Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap, October 2nd, 2016

The refinery law goes to Parliament Monday afternoon

I looked at a number of documents, and I am stressed, the suggested law going to Parliament, the legal framework that will start the refinery-ball rolling, is very unfavorable to the island. Many of my friends posted commentaries on line, and I used some of their materials.

Basically, regarding the Definitive Participation Agreement, Parliament is being asked to ratify the agreement the MinEnergy negotiated with CITGO for the lease of the refinery, and while some details of what it entails were made public, many are unclear and undefined.

WHAT CAN SAVE US?! It CITGO is unable to get the needed US$100 million, from its parent company PDVSA, which this week was downgraded from CCC rating to CC, by Standard & Poor, which means it went from vulnerable to very vulnerable. When asked if concerned about the downgrade of PDVSA, the MinEnergy said that the island’s agreement was with CITGO. Duh.

Getting the legal documents to Parliament for perusal and study was like pulling teeth. The opposition had to threaten to complain to the governor, in order to get copies of the suggested law into their hands, and then members of Parliament only had FOUR days to study the materials carefully, before the public debate in Parliament.

The MinEnergy was secretive about the whole process, as the documents traveled from the board of CITGO and its Ladder of Command, to the board of Valero and its Ladder of Command. It is our Parliament’s turn now. The papers will later travel to the governor’s office, a true via dolorosa.

My friends who saw parts of the agreement report that it is VERY unfriendly towards us, because the MinEnergy  seemed to have written it by himself, not a single expert by his side, not from Shell, nor from Delft University of Technology, not even from the Rietveld Art Academy. Someone. Someone would have been better than no one. Anyway, if they had one of these experts on board he/she would have voted against the move, and tell us to fohgeddaboudit, the reopening of the refinery is baloney.

But the MinEnergy is in a rush, he wagered his entire political career on the opening of the refinery, so he agreed to the following, and I am quoting: “In the event of breach of contract by THE GOVERNMENT OF ARUBA and/or RDA, CITGO, at its discretion, shall have the right to: (i) demand compliance and obtain enforcement of THE GOVERNMENT OF ARUBA’s and/or RDA’s obligations under the Definitive Participation Agreement and the Lease Agreements, (ii) terminate or declare annulment of the Definitive Participation Agreement or Lease Agreements, in which event CITGO’s right to claim compensation as the Signatories may agree on during the Definitive Participation Agreement period.”

Wow, did you get it? That said that in the event that Aruba or RDA, Refineria di Aruba, makes the smallest mistake, let’s say there is a current interruption, then CITGO can immediately terminate the contract and demand compensation of minimum 300 millions, and that amount could go up to 600 of 750 million, if CITGO indeed makes the investment.

So our Parliamentarians will be asked to approve a government guarantee on Monday; that guarantee may increase to one billion florins, and could be collected at a drop of a hat by CITGO. They may operate here for three months, then decide that RDA did not fulfill its obligations, and ship out of here, leave the island with a steep invoice; it means that we each owe a lot of money to CITGO for their investment here, every man, woman, and child, must pay up.

The agreement allows instant termination, no grace period; CITGO may demand immediate payment, and ship out.

My friends conclude it is a huge risk, under the actual terms the refinery deal delivers more risk than benefits.

For those interested: This is a document prepared by the MinEnergy office, it will give some English speaking readers an idea, of what the government’s story is: http://www.bondia24.com/sites/default/files/presentacion%20Citgo.pdf

Quote from Bloomberg: ”The operating assets of CITGO Holding Inc., PDVSA’s U.S. refining subsidiary, are already pledged to creditors. The unit’s $1.5 billion bonds due in 2020 are secured by a 100% percent equity stake in CITGO Petroleum Corp.”

What I said in April stand: The whole exercise is designed to sooth voters and avoids having to make tough budget decisions. One of my smart friends writes: “We seem to knowingly undertake enormous financial and environmental risks which someone else will have to clean up in future. Think about the implication of an open yet crumbling refinery as far as environmental, health, safety and many other liabilities.”

I am stating the obvious but the government of Aruba is under tremendous pressure from CAFT and if the refinery start-up will make up for the AWG 50 million shortfalls in the 2016 budget, halleluiah, but at what cost?

While we were partying, the occupancy dropped

We just experienced a series of wow events, the Electric Festival, which was professional and exciting, the Happiness 360 Conference, also professional and exciting; the opening of the Industrial Museum, professional and exciting, the Art Fair in San Nicholas, professional and exciting; the ATECH conference, professional and exciting, TEDx Aruba, professional and exciting; the Caribbean North Sea Jazz Festival, you guessed, totally, entirely professional and exciting.

My jaw remained dropped for two weeks with all the professionalism and excitement. I swear, it was a rollercoaster of fun.

It just comes to show what a wonderful island we live in, people are so talented, and so creative, and we’re heading into Restaurant Month and Challenge Aruba, with many talented world-class tri-athletes participating in the inaugural race.

We feel blessed and rich, for so many cultural/art/sport events to unfold on just one island, in a very short period of time.

BUT

The Ministry of Culture has no money, the Ministry of Sports has no money, the Ministry of Tourism on the other hand has lots of money, via the Aruba Tourism Authority, under its special Sui Generis status, and all of the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association funds are funneled directly into their coffers.

Seventy-five million from room tax collected by the hotels and 25 million from the $10 per arrival, the Tourism Promotion Levy, that is supposed to be 100% dedicated to marketing. Then of course there is the Tourism Product Enhancement Fund which derives its money from a tax levied on Aruba’s Timeshare owners, another couple of millions. Well, over 100 million in total, with which the Aruba Tourism Authority co-sponsors, and partners with many worthy ventures, some of them once or twice removed from tourism!

Back to my story, as it turned out while I was partying at all above events, August snuck in and snuck out, and it wasn’t pretty.

Aruba: Total Visitors August 2016

2016       %        2015        %      %change

USA   50,193  52.1%   53,538   48.0%   -6.2%

Canada 2,313  2.4%  2,773   2.5%   -16.6%

Total all countries  96,319  100%  111,471  100%  -13.6%

Which made me sad. But then one of my hotelier friends pointed out that all of the events I attended had zero to do with tourist marketing & promotion, yet they were partly financed with the funds earmarked for that.  That’s not fair, he said. The money generated by tourism, should be reinvested in tourism marketing.

(Just for you to know, the theory says, you gotta have 4Ps nicely balance in order to be successful: A great Place, a fine Product, mega Promotion, for a fair Price. So the critiques say, we have a great PLACE, we spend buckets on PRODUCTS once or twice removed from tourism, we churn sluggish PROMOTION, and we charge a steep PRICE).

Did tourists come to Aruba for ATECH, no, just a few speakers; Did tourists come to Aruba for the Art Fair, no, just a few artists, and the Electric Festival underperformed, and I even dare venture that Restaurant Month will not generate any addition traffic, but the locals will have a ball, eating out here and there at more attractive prices.

The locals benefit greatly from the generosity of the MinTour — he just donated a few tourism millions to the Aruba Hospitality & Security Foundation. The MinTour puts up all of these events, and many say he will be our next Prime Minister, his machinery is working, even I compliment him all the time on culture and art, while tourist results from the USA are slipping. They have been slipping for a while.

AND, the other ministers are green with envy! The MinTour has all the money in the world and they have zilch.

On August 18th AHATA addressed a letter to the MinPres outlining its concerns, and stating its overall strategic objectives, among many other interesting points. It basically reiterated: “One for you, one for me.” If you spend 48 million on marketing, because that’s what it takes, and additional 14 million on product, i.e. events, and you have 15 million in operating expenses, then you can keep the rest and spend it on propaganda, and local promotions, a net surplus of 17 million to spend as you please, on festival and art fair. BUT first, generate an increased demand from the US, attract new airlift to the island, abandon non-performing markets and most importantly stop the investment in product once or twice removed from tourism!

TEDx 2016, relevant and exciting

We never had a dull moment, nine speakers, all great, relevant topics, exciting presentations, and we all forgave the perfunctory one hour at the beginning of the day, that was spent on talking to some badly groomed fuddy-duddies in Brussels, from OCTA, the Overseas Countries and Territories Association, because the Bureau of Innovation just got a generous BIC grant from them – Business Innovation & Creativity. That grant would allow Aruba to purchase, and equip, a mobile tech lab, designed to roam our neighborhood and schools, to introduce kids to innovations and raise a new set of wanna-be engineers and inventors on the island. Applause.

The MinPres spoke unscripted, he is proficient at that, a bit meandering, but not that bad, about predictable five-star schools and five-star neighborhoods, we repressed a yawn, nodded our heads in despair, what can we say, that message gets old, but then again the TEDx conference under his auspices was interesting, and inspiring, so we forgive – though what a nerve, to charge for the tickets and then pelt us with propaganda!

Among the best talks for the day, about education, charismatic Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond — Google translate calls him dog! He discussed the tragedy of  21st century kids, going to 20th century schools and how education never changed in the past decades. That propelled him, he explained, to introduce more than thirty Dutch schools to tablets and technology, appropriately naming the institutions after Steve Jobs.

He suggested five schools for Aruba, partnering with the former Minister of Health & Sports, Richard Visser. Richard has been lobbying for the Steve Jobs schools here for a number of years and is hoping that current MinEdu, Michelle Hooyboer-Winklaar will climb or hop on board the idea, providing her knee is heals. She is currently recuperating from a knee procedure.

Glenn Thodé, the rector of the University of Aruba, supports that technology driven idea, and believes that this approach has the potential to improve the quality of education here.

De Hond explained to his audience during his TEDx talk that schools educate children on the principle of ‘just in case.’ Here’s Algebra? In case you need it. And some Geography, in case you need it too, which is silly, because all that info is now available at our finger tips, on line.

Today’s kids, he added, are wired differently, and must be educated accordingly. And while how we do business changed and how we shop changed, how we educate our kids, trapping them in classrooms and nailing them down to their chairs, stayed the same, so that schools today are completely estranged, disconnected and alienated from the real world.

At his suggested schools in Aruba kids will be handed modern teaching aids, and will be encouraged to discover their own talents and skills, at their own pace, and thus children of different ages, may sit together, and progress on a project-based diet.

De Hond also envisions close relationships with parents and other teachers to provide kids with individual development plans. Most importantly, the new school will help kids develop an accurate perspective of their talents, strengths and challenges, on their journey to uncover a future career path.

When a child spends 10,000 hours or more at school, de Hond says, we have to make sure he is well prepared for the future, it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that, and that’s why our system should be flexible to adapt and adjust.

www.tedxaruba.com.

Plastic Beach Party wants you to know the following:

I saw the volunteers of Plastic Beach Party during ATECH and during the Art Fair in San Nicholas also during the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival, they basically lobby for less plastic, and came up with the idea to create local souvenirs from re-purposed plastic but to do that they first need some machinery! Total cost outlined below, and people have already donated $3,400, one florin at the time, so far. Their prototype shell souvenir from Aruba in pastel swirls, is very attractive!

The kids are determined….and this is what they say: Plastic Beach Party is an open project to set up Aruba’s very own mini-factory for plastic recycling and re-use, to turn plastic waste into valuable products. The aim is to take on the 5,000 tons of plastic that are imported and wasted in Aruba every year.

Contributions can be made using a credit card, but can also be done by bank transfer / iDeal (Stichting Metabolic, Triodos IBAN: NL42TRIO0198069014), PayPal, or in person at Brenchie’s Lab (Aruba Art Academy, Oostraat 2, Oranjestad). The organizers will be building their own machines using the tested and proven designs by Precious Plastic that are already being used in more than 10 countries around the world.

The idea is to make this an island-wide movement, getting the community of Aruba involved from the start by collaborating on fundraising, co-developing a business plan, designing plastic products, and sharing this knowledge. All is needed is a little help from you to get the project off the ground.

The aim is to raise US$5,000 to help us reach these milestones:

  • $1,000 –> Set up the mini-factory space
  • $2,000 –> Build a plastic shredder
  • $3,000 –> Build a plastic extruder
  • $4,000 –> Build an injection molding machine
  • $5,000 –> Build a compression molding machine

And if the target is achieved:

  • $5,500 –> Acquire a press to print custom t-shirts with plastic!

” We have an enthusiastic group of people with the know-how to build the machines, and an experienced designer to lead local artists in designing marketable products. Additionally, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design Aruba has generously provided a space for the mini-factory. The sooner we raise the money the sooner we can start recycling!”

Can’t make a donation but still want to help? Great! Help get the word out by sharing the project with friends, family, or on social media.

Thanks for your support!

Plastic Beach Party is an open group effort. For questions/inquiries about this campaign or joining the team, feel free to contact us at +297 6302475 or pass by Brenchie’s Lab.

Bret-Less Diaries, what I wrote on August 10th, 1993 about Hurricane Bret

Friday, 5:45 p.m., Ling and Sons Supermarket.

“Did you hear about the storm?” squealed my friend Gregory while stacking his shopping cart with canned lunch meats and bottled water. Then, without waiting for my response, with a hint of well-concealed excitement he reported: “I called a colleague window-dresser in Barbados earlier this afternoon. They told me on the phone he was gone; Cause of the storm’. What storm? I asked. Then they hung up, all huffed. Since, I didn’t hear anything on the radio, I called the air­port weather man. The guy on duty mumbled something in­conclusive about an oncoming hurricane and got off the line, in a rush. Confused, I called the Meteorological service and they NEVER picked up the phone. Do you know anything about an impending dis­aster?” Gregory was making an effort to sound peeved. “I’m going to get ready, anyway!” he assured me. No doubt, he was looking forward to an action-packed weekend.

Friday 7:00 p.m., dinner at home.

“Don’t be a dud. You can’t go windsurfing in a hurricane. It’s not the same KIND of wind,” explained Willy, a sleep-over guest who grew up under storm warnings in Florida. He was trying to edu­cate his friend David, about the tropical system that managed to sustain winds over 39 mph to become a named storm, Bret, now threatening Aruba. “This could become the first Hurricane of the At­lantic-Caribbean season, if the winds reached over 74 mph,” Willy repeated studiously. He shared first-hand experience, being a Hurricane Andrew survivor. Obviously, my thir­teen-year-old Aruban has never experienced a forceful storm. Growing up on the is­land, outside the Hurricane belt, the Hunger Belt, the Bible Belt or the Corn Belt, he has lead a very sheltered life. Roger joined in the conversa­tion. He remembered Hurricane Hazel, relentlessly killing 53,000 people in Haiti, in the 50’s. Rosa, who hap­pened to walk by, flatly declared she’d rather die than live through a hurricane, again. She is a native of the Dominican Republic and has terrible childhood memories.

Saturday 8:20 a.m.

I jump-started the upcom­ing natural disaster by turning my home emergency gener­ator on. Be prepared, just in case we lose power, I lectured. ONE, TWO. ONE, TWO. TESTING. TESTING. The clunker has been in my yard for a long time. It was time for him to earn his keep. KABOOM. My deft, overly-confident gesture produced shameful results. Oh, how I love the subtle smell of burn­ing wire, in the morning. PAK, PAK, went the light bulbs as the fax machine blew itself to oblivion. My phone lines, a/c adaptors, transformers and power-surge protectors gasped, then quivered once and collapsed. ALL circuit breakers snapped as the smoke lightly curled over the bougainvilleas in my yard. Go find an electrician on Saturday morning. And not just any Saturday morning. For all intent and purposes it was Saturday before THE STORM.

Saturday 11:30 a.m.

My subsequent visit to Nieuwstraat’s Radio Shack restored the operation of most of my electronic equipment to normal. I found out that Radio Shack was doing brisk busi­ness with flashlights, batteries and portable radios. The hardware store usually selling lamps at AFL 4.- was now of­fering the exact-same-old ­thing for AFL 17.50. The ordinarily quiet Arubans, were in the throes of an in­tense buying frenzy as if big wads of spare money were burning holes in their pockets. All in the name of THE STORM.

Saturday 2 p.m.

A whiny radio spot started advertising the unlimited stock of quality masking tape at `Office Systems’, by that subliminally instructing everybody to start taping their windows up. The line at the butcher-shop was forty minutes long, projecting heavy-duty barbecue grill action in local backyards, over the weekend. The checkout counters at the food-store were mobbed. Aruba was in­dulging itself in its national sport: spending more money than it’s good for her. People were REALLY having FUN, preparing for the worst. Life on an island tends to be predictable and basically, rather boring. Let’s have ourselves a weekend disaster.

Saturday, 3 p.m.

I found `Marathon’, my favorite video library closed, the movie racks propped against the windows, shield­ing the glass. All employees were gone. They were the ones in line at the food-stores, I bet. The entire downtown main street shut down. Buddy’s Divers at Seaport Marketplace was boarded with plywood so was Pizza Hut and the Royal Cabana Casino. Green, plastic garbage bags, were draped around all computers at De Palm Tours, in case the rain comes in. Appie, at the Watersports Center of the Radisson Hotel was nailing the asbestos sheets, covering his roof, down. He never got around to doing it before. Intricate patterns of criss­crossed, scotch-duct-masking tape, appeared on windows and doors everywhere. Did you notice, the care and regularity with which the first windows were done and the slowly deteriorating, sloppy, botched up ‘just-slap-it-on’ style of the last ones? I hope we don’t have to look at jail-house windows until Christmas.

Saturday 4 p.m.

Panic finally caught up with me. I joined the emergen­cy purchase lines with thirty-six bottles of bubbly mineral water. They ran out of the fizz-free variety earlier in the day. Last minute, I added a few Clearly Canadian, a two-pound package of Chip Ahoy cookies, People Magazine and a D battery, the only one left on the stand.

Saturday Midnight.

With the airport officially closing for 10 hours, Aruba braced itself and hankered down for a possible encounter with Bret. I woke up every half hour during the night. Did I miss it? Did I sleep through it? I knew that while our house construction was sturdy and reliable, our roof was made from plywood and loose tiles held together by spit. Can we duck disaster or will we be­come an item on CNN’s World Report?

Sunday 10 a.m.

The wind picked up con­siderably. The satellite weather people on F3’s Weather Channel were very flippant about the possibility of 10 inch rainfall in Aruba. Ha-Ha-Ha, big floods. I had visions of me, knee-deep, searching for family mem­bers in the water. The weather people mispronounced the Peninsula of Paraguana and blundered the Guajira. What do they know? Why should they care? Will Aruba be spared or will it become debris in Bret’s wake?

True to ourselves and just because we were all asked to stay indoors and avoid public places, where flying coconuts present real life-threatening hazards, the entire Aruban population was out driving around in their wheels, radios blaring, waiting for the onslaught of the storm. The bodysurfers at Arashi had to fight over parking slots, the board heads from Sailboards Aruba were out throwing their lives away at West Point.

Sunday 2 p.m.

Waiting for the storm that never came, we decided to go fishing off the cliffs of Malmok with Suzie, Michael and baby Chantal, our neighbors. While we were dangling our feet over the water, Bret, formed last Wednesday, in the mid Atlantic, fizzled to a mere tropical depression after having ripped through the coastal regions of Venezuela. It drizzled gently, but Suzie was wearing her emergency waterproof mascara so that no substantial damage occurred. The sea was steel green-grey and beautiful, we had a good time with our friends. David even caught a fish.

Now that it’s over, rumor has it that the Aruban govern­ment recently under much criticism for unprecedented tax hikes and draconian economic measures was only happy to issue storm warnings taking everybody’s mind off the latest cost of living in­creases. Officially waving his trigger finger, warning against tidal waves and torrential rains, the Prime Minister broadcast a brave ‘Do Not Fear, Do Not Panic, Together We Stand’ statement to his people, on TeleAruba. Watch­ing the images beamed from Venezuela this morning I can’t help but think how lucky we are. Aruba – one lucky island.

Beach chic vibes make for an enchanting night at the Bartender’s Brawl

The second annual Bartender’s Brawl will take place Saturday, October 15th on the shores of Punta Bravo, across from the Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort.  The event is produced by Island Temptations magazine and co-sponsored by Divi Resorts, as well as island spirit distributors Romar Trading, Pepia Est., Arion, Aruba Trading Company, and Tropical Bottling.  The competition will see five local bartenders creating an original craft cocktail.  Guests of the event will vote on their favorite, with the bartender receiving the most votes crowned as the island’s new Iron Bartender.

This year, guests will enjoy a chic barefoot Bohemian beach theme under the stars.  A variety of heavy hors d’ oeuvres will be served throughout the evening, including a carving station, sliders station, pasta station, and fruit & cheese station.  The Food Network’s Chef Seamus Mullen, coming to Aruba compliments of Divi Resorts, will work with Divi’s culinary team to produce a few tasty bites to savor as well. The celebrity chef will also make an appearance at the event.

The participating bartenders, hand-picked by the distributors, are: Giovanni Tromp from Marriot Resort & Stellaris Casino, representing Pepia Est; Jordan Tromp, also from Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, representing Romar Trading; Janet Hughes from Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino, representing Arion; Roger Villamarin from White Modern Cuisine, representing Aruba Trading Company; and Iraida Hernandez from Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, representing Tropical Bottling.

Tickets are $52 and include cocktails and heavy hors d’ oeuvres.  Tickets are on sale locally at The Plaza Bookshop, Super Food, Fusion at Alhambra Shops, Lazy Lizard at Alhambra Shops, T.H. Palm & Company at Playa Linda Resort, and Caribbean Queen at Palm Beach Plaza Mall.  Tickets can also be purchased online at https://ticketbud.com/events/5821be5a-6acf-11e6-8bf9-17bb75ab37fc.