Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, April 17th, 2016

Redefining Conflict of Interest at ATIA, the Aruba Trade and Industry Association

Three people spoke to me about conflict of interest this week. It’s always a good sign that people are talking. So I went to the ATIA website and read that they represented the interests of businesses and entrepreneurs in Aruba, offering the right information and advocacy to produce a more healthy business environment on our beautiful island. Founded on June 18th, 1945, ATIA is the largest employers’ organization on Aruba.

Attention ATIA:  When you have a moment, run the web site text through ‘spell check.’

What my conversation partners questioned was the fact that entrepreneur Tristan Every became an ATIA board members, recently. As a local young Turk and innovator, he certainly deserves a seat in that board room, but under his second, government sponsored hat, they just couldn’t see it. True, the last time I checked he was working for the government’s Bureau of Innovation, under the wing of the MinPres, receiving a salary there, occasionally occupying a desk, and that would clearly be a conflict of interest, because working for the government and representing business, is inherently conflicting.

Joyce Bartels –Daal says: “ATIA is a watch dog for commerce, has to watch government!”

It sort of dawned on me last year when I was told that Every will help raise funds and awareness for TedEx Aruba. It was a ‘first’ on the island, to be organized by the government’s Bureau of Innovation, a not for profit entity. My colleagues at Pica 96.5% supported that initiative, and granted it generous airtime.

Fifteen seconds into that radio relationship we were approached by the ATECH Conference for startups in the Caribbean, also in search of sponsors and awareness, soliciting airtime. The conference, a first in the Caribbean, to be organized by the private sector, a for profit venture, featured Every as one of its main motors, as co-founder.

Obviously both worthy causes were competing for the same sponsorship money, and a similar audience, asking for money for a government sanctioned event AND for a private initiative at the same time. We shrugged it off, as typical Aruba, because there was clearly a conflict of interest there.

Anyway, both ATECH and TedEx were successful and we’re moving forward with the appropriate platforms in place, prepared to be dazzled with new and improved business models.

My conversation partners admired Tristan for his unique understanding of technology, and the gifts he brings as an exciting entrepreneur, also co-founder of Co.Lab, but his colleagues at ATIA are not sure where his loyalties lie.

I understand that right as we speak Tristan is gearing up for the next ATECH, and making progress with Co.Lab.

The Big Easy vacation

In December we went to New Orleans, Louisiana, on vacation for a few days. We traveled in a group of friends and had a lot of fun staying at the Hyatt Regency on Layola Ave., just outside the French Quarter, Le Vieux Carré. We walked at least 10.000 steps every day, indulged in more than one Bourbon Old Fashion* daily and dined like royalty in some excellent places. Some dives too, but only famous ones.

You should know that everything you eat in Nola, New Orleans, is rich. It enjoys French heritage and as such it believes in butter. Butter makes the food so good, and it all starts with a Creole roux. Every single one of the famous Creole and later Cajon dishes, found its roots in butter and flour, or as in the case of Cajun, oil and flour. In Louisiana, it all begins with the French mirepoix, as they call it the Holy Trinity, which means you always find onion, celery, and bell pepper, in the bottom of every pot. Garlic is never far away. Then paprika, thyme, parsley and green onions are very common in kitchens, blending with Jambalaya, Gumbo, or Etouffee.

We went to the French Quarter every day, and explored different streets, bars and eateries. Café Amelie was one of our favorites; we went back twice, sitting in the garden, once, then the next time we sat inside, in the historic mansion. The kitchen there is on the third floor, so the servers race up and down the whole day. They all have great legs and we loved the charred Brussels sprouts with dates, bacon and balsamic glaze, we ordered them three times.

The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street is a 200 year old bar, with the original, never refreshed décor, absolutely nothing changed. We hung out in the street drinking with a bunch of lawyers on a Friday. I left a business card stapled on the wall. One of millions.

Rouses is an amazing market, as in supermarket, we bought pomegranate seeds, already shelled, Bartlet pears and Fuji apples, to go with the just-made almond butter for breakfast.

We went on an organized and internet-advertised food tour, that was ok, except the guide was amazingly annoying, and she was not even a native of New Orleans, but from Chicago. She toured us through Little Vics for Muffalino Panini sandwiches, and Café Beignets for famous delicious fried donuts. We were not crazy about her but we liked the food, and the historic places we visited.

One night we sucked on some Hurricanes at the World Famous Pat O’Brien’s, built in 1791. They invented the Hurricane, served in glasses with the shape of a hurricane lamp. Very potent cocktails, very sweet, kicked our butts.

We participated in a much loved tradition, Christmas Caroling in Jackson Square. There were a few hundred people around and the music was great, as Jackson Square was illuminated by hundreds of candles.

One afternoon, we stopped for coffee and donuts at Café Du Monde, their coffee is special, flavored with chicory. They sell hot beignets and cafe au lait, to millions of people every day. And I mean it, millions.

We loved Stanley’s, at Jackson square the most because: Stanley’s greatest accomplishment is its breakfast, Banana Foster and Pancakes, Egg Benedict Poor boy, explosive Bloody Marys, wow.

The Bombay Club & Martini Bistro was a delicious destination. We had unforgettable Boudin Scotch Eggs from a quasi-British menu with a Cajun twist.

Oysters Bienville at Felix’s, we had to have them, you cannot go to Nola and not stop at this unbearable dive for the world’s most fattening oysters. We also said: Aww shucks, at the bar at the Bourbon House, where raw oysters were like a $1 a pop, accompanied by tangy cocktail sauce.

In retrospect I think that the Voodoo Museum was a dust encrusted creaky deposit of mismatched bric-a-brac, but it was fine when we were there. While voodoo is ingrained in the culture of the Caribbean, ruling over love, sex, power, domination, success and failure, the super cluttered hallways we went thru hardly had any Houngan or Mambo spirits walking in them – Houngan is the high priest, and Mambo is the priestess of Voodoo.

We took a fun trip in an airboat, visiting a real Louisiana Swamp, with water as far as the eye can see, there were eerie gnarled dry trees standing everywhere, draped with what looks like cobweb. I found out it was moss hanging from cypress trees. The tour promise that we would be overcome by the primitive beauty of the cypress trees rising from the water, and we were.

The WWII museum is worth a full day visit. This was the second time I was there. We experienced a WWII submarine simulation, we also saw Beyond all Boundaries, a 4D movie produced and narrated by Tom Hanks, which teaches audiences more in twenty minutes, than four years of high school history classes.

For our farewell dinner we went to Commander’s Palace, an iconic eatery since 1880 a legendary dining spot in the Garden District, they messed up our reservation at first, but then ended up doing everything right. The restaurant sets the standard for Louisiana and Creole cooking, and the chef’s from “dirt to plate within 100 miles” policy means that everything is just picked and fresh. Both Chef Emeril Lagasse and Chef Paul Prudhomme worked in that basement kitchen — servers have great legs — belonging to the Brennan family, famed for the brunch place in the French quarters. We dined on Foie Gras and stuffed quail, one of the best meals ever.

And this is not all, but it’s 7:50am, I’d better run this thru a spell check and publish. If my friends remember anything else, I can always add it.

BEST DRINK EVER: *In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the bitters, sugar, orange wheel, cherry and a splash of soda. Remove the orange rind, add the bourbon and fill with ice. Garnish with a fresh orange wheel and cherry. 

CHEF BAS KUURSTRA BECOMES A FOOL. No offense meant, it’s true, one of my favorite chefs, in fact Aruba’s only private chefs, joined 2 Fools & a Bull, the gourmet studio on Palm Beach 17.  When chef Fred Wanders retired, Bas replaced him as the cooking partner. I didn’t tell you before because I waited for a formal announcement. It came last weekend, when I met Bas in the parking lot of a popular supermarket and he said, all is well, I am fooly satisfied, I get along dandy with Paul Faas, the sommelier partner, life is good, we’re going sailing. So now you know. One of the best restaurants on the island, Paul will immediately correct me and say THE best, just changed chefs, and the transition went smoothly.

LUNCH AT TIERRA DEL SOL. I recently had lunch with Cisco Quant and Vaneska Henriquez, talking about Tierra del Sol, now fully recovered from whatever bump in the road it encountered a few years back.

The restaurant enjoyed a nice lunch crowd, tourists and locals including the Minister of Justice. Food was delicious: I had to have the Curry Waldorf Salad, my old favorite, still perfect.

Cisco reports that the golf course is in top shape, and indeed, the Wente Winery / Papiamento Restaurant/ Arion Wine Company golf tournament made 128 golfers happy last weekend.

Vaneska says the spa is as busy as ever, supporting a large local clientele. In fact through thick and thin the spa never lost its following, especially among locals who love the dollar to florin conversions, and spa manager Orly Valor makes sure we all get treated right.

While the restaurant – now called the Restaurant at Tierra Del Sol, no more Ventanas, suffered a decline in popularity for dinner over the past few years, things are now looking up and chef Jim Rooseman tweaked the dinner menu, introducing a Seasonal Special which lists among appetizers Smoked Salmon & Scallop Salad, and Duck Liver Crème Brulée.  Both have my name written all over them. The Seasonal Special also features some lovely main courses such as Beef Short Rib & Veal Sweetbreads. Yummy combo.

Chef Jim also included lots of new dishes on the dinner menu, you will encounter pleasant surprises going thru cold and warm appetizers, main courses and desserts. I found Beef Tournedos Rossini and Maple Leaf Duck Breast in the chef recommendation section. As expected, brunch is super popular, and full every weekend, because Jorge Estrada really has the dining working like a well-oiled machine.

At one point of the conversation I asked Cisco about a rumored hotel coming down the road and he confirmed that Terra del Sol is again serious about new hotel construction, in the land across Arashi beach, below the lighthouse, but he did not provide any details. His lips were sealed.

But Home Rentals he said are popular, with Ingrid de Marchena at the helm, and those renting homes via Tierra Del Sol’s program also enjoy access to the club house and the pool.

Last but not least, a new website is up and social media is buzzing. So if you have been away from Tierra del Sol for a while, drop in, they are ready to receive you, with the best Aruba has to offer in one place, and Emilio Geerman, who is in charge of banquets, will help orchestrate your perfectly if you decide to host the reception in the garden!

In conversation with my magazine partner Tina Bislick when I mentioned Tierra Del Sol, she said, and I have to quote her, Kudo to Raymond Maduro, who developed the property so long ago, it still looks excellent, and is as impressive now, as it was then!

Really? In 2016, in Aruba?

One of my bright friends, an Aruban who lives overseas posed the above question: Really, in 2016? In Aruba? When he saw the sad pictures of the late Valerie Horeb and her baby, in one of the online newspapers, under the funeral home logo.

A woman dying at child birth, in Aruba in 2016, is truly a tragic and inconsolable incident.

In the public arena, the verdict is already out: This was simply a case of neglect on the part of the hospital staff, the gynecologist and pediatrician who were in charge of this case.

We heard she was a housekeeper, a humble single mother, probably from Haiti, perhaps illegal. She had no family members on the island, only her church friends for support.  Vulnerable to begin with, she collided with a terrible system failure at the hospital. She was carrying twins in a high risk pregnancy and our medical establishment dragged its feet about this or that instead of just getting the babies out, in time to save the mother. The girl twin survived, the boy died, mom was found lifeless in her hospital bed.

A video of Valerie in comma is circulating, she looks delirious, no longer conscious, it is difficult to watch, but if you insist it can be viewed on various FB pages.

The story opened a dialogue among my friends, and I am sure you too were debating the issue:

The Idealist: But wasn’t that the whole idea of AZV, delivering a single, one size fits all, health care coverage that would include all residents of Aruba, rich and poor?? Didn’t Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, set the rules? Help now, ask questions later. We should never withhold healthcare from a person because of bureaucratic hurdles. We should provide health care when needed and ask questions about eligibility and payment later, even if we risk the abuse of the generous system, which by the way, is inevitable.

The Historian: I thought that if you were not insured by AZV or any other type of insurance, which is the case with people who are here illegally, then you had to pay the hospital before they would treat you. I remember we had a housekeeper who came to us already pregnant, also from Haiti. She was waiting for her work and residence papers to go through. She too carried twins, and the Haitian community collected funds when the babies had to be delivered, prematurely. But she had to pay before going into the hospital.

The Cynic: En berdad ta lamentabel cu no tin un Inspecteur Volksgezondheid ainda. E caso ta wordo investiga, pero ya caba tur hende tin un opinion y hasta nan a bin cu un diagnose. Claro tambe cu dokternan aki no ta sirbi, AZV no ta sirbi, hospital no ta sirbi, nos leynan no ta sirbi y asina por sigui,  pero tur hende kier bin biba aki si….!!  Si e Sra tabata ilegal, anto e gastonan con cu bay bin ta bin riba cuenta di e pagado di belasting. Hospital tin un suma cuantioso na placa pa haya di trato medico na ilegalnan. Pa por keda duna bon servicio, hospital no por haci otro cu subi su tarifanan y AZV na cierto momento lo mester hisa su prima of bin cu un eigen bijdrage. Dus…un circulo vicioso.

The Politically Correct: Would the public be more outraged if she were local?  I am not sure. But the case is getting the attention and is being investigated. But it does raise interesting questions. When someone comes to live on Aruba as a domestic helper, should we as a society be expected to cover all health costs including having babies, all for the Awg 1,000 payment per year, which goes to AZV, when he/she gets into service. Are these babies “Aruban” when they are born to foreign nationals living here? The answer is no, I know, and neither can they get a Dutch passport.  Now the above might be a politically incorrect question to ask. Am I being politically incorrect?

The Feisty Realist: Yes, we should be expected to cover all health cost BUT NOT for every foreign national and their mother! And NOT for a mere Awg 1,000 payment per year. We cannot afford it. That is my point. And you CANNOT compare us to England or Canada or the Netherlands or Qatar, a mistake many on this island make; we do not have that kind of money. We have had cases where people came to live here, they got their permit somehow, then all of a sudden We find out and THEY already know, that their kid will require a million or two in health care costs. Like in Valerie’s case, people in our community are asking questions, should it be expected of us, the tax payers to cover all medical costs for this person who came here as a domestic helper, having paid the minimum low premium, and having required expensive health care.…… It is a legitimate question, don’t beat me up over it, and people are asking…… Maybe one way to deal with this challenge in Aruba is to require the sponsors of domestic help to take out supplemental health insurance for foreign nationals in their service.

People are talking.

Meanwhile, our heartfelt condolences to Valerie’s church friends, and her family members.

Esha Alwani debuts her first EP

I listened to the new music of Esha Alwani yesterday, and it hit me that this chick is just 14, and she already managed to release six of her own original songs, which she wrote, composed, performed and accompanied on guitar and piano.

“Music is my Therapy,” is an impressive accomplishment for a young woman from Aruba.

The songs are very personal; they describe her transformation over the past years from a pre-teen diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome to an accomplished musician and poet.

Every one of the songs on the EP is a compact, nicely worked out insight, and the string of songs together clearly narrates Esha journey from darkness and confusion to light and creativity.

Her first track “Beautiful” is very mature for her age, as the young woman finds out that the evolution of her pretty face through a personal crisis is just another way of showing off her beauty.

“Yesterday,” her second track, has lovely, touching lyric, and a haunting sound, Esha describes her crossing from a perfect yesterday to an uncertain present and future, and longs to “take it back to yesterday,” reverse the progress of time.

But she proves herself a survivor, through thick and thin, she reaches the point where all of her the tears turn to “Sweet Water,” and she can experiences joy again, on her fifth track.

There is a poetic progression here that is ear-pleasing and meaningful, attesting to personal growth.

On her Facebook page Esha posts the following testimonial: “On this page I will share my original music which is my way of coping. I hope that my music will inspire you.”

And inspiring it is. Sometime in the course of the past few years Esha took to music, playing the guitar and the piano. Her middle school music teacher immediately recognized her talent and urged her parents to support it. The wise parental-unit did not just support Esha, on her own terms, but they fully endorsed their daughter’s quest and put her in touch with a professional producer who loved her material, and in turn invited her into a recording studio in Nashville, where accompanied by top professionals the EP was recorded and mixed.

It will shortly be available on the island, and all proceeds from the sale of the disc will go to the Autism Foundation Aruba.

The young artist already performed in the community theater of Boca Raton, Florida, and at the Tourette’s conference, in Arlington, Virginia. She’s active on Facebook and Snapchat, so catch up with her on social media.

From her Facebook page: Being 13 is tough, let alone being 13 and stared at. Diagnosed for the first time at age 7, Esha’s world became a very quiet place. Tourette’s syndrome, a brain & nervous system disorder that can cause sudden and embarrassing movements and sounds, turned Esha inwardly, where she found music.  Music helped her regain her voice, in more than one way. Esha is now putting herself and her tic disorder in the spotlight…. She wants the world to know that Tourette’s might be a part of her – but it is not who she is.

Make sUre you get the EP: Music Is My Therapy, By Esha Alwani


In protection of children, a most disgusted column

I have been reading with great disgust and sadness, the stories in the media about suspects of sexual offenses to children. This is the correct legal term. You cannot make a verdict up in the court of public opinions and call just anyone a sex offender or the other P word. You have to call him a suspect, until such time that he is found guilty, in court. I totally agree here with the Hefe di departamento di Jeugd en Zeden Politie, Eric Lake who says: Mester tin prueba di un delito cometi y ministerio publico ta hopi skerpi riba esakinan

So that was my first point.

My second point is that the same Eric Lake has been on the job for 25 year, always saying the same thing that “Investigacion den caso di maltrato etc. etc. ta continuando y riba bon caminda.” I do not want to hear that song anymore. You sound like a broken record. You have no sense of urgency, no outrage anymore, we understand that you have a difficult job, but we need someone else to step up and start running, someone with fire in their gut who will make things happen. And we don’t want to hear that you have no resources, because you have our permission to help yourself to funds from the MinPres Green Corridor project, and the whole country will be grateful.

My third point:  In the court of public opinion the suspect of sexual offenses against kids is the devil, an evil man who needs to be punished. In reality I am sure that he is a psychopath in need of medical treatment. If you throw him in jail for five years he will come out even nuttier, crazier than before. This man in not a simple criminal, he is sick, and as an evolved society we must try to treat him, and improve his mental condition.

My fourth point: This wacky, peculiar father with the mountain of dreadlock, and the spray paint can, I wouldn’t trust him with my kids. According to me he too in one fry short of a happy meal, a nut job, and the kids growing up in his sphere are destined to become mental.

My fifth point: The other father complaining about inappropriate behavior in the household, in the presence of his kids. You cannot really clump all those issues together, because inappropriate behavior and sexual abuse are not the same animal. And discussing the events on Face book, is equally inappropriate. So your kids are double-marked, by the boyfriend in the towel and by you, and your failure to react appropriately.

My sixth point: Why don’t you all think about the kids, and the shame and the humiliation they suffer? Put yourself in their shoes, how dare you expose their most horrible stories to public scrutiny? You’re all terribly responsible parents. Where did discretion, and confidentiality go?

My seventh point: Dear Prosecutor, don’t wait for public outrage to jumpstart the investigation. Do your job, before all hell breaks loose.

My eighth point: Where is Sostene Mi?? You are the watch dogs, you are supposed to follow up on all cases, you are asleep at the wheel, I bet you if you checked, you will find Sostene Mi is sluggish and inefficient, and did not follow up.

My ninth point:  The call to impose minimum punishment on sex offenders is wrong, says Hellen v/d Wal. Every judge is capable of making up his own mind and impose the appropriate punishment. If you impose minimum punishment then you’re violating the democratic principle of Trias Politica, keeping the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary branches apart. The judiciary branch has to function independently, the parliament or the legislative branch cannot tell it what to do.

My FINAL point directed at the public: Don’t get angry, because anger exhausts us, then when we spent all our energy, we don’t want to hear anymore, and we shrug our shoulders, defeated. Let’s translate the anger into action, convert the outrage into motion, the energy into steady pressure on the government to put a RESPONSE TEAM together that will investigate the offenses AND start the healing process and the counseling for the victims.

My bonus point: Apparently the team of UNICEF who visited the island to investigate for their annual report “the State of the World Children,” had some remarks concerning Children’s Rights, which were suppressed because we do well in comparison to African and Latin American countries. But because we are part of the kingdom, our kids should enjoy the same rights as kids in the Netherlands, says Hellen v/d Wal, whom I consulted before writing this column.

That said, we feel the parents’ pain and anguish!