with the growth
of the slave trade, the company realized that not even a profitable
slave trade could provide a stable economy by itself and that
colonists and tradesmen would be needed.

Protestant Dutchmen
The company sent Protestant Dutchmen and other northwestern
Europeans as employees of the company. Some other immigrants
from the same sources were attracted by what was going on in the

Curaqao: History and Development 27

Caribbean or were attracted by various inducements offered for
colonization. These migrants set the tone for the island based on
reproducing the Netherlands as they remembered it. In house
construction and dress, they made few concessions to the differ-
ences in climate. Although these white Protestants represented
some diversity in their class origins in Europe, their small number
and their common heritage inhibited initially the development of
status differences.

Sephardic Jews
In Amsterdam at that time were many Jews who had earlier fled
Portugal as a consequence of the Inquisition. Many of these Jews
were now involved in various aspects of life in Holland. In fact, the
interpreter (and thus an officer) on the original company expedi-
tion was a Jew. In 1651, a contract was let with the company to
establish a Jewish colony on Curaqao. This contract calling for
fifty colonists was only to produce twelve. Another contract was
let the following year but it is unlikely that this group even reached
the island. Faced with these failures, the company decided to
increase its inducements for colonization. In particular,
Stuyvesant's reluctance to sell slaves to the colonists was seen as
forcing potential settlers to Barbados and other islands where they
could buy slaves.
When the Dutch abandoned Brazil in 1654, a number of Jews
who had gone there returned to Amsterdam. One of the earlier
settlers in Brazil, Da Costa, was willing to try again and no doubt
had heard of previous attempts to settle Curaqao. Da Costa's father
was a prominent member of the Portuguese Jewish community in
Amsterdam, and he probably had known the new governor in
Curaqao who had previously served in Brazil. Da Costa was able to
gather some twelve families (about seventy people) to go to
Curacao in 1659. These families were the progenitors of the
current Portuguese families who still live on the island. Da Costa's
privileges were superior to the previous contracts. The Jewish
community could receive help from the local government in disci-

28 Social Movements, Violence and Change

plining their members. They could buy slaves and build houses.
They were given two miles of land and other assistance from the
Although the initial intent of those who were recruited to come
to Curaqao was farming, farming was risky business. The soil was
not as productive as most other Caribbean islands. Droughts were
frequent and water was in short supply. Certain types of enter-
prises, for example, cattle-breeding and cattle-trading, were a
monopoly of the company. Many of the earlier residents became
involved in supplying the company with everything necessary for
its garrision and its slaves. The "success" of the slave trade meant
that provisions increasingly had to be sought outside the island
through trade.
The Jewish families did particularly well in this commerce since
they had dependable representatives, generally relatives, in Am-
sterdam and in other cities. In addition, many of them had linguis-
tic skills and knowledge of the Caribbean area derived from their
previous experience in Brazil. Later in 1674 when the company
allowed it, some of the merchants did enter the slave trade. With
trade of all kinds, it is not surprising that Jews also entered into the
shipping field, as owners and as charterers of ships. By 1715, they
had practical control of most of the commerce and navigation on
the island. At that time there were probably 425 white families and
3,500 slaves, excluding those owned by the company; the Jews
represented about 35 percent of the white population. From 1726
to 1770, the Jews outnumbered the rest of the white population.2
The Protestant Dutchmen and the Sephardic Jews were in a
certain sense the original residents of Curacao since almost all of
the native Indians had left with the Spanish and those who re-
mained were absorbed into the general population. The two
"white" sources, however, did not mold together but each main-
tained their distinctiveness. They were different not only in origin
but also in religion and language. Their growing occupational
differentiation reinforced the initial differences. The Dutch and
Jews also lived in different parts of Willemstad, separated by
water. These forms of distinctiveness were further reinforced by

Curaqao: History and Development 29

intramarriage. The Jews managed to exercise control in these areas
by the greater cohesiveness of their community.
In the first century and a half after Dutch capture, classes did
develop particularly among the Protestants. A local aristocracy
evolved from the higher civil servants, military personnel, and
prosperous merchants. The local status symbol-the acquisition
of a plantation, a country house-was a mark of belonging to the
aristocracy. Since these plantations were not particularly econom-
ically productive, they functioned more as a symbol of conspicu-
ous consumption. A lower class of white Protestants also de-
veloped composed of those in the retail trades and crafts as well as
the captains of the sailing vessels so necessary to the trade of the
island. Among the aristocratic Protestants in particular, a close
identification was claimed to the Netherlands and especially to
Amsterdam. This was evidenced by the fact that many of the
shutters on the houses were painted red and black in the colors of
the city of Amsterdam. Curacao was a Caribbean extension of the

Negro Slaves
One of the original purposes of the company was to develop the
slave trade. Since the Spanish colonies had a shortage of labor, the
Spanish king used to contract with a merchant an asiento-a
contract of delivery for the exclusive right to import slaves. Since
Spain did not want to invest the vast sums necessary, merchants
from Amsterdam supplied much of the funding for such contracts.
For 130 years, starting in 1648, slaves were imported to Curaqao.
The majority of them, however, were eventually sold to surround-
ing countries. The long trip across the Atlantic and its conse-
quences for the health of the slaves required some "storage"
facilities on the island. Two slave camps were built where as many
as 15,000 slaves were located at one time. During the period of
contract with Spain, 4,000 slaves had to be supplied a year. The
peak years were from 1685 to 1713. In subsequent years, the
number declined to perhaps 500 to 600 a year in 1750. The

30 Social Movements, Violence and Change

majority of slaves came from what now constitutes Ghana and the
area surrounding it. The last slave ship docked in 1778; the slave
trade was forbidden in 1818; and in 1863 slavery was abolished.
In addition to being a way station for the Spanish contract, some
of the slaves were also retained by the company and others were
sold to plantation owners and others on the island. There are
indications that master-slave relations on Curaqao were relatively
tranquil. Many of the slaves on the plantations were in effect house
slaves since the plantations often had little field work. Compared
with slavery systems in other Caribbean countries of the time
period, it is likely that Curaqao was somewhat less harsh. Local
legislation was passed governing the treatment of slaves. For
example, in 1824 an ordinance was passed that limited the slave's
work day to ten hours. (In Europe at that same time, factory
workers had just been limited to a twelve-hour day.) There were,
however, two minor slave uprisings in 1750 and 1795, the last a
spillover from uprisings in Haiti.
Not all Negroes stayed slaves. Slaves were periodically freed.
Sometimes the motives for freeing slaves were not necessarily
charitable. Slavery placed obligations of "care" on the part of the
masters, as the previously mentioned legislation suggests. Some
of the slave owners obviated their obligations by freeing slaves
who were old or not economically productive. To check the abuse
of manumission, the company levied a fee. But by 1816, there
were 2,781 whites, 4,003 colored freemen, and 6,026 slaves. (In
some British Caribbean possessions at that time, there were 10
slaves for every freeman.)
In 1850, manumission fees were abolished and an increasing
number of slaves were set free. Many of these slaves when they
were freed were given names that identified them with their previ-
ous owners. For example, Jesurun was altered to Zurun, Leon was
changed to de Leeuw, Schotborgh to Borghschot, Ellis to Sille.
Government slaves were given names such as Ven den Lande (of
the government). Others were named after their plantation, for
example, Hato and Rosentak. From 1851 to 1862, 1,062 manu-
missions took place. Finally in July, 1863, the remaining slaves,

Curaqao: History and Development 31

over 6,700, were given their freedom. More than two-thirds of
these had been employed on various plantations. Many of them
continued to work on these plantations as domestics and field
hands. Some left the island, but others later settled down on land
obtained when the government bought and parceled out some of
the former plantations.
The social distance between whites and blacks that was rooted in
slavery was reinforced further by religious differences. The Prot-
estant aristocracy was almost uniformly Dutch Reformed, again
symbolic of its ties to the mother country. Rather than encourage
the assimilation of large numbers of blacks to this faith, they
allowed Catholic missionaries to come to the island with the
implicit responsibility of "Christianizing" the blacks.

Even though a superordinate-subordinate relationship existed
continuously between white and black, the long and continued
contact between the two groups led, in time, to the creation of an
intermediate colored group, separate from the other two groups.
Actual data on interracial alliances are, as one might expect,
scanty, although the ultimate results within the population are
visibly obvious. Very early in the history of Curagao, on several
different occasions, Protestant families petitioned the states of
Holland and West Friesland (which had interests in the company)
to forbid intermarriage between whites and mulattos, unless there
was prior consent of the white parents concerned. In 1656 there
was introduced a law that compelled a white person to obtain his
parent's permission before he could marry a colored person. There
were also attempts to secure legislation to annul intermarriages
between whites and mulattos.
In addition to marriages, there were, of course, extensive ex-
tralegal relationships. One governor who had been on Curagao for
thirty-four years wrote in his report to his superiors in 1773 that:
"It is generally well known throughout the world that wherever
there are colonies and slaves, it is impossible to adhere to Euro-

32 Social Movements, Violence and Change

pean morality with relation to marriage, but that members (of
society) live in concubinage with their slaves in spite of
ourselves we must tolerate this situation in our own homes if we
wish to be served by slaves. If we wish to change this, it will be
necessary for the ministers (of religion) to be the first to clean their
homes." Another source suggested that "in 1788 there were not
more than six white families who did not have illegitimate colored
The increasing complexity of Curaqao's racial structure was
reflected in the reorganization of the National Guard in 1821.
Although Jews earlier had served as a separate company, it was
reorganized into five companies-Caucasians, Jews, mestizos,
mulattos, and Negroes.4 The colored category was a heterogene-
ous one, both physically and culturally. The guard reorganization
recognized two intermediate racial categories-mestizos and
mulattos. Culturally some of these colored looked toward the
Netherlands as a cultural "home" as did the white Protestants
whereas others spoke Spanish and identified themselves with
South America, seeking marriage partners there. In these and other
ways, they sought to minimize their identification with the blacks.
In summary, the basic structure of Curaqao toward the end of the
nineteenth century consisted of: (1) an upper-status group of
white, Dutch Protestants emphasizing family origins, contact with
the mother country, Calvinism, governmental position, and the
superiority of that which was white and European. (2) Parallel to
this Dutch status group were the upper-status Sephardic Jews.
They had gained economic wealth but continued to speak Por-
tuguese and Spanish, remained in their synagogues, and em-
phasized their own version of culture. Their marginal position was
indicated by the fact that even when they constituted the majority
of whites on the island, they were treated officially as a "Por-
tuguese Nation." About the same time as the slaves were emanci-
pated, public offices were opened to Jews (and to Catholics). In
return, the Jews began to use the Dutch language in their
In contrast to the bifurcated upper segment was the black under

Curaqao: History and Development 33

class. Its tenuous economic position as a consequence of the long
history of slavery changed little with emancipation except for the
removal of objective legal barriers. Although the blacks were
perhaps compensated psychologically by their conversion to
Catholicism, this too tended to reinforce their inferior position.
In between were the colored and the lower Protestants, their
ancestry making them superior to blacks. Both the colored and the
lower Protestants were not accepted by the upper class, particu-
larly the Dutch Protestants, and they did not identify down. They
were often forced into an identification with pseudo-Dutchness or
with South America. In 1914, there were about 4,000 whites
(including about 1,000 Jews) and about 26,000 Negroes and

During the nineteenth century, Curacao suffered economically
and politically. It was no longer particularly important within the
Dutch empire. The slave trade was coming to an end and Indonesia
was attracting more attention from the Netherlands. During this
time people on Curacao lived by trade and by the shipping con-
nected with it. There were some small profits to be made in
dye-wood and in salt, but the major domestic industry, the manu-
facture of straw hats, had to depend on straw that was imported.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, one writer's descrip-
tion of Curaqao as being a losing colonial venture was appropriate.
He said "Curaqao will in time be obliged to yield to the inevitable
and take the place that her geographic and climatic conditions have
ordained-a lonely island with little political or commercial im-
portance and a small and poor population. Curacao assumed an
importance which will soon be little more than a memory."5
These dismal expectations, however, changed rapidly within
the next several years. The opening of the Panama Canal made it
seem likely that Curaqao would become an important refueling
port and improvements were made in the harbor in 1912 with such
expectations. The discovery of oil in and around Lake Maracaibo


Curaqao: History and Development 35

in Venezuela prompted the Shell Oil Company to establish a
refinery to process this crude oil. In 1915, the construction started,
and, in 1918, the plant was put into operation and continued to
expand until 1930. A second period of expansion began and
continued to its peak period in 1952, when about 11,000 were
employed by Shell Curaqao. During the initial period, inhabitants
of Surinam, the West Indies, and Madeira were employed as
contract laborers. Many came from other islands in the Antilles.
Dutchmen came from the Netherlands as civil servants, techni-
cians, and as independent professionals. Eastern European and
Askenazian Jews, Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indians entered
the retail trades.
In addition to the influx of migrants, the economic impact of the
refinery affected the traditional segments of Curacao somewhat
differentially. The Jews, mainly merchants, benefited from the
economic renewal. On the other hand, the influence of the refinery
was not particularly favorable to the high Protestants. New civil
servants, coming from Europe, some with "modern" technical
and professional skills, moved into expanded and sometimes
superior governmental positions. They brought an increase in
Dutch-oriented education, the use of Dutch, and contact with the
home country. This influx led to internal criticism of the colonial
government in the Netherlands and strengthened the in-group
feeling among the Protestants on Curaqao. The term landskind, or
native, came to be used as a mark of differentiation as did
makamba, or European Dutchman. This in-group feeling pro-
duced a partial rapprochement between the higher and lower
Protestants and among the more privileged of the colored popula-
tion. The colored, having had access to better educational oppor-
tunities, tended to benefit from the impact of the refinery since it
increased their employment opportunities in both government and
in the private sector. In their reaction to the new migrants, the
traditional white element found that though they had in the past
considered Curaqao as a mere extension of the Netherlands, they
had been greatly transformed over the years into something quite
different. This gradual awakening of their different identity was

36 Social Movements, Violence and Change

expressed in a number of ways-a greater emphasis on the local
language, Papiamento, increased pressure toward political inde-
pendence, a greater emphasis on an Antillean identity, and the
For the blacks, the refinery did not alter their subordinate
position. Although jobs were available, the blacks lacked many of
the technical skills that were necessary in the new technology and
outsiders were brought in for the jobs that required greater skill and
training. The subordinate position of the blacks was thus con-
tinued, and their lack of skills could be used as a continued
justification for their inferior position.
The impact of the building of the refinery was, of course,
important in other ways. The large number of Shell employees
required housing, so Shell housing estates, such as Emmastad,
Julianadorp, and Bullenbaai, were built. In addition to housing,
Shell also had to make other provisions, since rural Curaqao of the
twenties offered few amenities. Because of a lack of water, tankers
were used to bring river water from the Thames and Seine on their
return trips from Europe. This water was used for gardens so that
other better quality water could be used in other ways. Shell also
made provisions for health care, education, and recreation. In
addition, the company had to concern itself with the supply of food
and other commodities as well as setting up subsidiary industries,
such as docking facilities. In effect, the circumstances necessitated
the development of, and perhaps more accurately the continuation
of, a paternalistic system.
With the refinery, other innovations of more modern industrial
systems were introduced, such as unionization. Labor relations,
however, were quite peaceful during the period of expansion of the
refinery. Two minor strikes, one in 1924 and the other in 1928,
occurred but both involved outside workers and issues that were
only tangentially economic. Unlike many other industrializing
countries, there were no regulations that prevented unionism in
Curacao. A strike in 1936 did lead to the establishment of a
contract committee for Shell workers. This contract committee,
however, was nominated by the management and not elected by

Curagao: History and Development 37

the workers, whom they were supposed to represent. In 1942,
those workers with Netherlands nationality did get the right to elect
a Workers Advisory Committee.
Over the years, both sides found a number of objectionable
features in the existing system of representation. In 1952, the
Workers Advisory Committee was divided into two bodies: (1) a
Workers Council that was to represent the interests of workers in
the matter of wages and labor disputes; and (2) District Representa-
tives who were to deal with complaints and grievances. Soon the
distinction between the collective and individual problems of
workers proved difficult to make and the Workers Council took
over all duties. Although this council was elected, it had only an
advisory function and was not able to use other means, such as a
strike threat or the support of fellow unionists, to implement its
suggestions. On the other hand, wage scales within the oil industry
were comparatively high for the Caribbean area and workers were
certainly better off than they had been in years past. The presence
of large refineries, such as were found on both Aruba and Curaqao,
soon drew the attention of international unionism.
With the help of the cio, Puerto Rican section, early in 1955 the
Petroleum Workers Federation of Curaqao was formed. The com-
pany argued that the possibility of future strike action by the unions
might cause the Venezuelan government to enter the refinery
business, but the PWFC continued its unionization and demanded it
be recognized as the representative of the crews on the tankers of
the Curaqao Shipping Company. An election was held in 1956,
and 73 percent of these workers voted for recognition. The next
year, a collective agreement was worked out. On the basis of that
success, the PWFC asked for a referendum among the workers at the
refinery to decide whether they wished to be represented by the
Workers Council or by the Federation. Seventy-one percent voted
for the union. In December, 1957, a collective agreement was
reached and was extended three times in 1960, 1962, and 1964.
Although the labor force at the refinery tended to dominate the
total labor market in Curaqao, there were other groups for which
governmental attention seemed important. In 1946, there was an

38 Social Movements, Violence and Change

ordinance regulating hours and working conditions of the steve-
dores. Also in 1946, the government took on the task of setting
minimum wages for certain workers, and certain mechanisms
were set up to try to deal with labor disputes. Unionization in other
industries led to strikes of bakers, dock workers, and workers of
the phosphate company in the late 40s and 50s. Further details
about the activities of the various unions will be presented in the
next chapter.

As the previous discussion has indicated, Curagao's relation-
ship with the Netherlands has changed over time. These changes
have been due to the evolution of economic and political life in
both the Netherlands and in Curaqao. Curaqao has gone from an
isolated property of the Dutch West India Company to colonial
status, which came increasingly under parliamentary control, and
finally in 1954, to a locally autonomous part of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands. Also during that time, Curaqao shifted from an
important economic base for the company to an economic burden
within a declining empire and back again to an important economic
asset with the building of the refinery. All of these changes have
occurred in the context of changing ideas about the nature and
scope of government, representation, and relations of colonial
possessions. A brief summary of these changes are indicated

Company and Colonial Dependency

Curacao was an outpost of the Dutch West India Company.
Initially the Dutch West India Company had both political as well
as economic power. The Dutch Federal Republic of the Seven
Provinces entrusted the company with the administration of its
American possessions. Although the company operated with pri-
vate capital, its decisions were made by a board of nineteen
members representing the shareholders of the various cities and

Curacao: History and Development 39

provinces. The board nominated the governor and the chief magis-
trate in each colony. These magistrates along with three or four
citizens formed the council of the colony. The dual character of the
company placed a governor in an ambiguous position. The board
often charged him with neglecting his commercial duties and the
citizens often charged him with being too eager to make profits and
in neglecting his political duties. The company existed until 1674
when it was reorganized again with more limited powers but with
the same name; the new company existed until 1791.
After 1792, the administration of the colonies fell under the
direct control of the Dutch government. This was a period of
governmental turmoil in Europe. The federated provincial system
that had operated in the Netherlands for some time was beginning
to break down. It had led to indecisiveness. For this and other
reasons, the dominance of Holland on the world scene had begun
to dissipate. Even though the Dutch had been influenced by the
democratic ideas of the French Revolution, they abandoned the
idea of a republic and established a kingdom. The power of the
kingdom was reflected in changes in colonial administration.
Instead of the various boards and councils, the administration of
the colonies and possessions became an exclusive royal preroga-
tive. The king could not delegate these powers to a company or to a
parliament, and colonial officials were responsible to the king and
received their orders from him. The king, William I, did take an
interest in both the economic development and the political life of
Curagao in attempting to revive the Netherland's declining em-
pire. Curaqao reciprocated this attention by naming its capital city

Parliamentary Rule and Representation
Democratic currents in Europe did eventually have their impact
on Holland. Constitutional revision in Holland in 1848 reduced the
royal power in favor of parliamentary rule and these changes
affected the overseas possessions. In 1865, the Netherlands de-
cided that the Antilles as well as Surinam should have colonial

40 Social Movements, Violence and Change

parliaments. There were interesting differences, however. While
Surinam had a colonial parliament of thirteen members, nine of
whom were elected by some 800 eligible voters, the Netherlands
Antilles parliament had no elected members at all. In Curaqao
some members were there by virtue of their offices whereas the
others were appointed by the governor. The Dutch legislative
assembly protested this inconsistency but finally passed the
government's proposal. There were perhaps some logical as well
as political reasons for such differential treatment. There were
13,000 people on the other Antillean islands in addition to the
20,000 on Curaqao, and equitable representation for a parliament
would have been difficult to set up. Too, communication among
the six islands was difficult at that time. Since the right to vote was
then based on property considerations, only some 200 in Curaqao
would have met the qualifications. Although there were some
minor objections raised in Curagao to the differential treatment in
the selection of the parliament, it is likely that few in Curaqao
wanted to challenge the Dutch government at that time. The
islands in the Netherlands Antilles, unsuitable for extensive ag-
ricultural development, with the loss of the slave trade were now
economically dependent on and nonproductive for the Dutch, who
thus directed their attention toward the East Indies.
Some years later, an argument surfaced that probably had been
unstated when the issue of voting in Curaqao was debated in Dutch
government circles in the 1860s. In 1895 there was a debate about
the problem of suffrage if election of the representatives to the
colonial council were allowed. Hamelberg, a Protestant historian,
was skeptical of either a propertied electorate or an electorate of
the masses. Under the first system the Jews, then numbering about
850 and the wealthiest of the population, would control the colo-
nial council. This was bad, he argued, because the Jews were not
tied by "blood or history" to the Netherlands. Under an electorate
of the masses, the colored population would dominate and
Curagao would become a "second Haiti." Hamelberg was op-
posed in his views by Abraham Chumaceiro, a lawyer and the son
of a famous Curaqao rabbi. He argued that the Curacao Jews were

CuraSao: History and Development 41

tied to Holland and that there were no more wealthy Jews in
Curaqao than Protestants. (He forgot to mention that at that time
proportionately there were then almost three times as many Protes-
tants as Jews.) He also argued that the colored race was not
inferior. He then suggested a system of voting based on property,
or more correctly, monthly rental qualifications. Hamelberg
responded that there were actually only a few Jewish families
following Dutch customs and, invoking "proof" from English
historians, he asserted that Negroes were obviously inferior. He
concluded that only a Dutch administration could be neutral for the
colony. This bond between Jewish wealth and the numerically
dominant colored groups would seem to have effectively post-
poned even gradual concessions to suffrage. It was not until 1937
that the people in Curacao got the right to vote. Even then, it was
restricted, and it was not until 1948 that it was granted to all men
and women.

The Move for Greater Independence-The Charter
The building of the refinery had many noneconomic implica-
tions. The increased economic independence created the desire for
greater self-government. In 1936, the Dutch government revised
the regulations for the Netherlands Antilles, which led to rather
paradoxical results. The Antillean government got more autonomy
in local matters since the governor was given more autonomy, but,
on the other hand, there was no corresponding increase in authority
to the colonial parliament. The new regulations did allow for the
election of a majority of the seats in the parliament by a limited
electorate. This stimulated the development of some local political
parties. Most of the political activity was directed toward criticiz-
ing the kingdom for its ineffective revisions.
The effectiveness of this criticism, however, was destroyed by
the outbreak of World War II. The Netherlands were invaded.
When Queen Wilhelmina moved her government in exile to Lon-
don in 1942, she made a radio speech to the peoples of the kingdom
thanking them for their support in resisting the invasion. She

42 Social Movements, Violence and Change

promised that after the war was over, steps would be taken toward
a new partnership within the kingdom in which the several coun-
tries would "participate with the complete self-reliance and free-
dom of conduct for each part regarding its internal affairs but with
the readiness to render mutual assistance." When the war was
over, this goal was delayed. Indonesia was moving toward inde-
pendence and had absorbed Dutch West Guinea in the process.
The disintegration of the empire, however, brought Dutch atten-
tion back to the West Indies and increased their efforts to work out
a satisfactory relationship with Surinam and the Netherlands Antil-
les. From 1946 until 1954, the reconstruction of the Dutch king-
dom was completed with the issuance of a new charter.6
The charter was a complicated document. It tried to make
possible, within the framework of a sovereign state, for two
separate countries located four thousand miles from the Nether-
lands to have a maximum degree of autonomy. The eventual
format developed is expressed on three different levels-the king-
dom government, the government of the Netherlands Antilles, and
the governments of the respective islands within the Netherlands
Antilles. Starting with the kingdom government, the king reigns
over the kingdom and over each of the countries. There is also a
Council of Ministers composed of the Netherlands ministers to-
gether with the ministers plenipotentiary appointed by the Nether-
lands Antilles and Surinam. When a matter concerning the Nether-
lands Antilles or Surinam comes before the Dutch cabinet, the
respective minister has the right to participate on an equal footing
with the others. Foreign affairs and defense remain as kingdom
matters. A governor-general represents the kingdom government
in the Netherlands Antilles.
In those areas not deemed to be kingdom matters, the Nether-
lands Antilles became autonomous under the charter. The Nether-
lands Antilles government is based on a parliament called the
Staten which has twenty-two members, all elected by universal
suffrage of men and women from twenty-one-years old in the six
islands. The members of the Staten are elected by party lists in a
system of proportional representation. Curaqao elects twelve

Curagao: History and Development 43

members, Aruba eight, Bonaire one, and the three Windward
Islands together elect one member. This legislative body has the
power to establish budgets and to propose new bills. The members
may also question the cabinet. The cabinet consists of not more
than seven ministers headed by a prime minister. The ministers are
nominated by the governor after consultation with the parliament
and ultimately are responsible to the parliament rather than the
In addition to the government of the Netherlands Antilles there
are also island governments. Curaqao had always held a special
place within the Antilles. It was the site of the central government
historically and, since it has the largest population, has tended to
dominate the other islands. To mitigate this one-island domina-
tion, each of the islands, except the three Windward Islands that
were bound together by one administrative unit, has its own
legislative body, its own administrative council, and its own
governor (a lieutenant governor). In the island governments, there
is a close relationship between the legislative body and the execu-
tive body. The local governor is the actual chairman of the legisla-
tive body as well as of the executive council. The members of the
council also may be members of the legislative body.
Several further comments are necessary about the political pro-
cess. Although universal suffrage was instituted rather late in the
political history of the Netherlands Antilles, elections have created
widespread interest in the political process. Not only are elections
rather exciting times but usually more than 90 percent of the
electorate actually vote. The system of proportional representation
used has led to the development of a multiparty system. Given
this multiparty system, a one-party cabinet is exceptional. The
parliamentary majority supporting the cabinet usually consists of
two or more parties. The parties themselves are often coalitions of
small island organizations. This means that elections are not just
the result of preelection compromises; often after the election a
considerable period of time can be consumed trying to work out the
"best" majority. We will deal with some of the dimensions of
these political dynamics in the next chapter.

44 Social Movements, Violence and Change

In summary, Curaqao's history has involved "discovery," in-
vasion, being an outpost of the Dutch West India Company,
becoming an important link in the slave trade for Latin America,
and later becoming a focal point for refining oil. As a result, the
population sources of Curaqao reflect these various time periods.
Sephardic Jews came to seek refuge and opportunity. Protestant
Dutchmen came in administrative roles and again much later as
technicians during industrialization. Slaves came, most of them
for a short time, but some were retained. Later when slavery
ended, those who remained became most important numerically.
After a century of neglect and stagnation within the Dutch colonial
empire, oil made Curaqao important again. New population ele-
ments came to build the refinery and to work in it or in the
enterprises associated with refining. Curaqao was rapidly thrust
into the modern industrial world, with its benefits and its tensions.
With greater affluence, issues relating to Curaqao's relationship to
the kingdom reemerged and new solutions were sought to deal
with representation and political structure. These were elements of
the heritage of Curaqao that were important in the development of
the May Movement. In the next chapter, we bring together some of
the more contemporary factors and issues that were significant in
understanding the emergence of the May Movement in 1969.

1. The basic historical source in English is J. Hartog, Curagao: From Colonial Depen-
dence to Autonomy (Aruba: De Wit, Inc., 1968). For a specialized history, see Isaac S. and
Suzanne A. Emmanuel, History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles, vol. I, History,
vol. 2, Appendixes (Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives, 1970). For a somewhat
delimited view of World War II in Curaqao, see Philip Hanson Hiss, Netherlands America:
The Dutch Territories in the West (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1943). Other more
specialized aspects can be found in Albert Gastmann, "The Charter of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands": Albert Gastmann, "The Politics of the Netherlands Antilles"; and F. M.
Andic and S. Andic, "The Economy of the Netherlands Antilles"; in Politics and
Economics in the Caribbean, ed. T. G. Mathews and F. M. Andic (Rio Piedras: Institute of
Caribbean Studies, 1971). For a more dated view, see Hans G. Herman, "Constitutional
Development of the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam"; J. Ochse, "Economic Factors in
the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam"; and Andre L. van Assendorp, "Some Aspects of
Society in the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam"; in The Caribbean: British, Dutch,
French, United States, ed. A. Curtis Wilgus (Gainesville: University of Florida Press,

Curaqao: History and Development 45

2. The Jewish community on Curaqao is significant for reasons other than their long
history of involvement on the island. Many American Jewish families of today, such as the
Maduros, Firdanques, Delvalles, and Jesurun Lindos can trace their ancestry back to those
who emigrated from Curaqao to New York toward the close of the nineteenth century. The
Jewish community also provided financial assistance to many new Jewish communities
elsewhere. In 1729, assistance was given toward the construction of Sherith Israel
Synagogue in New York. In 1764, it contributed toward the payment of a debt on the oldest
synagogue now surviving in the United States-Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode
Island. In this, they had special interest since Ishac Touro had emigrated from Curacao to
North America in 1693 and the synagogue was named for his son. In addition to this
emigration to North America, Jews who left Curaqao settled in Santo Domingo (Dominican
Republic), Venezuela (Coro and Maricaibo), Saint Thomas, and Costa Rica. Almost all of
the Jews living in Panama have Curaqao ancestors.
3. Emmanuel and Emmanuel, History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles, 1:145.
4. Ibid., 2:1075.
5. Herdman F. Cleland, "Curacao, A Losing Colonial Venture,' Bulletin of the
American Geographical Society 41, no. 3 (1909):138.
6. Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands (The Hague: Vice Prime Minister's
Cabinet Department, n.d.). The charter is always subject to change. As a result of
discussions between Dutch and Surinamese officials during the middle seventies, it is
expected that Surinam will become totally independent from the Netherlands by 1976. The
status of the Netherlands Antilles will remain basically the same, at least for the near future.


The Contemporary Scene: Social Change

And the Response to Social Strain

Having provided a broad outline of the history of Curagao in
Chapter two, we are now prepared to turn to more recent develop-
ments in the society. In spite of Curagao's early history, the May
Movement might not have evolved had it not been for more recent
changes in the society involving such aspects as politics and
economics. Such developments were necessary ingredients for the
emergence of the May Movement.


During the nineteenth century, Curaqao's economic stagnation
forced many persons to leave, but the discovery of oil and the
building of the refinery attracted new people. From 1916 to 1969,
the population of Curagao increased fourfold; the greatest increase
was from 1923 to 1948.
In recent years, while the overall population has been increas-
ing, the number and percentage of foreigners in the population
have been decreasing. For example, in 1959 there were 110,822
Netherlanders and 15,281 foreigners whereas in 1965 there were
125,580 Netherlanders and only 8,670 foreigners. Taking 1965 as
the base, of the Netherlanders, 112,961 were Antilleans-
105,841 from Curaqao, 1,677 were born in Aruba, 3,643 in

The Contemporary Scene 47

Bonaire, and 1,800 in the Windward Islands. Of the non-Antillean
Netherlanders, 6,585 were European born; 3,842 were Netherlan-
ders born in foreign countries, many in Indonesia; and 2,202 from
Surinam. Among the foreigners, there were 3,432 British, mostly
West Indians; 1,882 Portuguese, mostly from Madiera; 1,183
Venezuelans; 412 Dominicans; 256 French, mostly West Indians;
207 United States citizens; 142 from Columbia; 158 Lebanese; and
72 Syrians. To emphasize further the diversity, the records show
79 different nationalities including (in addition to those mentioned
above) Romanians, Germans, Turks, Cubans, East Indians, Costa
Ricans, as well as one Ecuadorian and one Greek.
In terms of religious composition, in 1960 about 83 percent of
the population was Catholic while about 10 percent was Protestant
and less than one percent Jewish. In recent years many new
Protestant groups have come to Curagao and some of these, par-
ticularly the Seventh Day Adventists, have made a special effort to
attract the nonwhite population.
The remnants of the previous stratification system are still
evident. The bifurcated upper class is still composed of the de-
scendants of the Sephardic Jews and of the Protestant Dutchmen.
These Jews have been joined by Ashkenazian Jews (Eastern Euro-
pean) who came during the 1930s and 40s and who have moved
also into retail trades. The Protestants also have been sup-
plemented by other Dutchmen who came with the skills necessary
for industrialization and others who were displaced from other
former Dutch colonies that had gone the way of independence.
Those from the newer groups cannot be considered upper class
because they lacked the continuity to the past. They did, however,
possess skills and resources that were necessary as Curaqao moved
down the road to industrialization and many of them have pros-
pered. There is still the small, heterogeneous middle class, gener-
ally characterized by lighter skin, more education, and better jobs,
but their advancement has been somewhat impeded by the new
layers of white migration from the outside. At the bottom is still the
large black underclass, mostly Catholic. This category has become
larger over the years primarily through natural increase rather than
by further in-migration.

48 Social Movements, Violence and Change

The establishment of the charter in 1954 was the culmination of
changes that had been desired by many. Like all changes, the
charter did not resolve issues in ways that pleased everyone. In
addition, the charter set only the broad outlines of governmental
structure, and within this structure political parties had to evolve
that were both representative and effective.
One issue that continues to be problematic is the relation of
Curagao to the Netherlands. To many Antilleans, the semiinde-
pendent status of the country that was worked out in 1954 is still a
satisfactory one. Many point out that it would be extremely costly
for a country the size of the Netherlands Antilles to handle its own
foreign affairs and national defense and that such a burden would
even threaten its survival. Another argument used to support the
existing relationship between the Antilles and the Netherlands is
that it gives the former access to world trade markets that would
otherwise be closed to it.
However sound such arguments seem to many, if not most
Antilleans, they do not satisfy others who see in the limited
autonomy of the country a continuation of its colonial status. The
call for greater independence has come from such groups, particu-
larly in recent times when nationalistic, anticolonial movements
have emerged throughout the world, and when independence
movements have even been successful in other areas of the Carib-
bean, such as in Jamaica and Trinidad. This pressure for change in
the political status of the Antilles exerted by some groups in the
society was one of the underlying strains that led to the May
Movement. Some elements saw continued cultural as well as
political domination by the Dutch in the kingdom government
arrangement. To them, this meant that Antilleans would continue
to measure themselves by Dutch values and would be destined to
perceive themselves as failures. These elements suggested de-
veloping and accepting an Antillean culture and identity that
would lead to self-respect, thus destroying the legacy of slavery
and years of colonialism in the islands.
Interestingly enough, the question of independence from the

The Contemporary Scene 49

Dutch has been mirrored in debate over Papiamento, the native
language. Dutch is the official language in the Antilles and is
taught in the schools, reflecting the former colonial status of the
Antilles and its present ties with the kingdom government. Many
students in the Antilles enter school unfamiliar with Dutch because
they come from backgrounds where Papiamento is spoken at home
rather than Dutch. Such students-similar to blacks and other
minorities in the Unites States who must learn English as spoken
by the white middle class upon entering school-often experience
considerable difficulty in learning Dutch. Some groups, including
political and cultural nationalists, have advocated that Papiamento
be declared the official language of the Antilles and that it be
taught in the schools. The following passage from a report on the
problems of economic development in Curacao would seem to
lend some support to those who call for such a change.

It appears that there is a need to develop a uniquely Antillian educa-
tional system if economic development is to be realized. The costly
statistic that 73 percent of the children repeat in the first six years of
school argues strongly for change.'

Persons who have opposed such a move have employed argu-
ments similar to those used against complete Antillean indepen-
dence. For example, it is argued that Papiamento is an "underde-
veloped" language and could not survive by itself. It is also
suggested that it might not be worth the time and expense to
develop the language into a flexible written form. Others who are
opposed to the official recognition and use of Papiamento argue
that, unlike Dutch, such a miniscule portion of the world speaks
the language that it would lead to considerable difficulty and
unnecessary expense when dealing with other nations.
Yet those who support the recognition of Papiamento as the
official language of the country say such inconveniences, even if
they were to occur, would be a small price to pay for the self-pride
and confidence that the Antillean people would experience in
using their own language. Such persons not only resent the fact
that Dutch is the official language in the Antilles but also that many

50 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Dutchmen while living in the Antilles never attempt to learn
In addition to the matter of the Antilles' relationship to Holland,
the post-1954 period also saw the growth of discontent over local
politics in Curaqao. One way to understand the politics of the
Netherlands Antilles as it has developed is to see it as a continuing
process of trying to set up coalition governments. Under the
charter, the two major political blocs in Curaqao-the National
People's Party (for years led by Moises Frumencio Da Costa
G6mez) and the Democratic Party (founded by Efrain
Jonckheer)-must depend on the votes of the people and parties of
Aruba, Bonaire, and the Windward Islands in order to form a
government for the Antilles. This requires a maximum of com-
promise and a minimum of ideology. The political parties are
indigenous inventions. In 1936, discussion about independence
and about the development of a meaningful franchise prompted the
initial political parties. The parties, however, are tied up with
particular people rather than specific issues, and are perhaps best
described in these terms. Da Costa G6mez, a lawyer, started his
political career as a member of the Roman Catholic Party, but
finding the party too restrictive, he created the National People's
Party (NVP) in the 1940s. Being "colored" himself (with a
"Jewish" name) his party attracted primarily the black under
class-urban laborers, rural workers, and farmers-which pro-
vided a large electoral base. The party also had some support from
Catholics and Portuguese Jews. In the early 1950s, Da Costa
G6mez headed a coalition government formed by his party and the
AVP (Aruba People's Party). This NVP-AVP coalition also needed
the added support of two smaller parties. Such a complex coalition
was inherently weak and Da Costa G6mez dissolved it in 1954
when the charter went into effect and went back to the polls to get a
stronger mandate.
In the 1940s the other major party, the Democratic Party (DP)
was formed by Jonckheer, the great-grandson of a naval surgeon
who arrived on the island in 1832. In the 1954 election, the

The Contemporary Scene 51

Democratic Party got the vote of the more urban and cosmopolitan
sectors of Curacao, including the support of many of the workers
and union members. In turn, the opponents of the AVP on Aruba
had formed a new party, Partido Patri6tico Arubano (PPA). It also
appealed to the urban and industrial workers. This DP-PPA
coalition won ten seats in the Staten and needed two more to form
the government. They were able to do this by gaining the support
of the member from Bonaire and the member from the Windward
When the May Movement began in 1969, the Democratic Party
had been in power since 1954. The party still led a coalition that
controlled the Staten, and Ciro D. Kroon, leader of the DP, was
prime minister. He had succeeded Jonckheer, the long-time party
leader, as prime minister and party head. Jonckheer had become
the minister at the Hague. Partly because it had fifteen years of
uninterrupted power in the central government, the Democratic
Party showed oligarchic tendencies, often refusing to cooperate
with opposition parties and to consider needed reforms. However,
its perpetual challenger, the National Party, could do little in the
way of organizing an effective opposition at the central govern-
mental level. The Democratic Party continued to draw its support
from industrial groups and persons of Dutch and Protestant back-
ground as well as urban workers. Its connection with industrial
interests and persons of Dutch ancestry had given it an establish-
ment image in many quarters. And although there were some
blacks in the party, it was severely criticized by some who believed
that the black members were merely showpieces and that the
party's main concern was to protect white interests. However, as is
necessary for a successful party in Curaqao, it had also received
much support from the urban working class. Kroon had been
popular among workers because of his earlier connection with
union organizing efforts. The party saw itself slightly left of
Ideologically, the National Party was very similar to the Demo-
cratic Party. Juan Evertsz became leader of the party after Da

52 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Costa G6mez died in 1966. The party continued to draw its support
from lower-class blacks in the rural area of Curaqao and lower
middle-class groups in the urban area.
The two leading parties had both experienced serious internal
problems prior to the May Movement. A power struggle had
developed within the Democratic Party. Although Ciro Kroon had
inherited the presidency of the party after serving it for many
years, his leadership was challenged by a group of younger party
members. The National Party was also the scene of a dispute just
before the death of its founder, Da Costa G6mez. Some younger
members had become dissatisfied with his leadership and the
approach taken by the party and thus left it in 1965 to form a new
party, the Union Reformista Antillano (URA). These internecine
party struggles were a part of the ferment and change that emerged
in Curaqao on the heels of the political reorganization of the
Antilles in 1954.


Labor soon became a central element in Curaqao politics after
the Antilles had achieved its autonomous status. Yet it is doubtful
that this was realized by many persons in the union movement,
especially those in the rank and file, prior to the emergence of the
May Movement. The unions and workers were looked upon as an
important source of support by those who wanted to maintain their
positions of power, by those who wanted to acquire political
power, and by those who sought social change. Some Democratic
Party officials, including Kroon, had been involved in starting the
labor movement in Curaqao. The party appealed to labor for its
support and publicly expressed concern for the increasing unem-
ployment and low wages in Curaqao. Because of their earlier
connection with labor and their frequently declared support for its
aims, the Democrats always had considerable support from labor
in their reelection bids over the years. However, this also left a
legacy of expectation among laborers that the Democratic Party
would do something to alleviate the many economic problems that
plagued them. The emergence of the May Movement was not

The Contemporary Scene 53

unrelated to the fact that the Democratic Party, as the party in
power in the central government, could not live up to such expecta-
tions. "Every time there was an election," observed one labor
leader, "they would say, well, if we win you will get this and you
will get that, but the labor leaders were not believing it anymore."
Thus they began the May protest.
Political groups, such as the National Party and the recently
formed URA Party, which sought to cut into the strength of the
Democratic Party, also saw the labor movement as a potential
power base. For example, when URA was formed it immediately
sought labor support. A few labor leaders were even nominated for
office by the party in order to attract the labor vote. Finally, groups
that sought fundamental change in the Antilles also turned to labor
for support. This was especially true of a group called the Vit6
All of these competing groups courting the support of the
working force helped to create conflict and competition between
various segments of the labor movement as they responded to the
appeals of different external groups. To some degree, the labor
movement mirrored the various political tendencies in the society.
Certain segments of the labor movement, either knowingly or
unknowingly, supported the existing power arrangements in the
society, others supported a transferal of power to other groups or
parties, and a few even supported those who called for more
fundamental social change.

Another important aspect of the contemporary political system
is its particularistic nature. The personal appeal and style of politi-
cians, for example, is often more important to voters than the
ideological position they take or the party they belong to. Thus
some political leaders like Ciro Kroon and Dr. Da Costa G6mez,
who have been described as charismatic figures, were able to build
large personal followings. Da Costa G6mez s personal appeal was
so great that his widow was nominated for office by the National
Party after his death in the hope that she could capture some of his

54 Social Movements, Violence and Change

former following. Curacao, then, follows the Caribbean pattern of
having charismatic-type leadership." Charismatic leadership is
important not only in political organizations in Curaqao but in
other groups, such as labor unions, as well.
People in Curaqao also expect personal consideration and favors
from politicians and government officials. "The political par-
ties," observed one government official, "often have very per-
sonal relationships as the underlying relationships. You give
favors to the one who votes for you, and you have to make sure you
give them, and in exchange for that they vote for you." Citizens
may even venture to the homes of politicians seeking personal
favors and assistance. Labor also has a paternalistic orientation
toward the government. During the May Movement workers ex-
pressed their puzzlement over the fact that the government had not
tried to protect them from what they considered to be oppressive
The stress on particularistic qualities is a general pattern in
Curacao and thus goes beyond the area of politics. This charac-
teristic is probably related to some degree to the small size of the
society. Many persons in Curacao, including politicians and other
leaders, use nicknames given to them by their families or friends
with more frequency than their legal names. Such names function
to personalize individuals.
In Curagao, then, power and influence often hinged on personal
appeal rather than universalistic considerations. As we shall see,
this tendency was to play a significant role in the development of
the May Movement and related events.

The labor movement in Curaqao should be viewed in the context
of the economic situation of the society. Like other developing
areas, Curaqao faces serious economic obstacles. Its economy has
a very narrow resource base, for example. Phosphate is the
island's major natural resource but it is increasingly becoming less
economical to mine. The island is also handicapped by a small
home market. On the other hand, Curaqao has an attractive cli-

The Contemporary Scene 55

mate, a beautiful city in Willemstad, and an excellent harbor. As a
result, Curacao's development has come to depend on tourism and
trade with the outside world.
Another obstacle to economic development in Curaqao has been
its heavy dependence on one industry, the oil industry, to supply
jobs for its population. This industry, like many of those in other
areas of the Caribbean, is experiencing a serious decline in the
need for unskilled workers due to increasing mechanization. As a
result of automation, the Royal Dutch Shell Company reduced its
labor force from a peak of 11,000 in 1952 to about 4,000 in 1969.
Initially this reduction affected only the imported workers-those
from Portugal, Surinam, British and French West Indies, and
Venezuela. By 1960, local workers were also being laid off. The
employment decline, however, cannot be totally attributed to
increased automation. Shell also decided to concentrate its efforts
on refining. Many of the services that the company had previously
provided, such as housing, and many of the subsidiary tasks, such
as shipping and construction, were now subcontracted to other
companies. At least part of the reason for this was to move away
from the all-encompassing paternalism of the company. One con-
sequence of this, however, was that there was often a major wage
differential between Shell workers and employees of the newer
companies working on Shell property. Sometimes a worker might
find that his job was no longer with Shell and would be offered the
same work with a new company at considerably less pay.
In the overall employment situation in Curacao, the unemploy-
ment figure increased from 5,000 in 1961 to 8,000 in 1966.3
Twenty percent of those seeking work in 1966 were unemployed.4
These unfavorable changes in the economic picture in Curacao
have especially worked to the disadvantage of the unskilled work
force. Table 1 shows the number and percentage unemployed in
categories based on education. It indicates a somewhat dramatic
and regular rise in the percentage unemployed as qualifications
decline. Some labor leaders have blamed the unemployment
among the unskilled, the bulk of whom are nonwhite, on the
government's fiscal policies.

56 Social Movements, Violence and Change

N % N %
Less than 3 years of
elementary school ........ 1,572 31.1 584 18.9
Three to 6 years of
elementary school ........ 2,311 45.7 1,434 46.5
Advanced elementary school
not completed ........... 681 13.5 606 19.7
Advanced elementary school
completed .............. 145 2.9 137 4.4
Elementary vocational
training ............... 336 6.6 306 9.9
Secondary school and
higher education ......... 11 0.2 14 0.5
SORCE: Netherlands Antilles 1969 Statistical Yearbook (Willemstad: Bureau of Statis-
tics, 1969), p. 61; "Curaqao: Economic Development" (Behavior Science Center, August,
1970), p. 4.

Attempts to encourage other types of economic enterprises to
pick up the employment slack were restricted by the inherent
limitations of the island's natural resources. The question of new
directions for economic development was, of course, of critical
concern to the government. The Democratic Party, the party in
power, attempted to find economic alternatives and Kroon, who
was economic minister during the 1960s, was centrally concerned
with such planning. The alternatives that seemed realistically
available to them centered on the development of the tourist trade,
in building hotels, casinos, and the like, and also to a certain extent
on industries that were dependent on raw materials that were
inexpensive to import and required relatively unskilled labor. The
government's economic policy was reflected in a 1965 report.

In order to prevent serious deterioration of the economy and living
standard, all efforts must be directed to a further increase of domestic
production outside the oil industry. new private enterprises must
be attracted in order to maintain the living standard. In 1953, a law for
the "Promotion of Industrial Establishments and of Hotel Construc-
tion" was accepted by parliament. In this law, tax concessions are
offered to new industries and hotels. From the beginning, it has been
realized that additional concessions were necessary; in particular, for

The Contemporary Scene 57

manufacturing industries, all of which have to import their raw

Although many new industries, such as hotels, attracted by the
government's development incentives required high initial capital
investments, they did not add impressively to opportunities for
local employment, particularly the more highly paying jobs. An
observation in an analysis of Curaqao's economy in the 1960s
captures its character and problems.

The economy is an agglomeration of foreign enclaves, a local oligar-
chy, a small middle class, workers, unemployed and the rural poor.
While there have been and will continue to be odd points of growth-a
new hotel perhaps-they affect little beyond immediate employment
and purchases. There is little overall linkage. Most additional income
goes into imports, to the upper classes and to foreign corporations.
Areas in which local endeavors and investment can be productive
remain hard to find or, when they appear, hard to grasp."

The central government also pursued a policy of wage stabiliza-
tion as part of its effort to attract new investors to the Antilles. This
policy, which would later be modified somewhat as a result of the
May Movement, affected government workers, many of whom at
the lower levels were union members, as well as workers in
commerce and industry. For example, in a previously cited docu-
ment, the government boasted: "Wage stability has also been
maintained by keeping government wages constant. The govern-
ment wage has not been increased since 1958."' Some labor
groups have been highly critical of the government's effort to
stabilize wages and its policy of offering investment incentives to
foreign companies, interpreting them as means of furthering the
interests of Dutch and other capitalists to whom high government
officials were said to be closely allied for reasons of class and race
rather than as attempts to help unemployed workers who are
mostly nonwhite. Since tourism has been one of the major indus-
tries the government has attempted to develop, some labor leaders
have called to the attention of workers the difference between their
standard of living as a result of low wages and unemployment and

58 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Minimum Maximum

B us d river ....................................
C carpenter ................................... .
C harw om an ............................ ...
E lectrician ............................... ......
Female textile worker (Bonaire) .....................
Fo rem an ....................................
Motor mechanic .............................
Semiskilled laborer ................
U nskilled laborer ..............................
W elder ....................
W a ite r . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Assistant accountant .. .. ........... . . ....
B ookkeeper .....................................
C lerical w orker ..................................
Domestic servants (live-in) .........................
T y p ist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

40.00 80.00



SOURCE: Investment Factors: Netherlands Antilles (Willemstad: Department of Social and
Economic Affairs, 1965), p. 32.

that of the increasingly visible and free-spending tourists who are
mainly from the United States. This seems to have increased
worker dissatisfaction in Curagao. Wages in the Antilles are much
lower than those in the United States. An idea of what wages were
like in the mid-sixties in the Antilles can be seen in the sample of
wages in several occupational categories shown in Table 2.
Let us now turn to the labor movement itself. The labor move-
ment in Curagao is fragmented and uneven. On the island there are
large unions with well-trained leaders, but also many small ones
with leaders who have received little formal training in union
management. Furthermore, although unions within the same con-
federations have generally cooperated with one another, the over-
all pattern has been one of disunity, competition, and conflict.
This pattern stems from a number of factors, the foremost being
differences in ideology, international affiliation, local political
allegiance, style and approach, and personal antagonisms between
various union leaders.

The Contemporary Scene 59

As would be expected given its former colonial status, labor
organization in the Netherlands served as the model for the labor
movement in the Antilles. In the Netherlands there are three basic
groups of trade unions: Protestant, Catholic, and Free, or
Socialist. Roughly corresponding types can be found in the Antil-
les and are referred to as Independent, Catholic, and Free unions.
The three groups of unions in the Netherlands often work with their
counterparts in the Antilles, providing them with financial aid and
advice. Prior to the May Movement, there was considerable con-
flict between the three groups of unions in Curaqao based in part on
these varying international affiliations.
Of the three types of labor unions in Curaqao, the Free unions
had the largest membership, were the best organized, and were the
most influential. Several Free unions formed the largest confedera-
tion in Curaqao, the General Conference of Trade Unions (AvvC),
which had a membership of around 12,000. One of the major
unions affiliated with the AvvC was the Petroleum Workers Feder-
ation of Curaqao (PWFC), which had a membership of about 2,300.
Because of its location at Shell, the heart of industry in Curaqao,
the PWFC has played a major role in the labor movement. The labor
agreements it has made with Shell, for example, have often be-
come the standard used by other unions in their negotiations with
management. Prior to the May Movement, relations with Shell
were considered good by the leaders of the PWFC. As was generally
true of other Avvc-affiliated unions, the leaders of the petroleum
union took a gradualistic approach to negotiations and relations
with management, and for this they were often criticized by the
more radical unions and even sometimes by their own rank and
file. One observer noted regarding the PWr;C: "People thought that
the union didn't act tough enough against Shell. The leaders of the
union were always willing to see the other standpoint. That makes
them reasonable people, but makes them in the eyes of the radicals
actually not capable." The leaders of the petroleum union, as well
as the leaders in other Avvc-linked unions, were generally sym-
pathetic to the Democratic Party, the party in power in the central
government. Thus they were criticized by the more radical unions

60 Social Movements, Violence and Change

of being allied with what the latter referred to as neo-colonial
forces in Curaqao. However, in spite of this criticism, unlike trade
unions in many developing societies, the Free unions in Curaqao
did not directly become involved in politics or engage in "political
unionism."8 Indeed, most trade unions in Curaqao followed the
pattern of the Free unions by not becoming directly involved in
political activity. This was true even though a few labor leaders did
run for political office.
The Curaqao Federation of Workers (cFw), a Free union af-
filiated with the Avve, was to play an important role in the
emergence of the May Movement. It is a general union represent-
ing workers from a wide variety of businesses and industries in
Curaqao. Included in its membership are construction workers
employed by the Werkspoor Caribbean Company, known locally
as WESCAR, one of several companies under contract to do work for
the Shell Company. As previously noted, it was a labor dispute
between the CFW and WESCAR that led to the crisis that precipitated
the May Movement.
In contrast to the tendency of most groups in the labor move-
ment in Curaqao to be moderate and nonpolitical, as best exem-
plified by the Free unions we have mentioned, was a smaller
number of groups with radical leaders. Such groups differed from
the more moderate unions in that they: (1) had different interna-
tional affiliations or allegiance, (2) had more militant and aggres-
sive styles, and (3) saw the economic goals of the labor movement
inexorably bound to political action.
Perhaps the most important radical union was the General Dock
Workers Union (AHU), which was an Independent union led by
two long-time labor leaders, Papa Godett and Amador Nita. This
union espoused a revolutionary ideology and opposed the existing
government and leading industrial groups on the grounds that they
represented the colonial interests of Holland and erected barriers
against the full participation of blacks in the economic and political
life of the Antilles. Godett and Nita were given to flamboyant
speech and their personal styles earned them considerable admira-
tion among laborers, though the actual membership of their union

The Contemporary Scene 61

was small. Both men were destined to play key roles in the May
Other radical unions were found in the Catholic, or Christian,
trade movement. This movement was founded in the late 1950s by
a radical priest by the name of Father Amado Romer. Describing
his philosophy as a "theology of revolution," Father Romer
stressed the significance of the laborer's work in the society and
the idea that it was their right to share in the rewards of the society
rather than a privilege to be granted at will by some higher
authority. The Curaqao Christian Confederation of Trade Unions
(ccv) was the Catholic trade union's equivalent to the Free trade
union movement's AVVC. The ccv was affiliated with the Latin
American labor movement. Indicative of its political role, the ccv,
under the direction of the CLASC movement,9 had attempt-
ed to provide financial assistance for guerrillas working for the
overthrow of the government in Haiti. Such direct political activity
by the ccv created a great deal of concern among the more
moderate unions in Curaqao who felt that the labor movement
should focus exclusively on economic activity and not directly
enter the political sphere. Leaders and supporters of the Christian
trade movement in Curaqao were also involved in efforts to wrest
power from the Democratic Party bloc by supporting I'RA, the
leftist party that was formed by dissidents who left the National
Party. Bebe Rojer, the head of the ccv, became one of the party's
candidates for public office.
Personal antagonisms between leaders in the various unions
furthered the fragmentation within the labor movement. For ex-
ample, some labor leaders competed to organize the same industry
and such competition often took on the character of personal feuds.
And because of Curacao's small size, it was apparently more
difficult to minimize personal hostilities through such normally
effective techniques as avoidance.
In summary, prior to the May Movement, the labor movement
in Curaqao was highly fragmented and largely nonpolitical, except
for a small number of radical groups. However, part of the basis
for more unified action existed in the strain many workers com-

62 Social Movements, Violence and Change

only felt, yet traditionally did not articulate, and the presence of
charismatic figures in the dock workers union (and another radical
group called Vit6, which we will discuss shortly) around whom
workers could coalesce for political action.

We have suggested that the reorganization of the Antillean
government ushered in a period of change in the society. One
change that was to have important consequences for the society
was a new educational program that was established shortly after
the new Antillean government came into being. Under this new
government-sponsored program, scholarships were awarded to
promising students for university study in the Netherlands. The
person that was given much credit for this program was Dr. Da
Costa G6mez who believed that students who benefited from the
scholarships could return to the Antilles to assume positions of
leadership. Many scholarship recipients did return to Curaqao to
assume positions in the government and to teach school. However,
others also became leaders in less traditional groups and organiza-
Some of the students who went to Holland on government
scholarships were transformed in unanticipated ways. For many of
the students, exposure to university life in Holland was a liberaliz-
ing, and even in some cases a radicalizing, experience. This made
them less tolerant of the existing political and social arrangements
in the Antilles. The first group of students began returning to
Curagao at the beginning of the 1960s. Out of this group came the
nucleus for two leftist movements that were formed to challenge
the established political and economic groups, such as the Demo-
cratic Party and the National Party, who were defined as self-
serving and oligarchic.
Returning intellectuals helped form the Union Reformista Antil-
lano (URA) in 1965. The impetus for the formation of this new
party came from a dissident group within the National Party. The
dissidents, led by Papy Jesurun, felt that the National Party had
become conservative and ineffective. Much of the blame for the

The Contemporary Scene 63

party's resistance to change and its inability to remain relevant was
placed on its president, Dr. Da Costa G6mez. He was seen by the
dissidents as an imposing charismatic figure who held tight control
of the party and who steered it on a conservative course. The
dissidents bolted the party and along with many young intellectu-
als who had recently returned from Holland formed URA with the
aim of making it a progressive socialist party ideologically to the
left of the two established parties.
Although declaring itself to the left of the other parties, URA,
under the leadership of Jesurun, who became its president, was
basically a reform movement rather than a revolutionary party. It
appealed to labor for support and even placed a few labor leaders
including Bebe Rojer of the ccv on its list of candidates for public
office. In 1967, the young party won two seats in the island
legislature, and its leaders were confident that the party had a
bright future in the political life of the country.
A radical movement that operated outside established politics
was also organized by returning students and young intellectuals
with the aim of disseminating ideas on the need for radical change
in Curaqao. The movement published a paper for this purpose
called Vito, and the movement became known by that name. The
paper took to task those forces in Curaqao identified responsible
for the political and economic exploitation of the masses. Espe-
cially singled out was the Democratic Party and leading industries
on the island. Such groups were viewed by the Vit6 movement as
allied with Dutch neo-colonial interests. Participants in the Vit6
movement included schoolteachers and government workers.
They were led by a young, white, former schoolteacher, Stanley
Brown, who headed the volunteer staff that published Vito. One
observer noted regarding Brown:
He writes stories that bring people to discredit and he is very specific.
He is not always right in the way he states the facts but he doesn't care
about it. He says for him it's the purpose that is to be reached that is
important. You can't always use the proper methods.
This same person noted, "This is a very Caribbean way of acting.
Latin America has a long history of this sort of paper."

64 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Initially those in the Vit6 movement were, as one of them put it,
"talking to themselves." The paper was written in Dutch rather
than Papiamento and on a level that the intellectuals rather than the
masses could understand and appreciate. Also, the young radicals
had not become very involved in the more radical segments of the
labor movement. However, this all changed in 1967. During that
year, some of the core members of the Vit6 movement decided that
the only way in which significant change could be achieved in the
society was for them to become directly involved in the labor
movement. The paper began publishing in Papiamento to attract
the attention of the masses, and special emphasis was given to
radicalizing the labor unions.
Vit6 became the chief communication link between the radical
intellectuals and the labor movement. After it began publishing in
Papiamento, several thousand copies were sold weekly. The staff
conducted a systematic campaign to identify the political, social,
and economic injustices that workers were said to experience in the
society, with the aim of spurring them on to demand change.
Published in the paper, for example, was information on the profits
companies were said to be earning in order to dramatize the
discrepancy between the condition of the workers and those of
management. The radicals saw their role as that of a catalyst for
social change.
The Vit6 movement also attempted to influence the structure of
the labor movement. As previously mentioned, the labor move-
ment was highly fragmented as a result of such things as personal
antagonisms and varying international affiliations. Vit6 encour-
aged the labor unions to try and minimize their differences and
work toward greater unification. For example, it tried to get the
laborers to support one another (or at least not to fight openly) even
though they had disagreements on the international level. Vit6 also
encouraged workers to bypass the leadership in their respective
unions and develop unity and identification with fellow workers in
other unions. The Vit6 movement through its paper attacked those
labor leaders and boards that were felt to hinder labor solidarity.
This was done, for example, during union elections in an effort to
influence their outcome.

The Contemporary Scene 65

Stanley Brown, the editor of Vit6, and Papa Godett, head of the
dock workers union, became the key links between the radical
intellectuals and the labor movement. This was very important in
that they both had considerable influence within their respective
constituencies. Brown was the most visible of the radical school-
teachers and had a large following; Godett was admired by the rank
and file throughout the labor movement. Brown and Godett
worked together attempting to radicalize the labor movement; they
supported the demands of workers for higher wages and aided
them in their strike activity. Through the leadership of Brown,
Vit6's involvement in the labor movement even included writing
pamphlets for striking workers and contributing to strike funds.
Laborers in Curacao were primarily concerned with wages. The
young radicals in the Vit6 movement sought to broaden the labor
movement's interests to include political goals as well as bread-
and-butter issues. For example, the Vit6 movement tried to con-
vince labor of the need for complete independence from the
Netherlands. The movement also emphasized the need for Antil-
leans to become involved in a cultural revolution that would result
in the widespread use and acceptance of Papiamento as their
official language and the general recognition of an Antillean cul-
ture separate from the culture imposed upon them by the Dutch
during the period of colonization. The young radicals also tied the
political and economic plight of workers to their racial status, and
exhorted them to demand the removal of all racial and class
barriers to their effective participation in the society.
The young radicals in the Vit6 movement were able to link their
narrowly based group with the larger labor movement in Curacao
and sensitize some of the latter's members to the possibility of
achieving broader goals. Many of the demands for change that
were made during the May Movement can be partly attributed to
this prior interaction between Vit6 and the labor movement and the
emergence of some common ideological ground. The prior rela-
tionship between Vit6 and the general dock workers union espe-
cially was to play a significant role during the May Movement.
In summary, the period just prior to the May Movement was
marked by considerable social change and strain in the Antilles,

66 Social Movements, Violence and Change

especially in Curagao. The colonial status of the Antilles was
modified in 1954 when it became a semi-independent part of the
Netherlands, along with Surinam. Some Antilleans, however,
were dissatisfied with the country's limited autonomy, viewing it
as merely a continuation of their previous colonial status. Discon-
tent over the long reign of the Democratic Party also developed.
The party was seen in some circles as self-serving and incapable of
solving the country's myriad economic problems. The labor
movement in Curaqao also began its growth and development after
semi-independence had been achieved. The highly fragmented
labor movement perhaps felt the political, economic, and racial
strains more than any other segment of the society. A new radical
political movement called Vit6 also emerged in the wake of the
Antilles new political status, largely owing its development to a
university scholarship program sponsored by the reorganized cen-
tral government. As we will presently show, the leaders of this
movement and radical labor leaders with whom they had previ-
ously worked formed the nucleus of the May Movement and
became a catalyst for social change.
On the eve of the May Movement then, there were many groups
involved in the changing Curaqao scene. The key ones up to this
point in our analysis are listed below. Of course, others will also be
added to the list, many of whom grew directly out of the May

Political Parties and Movements
Democratic Party of Curaqao (DP)
National People's Party of Curacao (NVP)
Union Reformista Antillano (URA)
Vit6 Movement
Labor Unions
General Conference of Trade Unions (AvvC)
Petroleum Workers Federation of Curaqao (PWFC)
Curagao Federation of Workers (cFw)

The Contemporary Scene 67

General Dock Workers Union (AHU)
Curaqao Christian Confederation of Trade Unions (ccv)

1. "Curaqao: Economic Development," report by Behavioral Science Center, August,
1970, p. 4. The report we have just cited is an economic analysis of Curagao. Among the
few sociological analyses are: A. F. Paula, From Objective to Subjective Social Barriers
(Curaqao: De Curaqaosche Courant N.V., 1968); and R. A. Romer, Ons Samenzijn in
Sociologisch Perspectief: Ein Introductie in de Curacaose Samenleving (Curaqao: G. C. T.
vanDorp and Co., N.V., 1967). For a sociological study that compares various societies in
the Caribbean including Curacao see, H. Hoetink, The Two Variants in Caribbean Race
Relations (London: Oxford University Press, 1967).
2. Harold Mitchell, Contemporary Politics and Economics in the Caribbean (Athens:
Ohio University Press, 1968), p. 361.
3. Netherlands Antilles 1969 Statistical Yearbook (Willemstad: Bureau of Statistics,
1969), p. 61.
4. "Curaqao: Economic Development," p. 37.
5. Investment Factors: Netherlands Antilles (Willemstad: Department of Social and
Economic Affairs, 1965), p. 23.
6. "Curaqao: Economic Development,' p. 4
7. Investment Factors, p. 24.
8. For a comprehensive discussion of political unionism in developing societies see,
Bruce H. Millen, The Political Role of Labor in Developing Countries (Washington: The
Brookings Institute, 1964). John Porter, see his The Vertical Mosaic (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 1965), p. 314, notes that labor unions that engage in political activities
can be viewed as social movements and those that don't as market unions. We take a similar
position here. As increasing numbers of unions became political in Curacao, the May
Movement crystallized.
9. Paul E. Sigmund, ed., The Ideologies of the Developing Nations (New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1967), p. 405


The Emergence of the May Movement

In the first chapter, we suggested that social movements develop
within a particular sociohistorical context. That is to say, certain
preconditions in a society set the stage for the appearance of social
movements. Thus in Chapters two and three, we described the
many historical and contemporary factors in Curacao that we think
were linked to the emergence of the May Movement in 1969.
These factors included political, economic, and racial strains. We
further suggested that such strains were exacerbated by the rapid
change Curacao and the rest of the Antilles were undergoing. This
made Curacao fertile ground for the emergence of a movement like
the May Movement as well as for other changes. The analysis of
preexisting conditions and change in Curacao is not the sole object
of this study, however. We are also interested in the career and
internal dynamics of the May Movement and its consequences for
the society. In this chapter, we will focus on the career of the May
Movement and in the following chapter we will turn our attention
to its impact on the island-society. Thus, from the standpoint of
social change, we will have analyzed the May Movement in three
ways: the role social change played in its formation, its internal
changes, and the social change it in turn generated in the society.
The preexisting conditions in Curacao that we have referred to
were necessary rather than sufficient conditions for the emergence
of the May Movement. Political, racial, and economic strains

The Emergence of the May Movement 69

might have been present in the society for many years to come
without spawning a movement like the May Movement. Often a
major crisis will trigger the crystallization of an emerging social
movement. In the case of the May Movement, a labor crisis
transformed the fragmented labor movement in such a way as to
enable it to engage in concerted action for the first time. During its
career, the May Movement underwent both organizational and
political changes. As we analyze the career of the May Movement,
then, we will employ a political-organizational sequence model.
This approach is similar to the natural-history approach in that it
allows us to focus on the internal dynamics of the May Movement.
However, it differs from natural-history models in that we do not
imply that movements undergo an inevitable sequence of de-
velopment. We suggest instead that the May Movement under-
went certain changes rather than others because of the presence of
particular internal and external factors.

The Antilles were marked by substantial labor unrest in May of
1969. However, the major labor dispute and the one that eventu-
ally led to the mobilization of much of labor during the May
Movement involved the Curaqao Federation of Labor (CFW), and
WESCAR, one of several companies that did contract work for the
Royal Dutch Shell Company. The dispute centered around two key
issues. At WESCAR, non-Antillean workers-such as those from
other Caribbean islands and Holland-were paid more than Antil-
lean workers as compensation for working outside their own
countries. Also, WESCAR employees received less pay than those at
Shell for doing the same work. The W ESCAR management claimed
that being under contract to Shell it could not afford to pay its
employees at the same rate as Shell employees. Thus the dispute
between WESCAR and the cFw involved demands by the union that
Antillean employees doing the same work receive pay equal to
non-Antilleans, and that WESCAR employees engaged in the same
work as those at Shell also receive equal pay.
During the month of May, the publishers of Vit6 waged a
strenuous campaign to keep the labor unrest at WISCAR and other

70 Social Movements, Violence and Change

companies in the Antilles, which they interpreted in leftist political
terms, in the public limelight. News regarding strikes in various
companies was featured in very dramatic terms. Also during the
labor unrest, Vit6 increased its attacks on the government and
business groups for their "exploitation of the laboring class." The
tone of the periodical's articles was particularly abrasive toward
certain businesses and strongly hinted that action would or should
be taken against them if conditions were not improved. One such
article was in the form of an open letter to the owner of a large retail
store, Tauber s, who had become the symbol of exploitative
capitalism among radical union and intellectual groups. The letter
was also addressed to "other capitalists of bad faith." In the letter,
the owner of the retail store was asked if he had read the small print
of his fire insurance policy, and if so, since the policy did not cover
damages resulting from revolution and rebellion, it was difficult to
understand why he followed a policy of exploitation in an age of
Molotov cocktails and world-wide revolution by young people.
(Interestingly enough, this man's store became a target of rioters
on May 30, and was subsequently set afire and burned to the
ground.) The headlines of another article that appeared in Vit6
during this period read: "How Many More Days Before A Revolu-
tion?" The paper also featured stories about incidents involving
workers that were interpreted as meaning that the laboring class
was tired of being oppressed and was near revolution. Through its
handling and interpretation of events during the May labor unrest,
then, the Vit6 movement escalated its efforts to provide cues for
collective action for the labor movement at variance with the
latter s traditional role.

A dramatic transformation of the labor movement in Curacao
began during this period of labor unrest in May, 1969. This
transformation involved increasing solidarity within the labor
movement' and increasing politicization. Factors both internal and
external to the labor movement were responsible for these
changes. During its transformation period, which we have labeled

The Emergence of the May Movement 71

the May Movement, the labor movement went through four
phases: an economic strike phase, a proto-political phase, a politi-
cal strike phase, and finally a political party phase. The May
Movement began with a very definite economic focus and gradu-
ally evolved into a mechanism for political as well as economic
change. We will begin our discussion of the May Movement by
considering its first phase, that is, the economic strike phase, and
then proceed to discuss the more political phases in the order of
their appearance.

Economic Strike Phase
The first phase of the May Movement involved an unusual show
of solidarity by several unions in Curaqao. This solidarity came in
the form of support given to the cFw, which went on strike against
WESCAR for specific and limited economic objectives, and for this
reason we have labeled this phase of the May Movement as the
economic strike phase. During this initial phase, labor leaders
mobilized workers around bread-and-butter issues. Since most
unions in Curagao did not traditionally become directly involved in
politics and the fragmentation within the labor movement was due
in part to the presence of groups and leaders with competing
political styles and orientations, it seems highly unlikely that the
May Movement could have initially crystallized around a political
rather than an economic issue. On the other hand, a common
position held even among the fragmented labor groups was that
workers deserved higher wages. This common denominator, in
contrast to the disagreement over the role of politics in reaching the
goals of the labor movement, facilitated the emergence of support
among labor groups for a sister union striking for higher wages.
The mobilization of the labor movement began on May 6, 1969,
when some 400 WESCAR employees went on strike. This strike
ended on May 8 with the two parties agreeing to negotiate for a
new labor contract with the assistance of a government mediator.
During the brief strike, Antillean workers were joined by non-
Antillean workers at WESCAR. Also, the CFW received verbal and
written support and encouragement from other unions in Curaqao.

72 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Such expressions were forerunners of the increased solidarity to
come. The negotiations between the CFw and WESCAR, which
lasted for nearly three weeks, ended without a new agreement
being concluded, and on May 27, the CFw went on strike a second
On May 28, during the lunch hour, a number of Shell employees
and employees of other companies under contract to Shell demon-
strated at Post V, the main gate of the Shell refinery, in support of
the WESCAR strike. The next morning, May 29, about 800 persons
working for contractors at Shell sites went on a peaceful sympathy
strike at Post V. On the same day, the CFw received notice from the
board of WESCAR that it considered the strike illegal and that all
employees had to start back to work the next day or be discharged.
That afternoon about 30 or 40 strikers, including several union
leaders, marched to Fort Amsterdam, the seat of the Antillean
government. They held a demonstration, and their spokesmen
were heard by a mediator from the Social and Economic Affairs
Department. One of the concerns of the strikers was that the
government itself was interested in keeping wages low in order to
attract foreign investors. Such issues were to become more salient
in the political phases of the May Movement.
At 7:30 P.M. on May 29, a meeting was held by the PWFC at Casa
Sindical, the headquarters and meeting place for several of the
Free labor unions. Also in attendance at this meeting were strikers
from WESCAR. The meeting was called to determine the position
the PWFC would assume in the labor crisis. The PWFC had never in
the past made common cause with the employees of companies
doing work under contract for Shell, which the cFw represented.
However, the position that the PWFC took in the labor dispute
would be crucial in that it was the largest union in the oil industry in
Curacao, and its labor contract with Shell, which made its mem-
bers the highest paid workers in the industry, served as the basis for
the aspirations of the strikers.
The leaders of the PWFC came under considerable pressure to
show their solidarity with the growing strike movement by calling

The Emergence of the May Movement 73

a strike of Shell. This pressure emanated from several sources.
First, by the time of this meeting several other groups of workers
had united behind the strikers either by going out on strike them-
selves or by giving support to them in public announcements and in
statements issued to government officials. For example, the latter
was done by the large General Conference of Trade Unions (AVVC)
to which the PWFC was affiliated. Also, the radical segment of
labor exerted pressure upon the PWFC to show solidarity with the
strikers. Finally, there was strong sentiment among the rank and
file of the PWFC to support the other strikers by going out on strike
against Shell. This sympathy of the rank and file for the cause of
the CFW strikers can be traced in part to the efforts of radicals like
Godett and Brown who went among the workers during the crisis
calling for united action against their common foe, the business
community. Given these pressures, the leaders of the PWFC felt
that they had no choice but to call for a strike. They believed that to
do otherwise would cost them the control of the union. Signifi-
cantly then the moderate leaders of the all important petroleum
workers union who generally preferred negotiation and accommo-
dation to more militant tactics were effectively neutralized at least
in part by the actions of more radical labor leaders. Thus at the
meeting, it was decided to call a 24-hour sympathy strike of all
Shell employees. The decision to strike was made at about 8:30
P.M. and was to take effect at 11:30 that same evening. After the
meeting, a large portion of the gathering, estimated to be around
1,000, left by cars for the various gates of the Shell refinery to
inform workers who would be reporting to work on late shifts
about the union's decision to strike. Many of the workers on the
job at Shell left immediately upon hearing the decision to strike.
Shell began to call in supervisory personnel to take over operations
and some of them were harassed by strikers at the gates.
Although a portion of the gathering from the union meeting had
gone to the Shell gates, the number of persons in front of the union
hall increased, and the crowd started harassing passers by and
stopping cars. Particular attention seemed to be given to cars that

74 Social Movements, Violence and Change

contained or were suspected of containing "European Dutchmen"
or Makamba (i.e., Dutchmen who had recently come from Hol-
land in contrast to persons of Dutch ancestry born in the Antilles).
Around midnight, about 1,000 men were gathered at Post V
There harassment of supervisory Shell personnel occurred, espe-
cially European Dutchmen, and some temporary road barriers
were destroyed. The crowd, however, began to dissolve about
2:30 A.M., and the rest of the night was relatively quiet. Yet the
conflict that occurred at the entrance to the Shell refinery, and that
which had occurred earlier in front of the union headquarters, were
forerunners of things to come in the second phase of the May
The first phase of the May Movement, then, involved primarily
strike activity on the part of workers directed at economic condi-
tions. Other kinds of strains were also reflected in the early actions
of some of the workers, however. For example, racial and political
discontent was expressed by the occasional harassment of whites
identified as European Dutchmen, and claims made that the gov-
ernment might be directly responsible for the crisis by pursuing the
policy of encouraging industry to keep salaries low. Nevertheless,
for most of the workers the expression of political or racial discon-
tent did not occur until sometime later.


On the morning of May 30, more unions announced that they
had gone on strike in support of the CFW. Starting around 7:00 A.M.
the number of strikers and other persons at Post V grew rapidly,
and by 7:30 it was estimated that between three and four thousand
men had gathered there. Union leaders began making speeches to
the gathering. The head of the CFw appealed to the strikers to keep
politics out of the protest. However, Papa Godett, the head of the
radical dock workers union, began moving the issue in the direc-
tion of politics by criticizing the actions of the government during
the crisis and calling for the strikers to march to Fort Amsterdam to
overthrow it.

The Emergence of the May Movement 75

Up until the point when Papa Godett sounded the keynote for
political action, the May Movement had essentially an economic
orientation. At least this was the orientation preferred by the more
moderate leaders in such unions as the cFw and the PWFC. How-
ever, certain factors, both background and immediate, converged
making the politicization of the movement highly probable. The
first has to do with the nature of the social structure of underde-
veloped societies like Curacao. Since economic development is so
important as well as precarious in underdeveloped societies, the
government rather than business often establishes policies of direct
concern to labor unions such as wages, hours, and employment
practices. As a result, in many underdeveloped societies, labor
unions have to directly enter the political arena, that is, engage in
political unionism, if they are to make changes in their economic
situation. Sufrin has noted for example, "In well developed
economies, trade unions adjust and adapt to industrial and gov-
ernmental organization. The same is true for developing societies,
but the more significant type of adjustment and adaptation in the
latter is to government because it is the more significant institution
from the viewpoint of the interests of the trade unions."' The
Antillean government had assumed a role that was somewhat
typical in a developing society. For example, it pursued a policy of
encouraging industries to stabilize wages in order to attract new
investors. In such a context, when economic institutions or ar-
rangements are not clearly differentiated from political ones,
economic issues become political ones as well, and an initial
economic-social movement may evolve into a political movement.
Thus Curacao was structurally conducive to the emergence of
political as well as economic protest activity by labor unions.3 The
presence of leaders who could articulate political aspirations for
the labor movement and had broad appeal among workers also
facilitated the shift of the May protest from a primarily economic
to a political character. For example, prior to the labor crisis,
radical leaders like Papa Godett and Stanley Brown of the Vit6
movement had established themselves among workers in Curaqao
as important leaders who were prepared to lead them into political

76 Social Movements, Violence and Change

action. Yet the two variables mentioned thus far were only neces-
sary and not sufficient conditions in the politicization of the May
Movement because they had been present in the society for a long
time without generating significant political action on the part of
labor. The final ingredient in the equation that led to the politiciza-
tion of labor appears to have been its initial economic mobilization
that brought together large numbers of workers. Once mobilized,
the labor movement began to perceive a political role for itself that
was generally unrecognized prior to the crisis. As long as labor
was composed of isolated and competing factions, even with the
existence of the background variables mentioned above, it did not
engage in direct political activity. However, as a result of the sense
of solidarity and power felt once they were mobilized at the
beginning of the May Movement, the workers were encouraged to
engage in collective political activity. This activity was fairly
unstructured initially, but assumed a more organized character
later. And as was the case in its confrontation with the business
groups, the polarization between the labor movement and political
authorities furthered the growth of solidarity within the former.
Finally, once the political protest activity of the May Movement
was started, it was furthered at certain points by the actions of
external groups. For example, in some cases this involved receiv-
ing support from similarly dissatisfied groups, and, in others, this
entailed the nature of the response of social control authorities. We
will now turn to a discussion of those phases of the May Movement
whose objectives became increasingly political in nature.

Proto-Political Phase
The strike began to assume political significance as Papa Godett
and other labor leaders called for a march on the government at
Fort Amsterdam about seven miles away in downtown Willem-
stad. The gathering had grown to about 5,000 as it moved out
toward the center of Willemstad led by Papa Godett and several
other labor leaders in a jeep. However, the political objective of
forcing the government to resign was never to be achieved by this
particular group as it was later to break up and engage in generally

The Emergence of the May Movement 77

uncoordinated protest characteristic of proto-political social
movements, that is, movements that represent an early or initial
form of political action.
Proto-political movements, or what some scholars have referred
to as anomic movements,4 occur among groups in a society that
feel that the more traditional means for bringing about change are
either closed to them or are no longer effective.5 Segments of the
labor movement in Curacao were dissatisfied with the response of
the government to the plight of workers and were also discouraged
by the prospect for changing the government's approach to the
problem. It was within this context that the proto-political phase of
the May protest emerged.
Willemstad is located on the southern shore of the island of
Curaqao. A picturesque canal-like inlet called Saint Anna's Bay
bisects the city, dividing it into the sections known as the Punda
and Otrabanda. Curacao's famed pontoon bridge connects the two
areas. The bridge opens about twenty times a day to let ships enter
and leave. Saint Anna's Bay is the route of access to a larger bay
called Schottegat. The Shell refinery is located on the farther side
of Schottegat, almost directly opposite the inlet separating the two
parts of the city. Willemstad can be reached from Post V then by
way of the Punda or Otrabanda. Although they are nearly equidis-
tant, the route to the Punda is a better access route through the
built-up portions of the periphery of the city. Fort Amsterdam is
also located on the Punda side. The marchers took the approxi-
mately seven-mile route by way of the Punda.
The leaders of the march had not made plans to control the huge
gathering. For example, crowd marshals were not appointed. One
leader explained this later by saying that no difficulty was antici-
pated and so no such precautions seemed warranted. The leaders of
the march had no control, of course, over who joined the protest.
Thus in addition to the group of strikers and onlookers that had
initially assembled at Post V. many persons along the route of
march to Willemstad joined the ranks of the protesters, most
noticeably young males. One of the strike leaders indicated that he
began noticing youths joining the march after it had progressed
about a mile and a half in the direction of Willemstad.

78 Social Movements, Violence and Change

As the crowd moved toward downtown Willemstad, ostensibly
to register its protest with the government, it shifted between acts
of harassment to violence of a more dramatic and serious nature.
Cars coming the other way were pushed aside and some were
turned over. A pickup truck driven by a white man was set on fire.
A large supermarket was looted, as was a white-owned fruitstore-
carryout. At both stores, a large quantity of liquor was taken and
consumed by some of the marchers along the way. (It had been
reported earlier that many of the persons at Post V during the night
had been drinking.) Many youths began joining the march. A large
bus was stopped on a major traffic circle and its windows were
shattered. With this initial damage, word soon reached the city of
the potential danger, and most traffic was forewarned to avoid the
route the marchers had taken. The chief of police also warned
merchants in the city to close their shops for the time being. This
later resulted in many stores being easy prey for looters as many
merchants interpreted the police chief to mean that they and their
employees should leave the stores.
As the marchers moved down the road, the windows in several
large commercial buildings were smashed, including those of an
electrical and air-conditioning contractor and a Coca-Cola bottling
plant. More cars were damaged and set on fire. As would be the
case when the riot reached its peak as the protesters arrived in the
heart of Willemstad, during this period some of the targets, accord-
ing to some protesters, were deliberately chosen because of past
grievances. For example, the windows in Texas Instruments, an
American-owned company, were broken and some of the march-
ers went inside and threatened the workers. The company stopped
production as a result of this. The company had earned the
reputation of being exploitative because it had resisted efforts by
workers at unionization. Also during this period as well as later,
while some targets might have been deliberately selected, other
potential ones were ignored by the protesters. Residences were
spared, although the inhabitants of some homes were forced to
leave them because of smoke from fires set in commercial build-

The Emergence of the May Movement 79

ings. Also public and quasi-public buildings were spared by the
protesters throughout the riot, even as nearby commercial proper-
ties were attacked.
The small Curaqao police force was mobilized when it received
intelligence reports on the increasingly violent march. Also, be-
fore noon the assistance of the local militia, called the voluntary
corps, and the Dutch Marines stationed in Curaqao was requested.
A police unit was sent to intercept the marchers before they
reached downtown Willemstad. The police were given orders to
first be firm with the protesters and if that didn't work to shoot over
their heads, and, if that also failed to control them, as a last resort,
to shoot in the legs those who didn't respond to their authority. The
police were unsuccessful in their first attempt to halt the march.
They soon became surrounded by the protesters, who attempted to
run them down with some of the cars that were in the march. It
appears that the inability of the under-manned police to enforce
their authority facilitated the escalation of the violence." The
police set up a second line of defense at Berg Altena, a hill that
overlooks the downtown area. At this point there were about sixty
policemen present. The police officer in charge talked to the
leaders of the march. About this time Papa Godett was shot in the
back when according to some observers he was attempting to talk
to the crowd. Godett later claimed that he believed he was shot
because the government had given orders to kill him. The police
reported that they were being heavily stoned and threatened by the
marchers at the time Godett was shot. One high police official said
of the situation his men were in, "They had to fight for their
lives." This incident marked a significant turning point in the
disturbance. The confrontation between the marchers and the
police escalated, soon to be followed by the major looting and
arson that would not abate until increased force was applied. A car
was overturned and burned on the hill. One of two fire trucks that
had been sent to support the police was set on fire and pushed in the
direction of the police lines. The man at the steering wheel, later
identified as an employee of WESCAR, was shot and killed. As the

80 Social Movements, Violence and Change

pitched battle continued, the police suffered injuries from thrown
rocks, and three police cars and another fire truck were damaged.
A Red Cross ambulance sent into the area was also stoned.
When the union leader was shot, he was taken immediately to
the hospital by other union leaders who had been with him. Some
of the marchers also followed to the hospital. During the next
several hours, it was rumored that Godett was dead. Because of the
nature of his injury, he had to spend considerable time in the
operating room. Afterwards, several of the union leaders were
permitted to see him to assure them that he was alive. The scene at
the hospital was characterized by a great deal of bedlam when the
labor leaders brought Godett in and at other times during the
disturbance. One observer remarked in reference to the crowded
and confused conditions as the injured were brought in and rela-
tives arrived, "It was horrible. It was a revolution at the hospital."
The types of injuries suffered by the wounded brought to the
hospital included burns, bullet wounds, and cuts.
With the shooting of Godett and the absence of the other leaders
who accompanied him to the hospital, the bulk of the crowd
quickly moved into Willemstad's business district on the Punda
side of Saint Anna's Bay, spreading out through the streets,
breaking windows, and looting. The crowd broke up into smaller
groups, in many cases into groups of three and four persons, and
moved along the narrow streets where retail stores were located.
Eyewitnesses consistently reported that most of the rioters were
young men in their teens and early twenties and that few women
were involved. The latter was reflected in the fact that very few
women were arrested during the disorders.
Although some rioters stayed on the Punda side of the business
district, others moved across the pontoon bridge, which spans the
bay, to the Otrabanda area and looted shops. Fires were set in both
the Punda and Otrabanda areas. The police made arrests. Signifi-
cantly, at noon the first fire on the Otrabanda side was set at
Tauber s, the retail store that had been earlier singled out by the
radical paper Vit6 as being a particularly exploitative business
establishment. The fire soon spread to other buildings in the area.

The Emergence of the May Movement 81

At one point, the fire at Tauber s was brought under control;
however, after the police who had been guarding it left, arsonists
returned and reset the fire and the building burned down. An old
theatre that was used for storing goods, including considerable
quantities of liquor, was looted and burned. Back across the bay, a
number of fires were set in stores that had already been looted.
Some of the buildings that housed the shops were several hundred
years old and burned rapidly as the fires spread from roof to roof.
The compactness of the business district made access difficult for
fire-fighting equipment. Also fire fighters were hampered by the
fact that some equipment had been destroyed earlier in the day.
Boats were used to fight fires in buildings near the waterfront.
The policemen, who also double as firemen in Curacao, were
joined by several organizations and private citizens in performing
emergency roles during the disturbance. The detachment of
marines stationed in Curacao, as well as marines later flown in
from the Netherlands, worked under the authority of the local
police. The marines assisted in fighting fires, engaged in crowd
control activities, and patrolled the downtown business areas, and
also guarded strategic structures such as the pontoon bridge. There
had been attempts by rioters to damage the bridge, which if
successful would have made it more difficult for fire-fighting
equipment to reach the Otrabanda. The voluntary corps worked in
cooperation with the police and marines in fighting fires, patrol-
ling the riot-torn area, and guarding banks, radio stations, and
other key enterprises. According to reports by members of the
voluntary corps and other observers, the voluntary corps had less
difficulty with protesters than the police or marines. For example.
the voluntary corps did not experience the verbal abuse from
protesters that the marines took even as late as June 1. Those in the
voluntary corps felt that they were accepted more than the police or
marines because they were volunteers. The Red Cross and the
Rescue Squad, another volunteer group, also were mobilized. The
Rescue Squad worked in the riot-torn area picking up the
wounded, later treating many of them at Squad headquarters. The
Squad also set up a first-aid station and worked at the hospital. The

82 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Red Cross also established an aid station and treated the wounded.
Private citizens assisted many groups in fighting fires and other
emergency work. In some cases this was on a long-term basis
while in others it was of brief, on-the-spot duration. In one case of
the latter variety, for example, a high government official with the
aid of passers-by was able to remove a burning drum filled with
highly combustible material that had been placed against a bank,
thus preventing damage to the building.
In the afternoon of May 30, several clergymen in Curaqao made
an appeal over the radio for an end to the violence that had erupted.
One noted, "Punda is on fire. Curaqao is in a state of alarm due to
the activities of the striking employees. I appeal to the workers
who are fighting for just pay to stop their activities. I hope that
from the remaining ruins a new and better Curaqao will rise."7
Emergency organizations continued fighting fires during the
night of May 30 and the next day before they were brought under
control. A curfew was enforced from the evening of May 30 to
June 2. The downtown riot area was closed off to unauthorized
persons and a ban on assembly was imposed as well as on the sale
of liquor.
A leaflet distributed in Curacao on May 31, which was attrib-
uted to the Vit6 movement, read in part:

The people, especially the workers, who have already suffered for
many years and have endured many situations have become fed up
with it all!
The people have become fed up!
The workers have become fed up!
Willemstad has burned!
For the first time in history, the people have reacted and behaved in a
manner which was thought impossible.
Willemstad has burned!
The people could loot and get away with it.
The people have already showed that they are fed up.
This is the lesson for the exploiters.
Now that we have burned everything down, there is new room to start
building again. Now we must plant something new, and the entire
population is requested to help.
The exploiters have been taught a lesson.

The Emergence of the May Movement 83

The authorities, who have always thwarted the people, have been
taught a lesson.
Willemstad has burned, and we will have to rebuild it.8

On May 31, the day after the major disorders started, the
violence began tapering off. From this point on, authorities were
mainly concerned with controlling the "hit and run tactics of
youths." No significant outbreaks of violence occurred between
May 31 and June 1. On June 1, exhausted local security forces
were supplemented by 300 marines flown from the Netherlands.
For a short period, the protest in Curacao even spilled outside
the island. Some 300 to 500 persons, including Antillean students
and workers and Dutch students and radicals, held a protest
demonstration at the Hague in Holland on June 1, after learning
about the developments in Curaqao. The demonstrators, marching
in support of the workers and unions in Curacao, protested the use
of Dutch Marines there and called for Antillean independence
from Holland. Carrying posters with such slogans written on them
as: "Invasion Troops Out," "No Troops, But Work," "Colonial
Murder," and "Slaves Fight for Freedom," the protesters sent a
delegation to meet with Dutch government officials to deliver a
letter of protest. There were also clashes and fights between some
of the demonstrators and the police. The protest lasted for a few

Deaths ................................... ...................... 2
Injured (excluding those slightly injured)
Police officers .......................... .......... .... .. 22
O others ................... ............... ... .... ..... ...... 57
Men ........................................ ..... ......... 308
Women ............... ...................... ......... ........ 14
Businesses burned out ................. ...... ........... ....... 43
O their buildings burned .............................................. 10
Dam aged and looted ............ .. ........ ......... ........ 100
Damaged only .................. ...... ...... . ........... 90
Vehicles destroyed by fire ................................ ........ 30
SOURCE: Compiled from various reports and interviews.

84 Social Movements, Violence and Change

hours and by the time it had ended several of the participants had
been arrested by the police.
In the weeks after the violence in Curaqao, there was an account-
ing of its social and economic costs. They were as reported in
table 3. Estimates of the dollar damage ranged from 35 to 40
million dollars.
On June 2, the following commentary appeared in a local
Curagao paper which suggested that while peace was being re-
stored to the island, other crises and changes were still to come.

After the horrible events of last Friday it seems that peace has
returned to Curaqao. There weren't any serious incidents on Saturday
and Sunday. This morning it was enormously crowded in the city
center, especially on the Punda side. The almost unimaginable event
occurred this morning at about nine o'clock when several hundred
people gathered in front of La Bohemia shop. and stole many shop
goods. According to bystanders the owner of the shop would have
given the people permission to take the goods. If this is true, which we
haven't been able to verify with the owner, this would be an outra-
geous situation in view of the past events. Only about 45 minutes later
policemen and marines arrived on the scene to chase the people away.
A strange and unimaginable affair. At the moment many foreign
journalists from many countries, especially from the Netherlands,
America and Venezuela, are staying in Curaqao, indicating that what
has occurred here recently is regarded as world news. Everywhere
now responsible people urge others to stay calm and keep the peace.

At the moment many rumors are circulating such as the one that
they are missing explosives at the Curaqao Mining Company which
could be used for destructive purposes. There exists great danger
in such rumors and accusations.
In the waters surrounding Curaqao, two American war ships have
been seen. We could not get any official information about their
presence. We also have tried to get some information about the
meeting and discussions which were held between the union leaders
and the members of the Staten, however this was impossible. We wait
in suspense to get the results of the meeting of the Staten which will be
held this afternoon. We hope that everybody will keep cool and that
attention will be paid only to the interest of the society and the
measures to be taken in order to reconstruct Curacao.9

The Emergence of the May Movement 85

At 4:30 P.M. on May 30, the head of the CFW announced by radio
that the union had reached a one-year agreement with
WESCAR and that the principle of equal wages for equal work on
Shell sites had been accepted. He also announced that the strike at
Shell by the PWFC was ended. Thus the agreement with WESCAR
meant that the initial economic goal of the May Movement had
been achieved. However, this did not mean that the end of the
movement had been reached because the second phase, that is, the
proto-political phase, had signaled political as well as economic
discontent on the part of the workers in Curaqao.
Such outbursts as the one that occurred in Curaqao can be
viewed as a primitive, or rudimentary, form of political activity.
By themselves, because the demands they articulate are vague and
concerted action limited, they do not directly achieve long-range
goals. However, unplanned outbursts may evolve into more or-
ganized protest thus developing the capacity for recalling a gov-
ernment and making other changes.'0 Thus in Curaqao several
unions recognizing the political significance and potential of the
outburst formed a coalition to state in specific terms that which was
expressed in vague terms by the rioters, that is, the need for
political change. At this point, the May Movement entered a third
phase-a political strike phase.

Political Strike Phase
During the height of the outburst on May 30, unsuccessful
attempts were made by some moderate labor leaders who had not
been in the march to arrange a meeting with the government to
discuss the growing crisis. Finally, a meeting was held by labor
leaders from several of the unions in Curacao, both moderate and
radical, during which it was decided to send an ultimatum to the
government calling for its resignation and new elections, other-
wise a general strike would be declared." This ultimatum was
signed by the union leaders and sent by messenger to the govern-
ment around 8:00 P.M. About 9:00 P.M. the unions' ultimatum was
also delivered over the radio by the head of the CFW and Amador

86 Social Movements, Violence and Change

Nita, the secretary-general of the dock workers union. This later
resulted in the latter's arrest, but pressure from the unions led to his
subsequent release. In accounting for their unprecedented actions,
the unions declared that they were convinced that the
government's social and economic policies had failed and that the
rights of the workers had not advanced along with the development
of the country. As a result, they reasoned, the workers had become
frustrated and this frustration resulted in the outburst. Thus the
growing belief among the labor unions was that significant change
could occur only through political action. This emerging ideology
clearly marked a break from the traditional stance taken by most
trade unions in Curacao.
At 2:00 P.M. on May 31, the unions held another meeting and
this time representatives from several unions from Aruba, the
second most populous island in the Antilles, were in attendance.
Also present were representatives from the chamber of commerce.
The latter were invited to the meeting to essentially serve as the
channel of communication between the unions and the govern-
ment. The utilization of such a go-between further demonstrated
the isolation the unions felt from the government.
At this important meeting, the Aruban unions indicated their
support of the call for the government's resignation, which had
been made the day before. A joint statement was issued by the two
groups of unions declaring that a general strike would be called in
both Curaqao and Aruba if the government did not agree to step
down within forty-eight hours. Thus with this joint action, the
boundaries of the May Movement were extended beyond Curagao
and at the same time its power was enhanced. Finally, the union
leaders explained to the chamber of commerce representatives
why a general strike was going to be called so that they could relay
the mood and position of the unions to government officials. The
chamber of commerce representatives agreed to talk to the gov-
ernment to determine if it would resign as demanded by the
coalition of unions or make other concessions that might end the

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