Bati Bleki, Weekly Recap, April 3rd, 2016

What I heard about the Public Private Partnership (PPP, or P3A) Conference in Aruba. 

On paper it looked great, a UN conference coming to Aruba, dedicated to Private and Public sector partnerships, focusing on the journey ‘From Ideas to Reality.’ The conference, I hear, fell victim to its own focus, because its translation from idea to reality was less than perfect.

Originally we were told that heads of state and many international dignitaries were invited on the UN’s dime to come to Aruba. Then the UN changed its focus, cut the budget, and the ambitious program was downsized. My friends who attended say it was an interesting conference with about 20 speakers and good panel discussions; only the audience was not there. They forgot to invite one. Yes, organizers flew by the seat of their pants, last minute, forgetting to provide an audience for the P3A presenters.

The press, for once, did not get invitations, maybe it’s just me, so consequently the speakers gave detailed lectures, to an empty room. Alas, the social program was anemic too, and lacked a variety of networking opportunities.

While the conference was conceived big, it materialized minuscule!

IT’S JUST SANDS

Over the weekend I read on line about the new man-made sand dunes fringing the Malmok Salina. I went to look. It sort of looked cool. White clean sand. It was dug out in Eagle Beach on the site of O Condominium and was going to be stored behind the company’s Gold Coast Residence’s new club house. I do not see the outrage. I do not see the problem. I DO see the outrage and the problem at the bird sanctuary, but NOT on Malmokweg. How could while sand possibly hurt the Salina? The bulldozer on the other hand at the Bird Sanctuary, that’s irreversible damage.

 The Culture Curator

I caught up with Renwick Heronimo recently. I am happy that he is back on island. He is the ultimate art maven and with him on board Aruba stands a chance to develop further, culturally and artistically. Culture deserves much attention now, more than ever, because at this time it is almost doomed for extinction.

Renwick was curator at Access Gallery for almost a decade. Those were the days. He then lived in Washington DC where he supported his wife and kids — she served as Aruba’s government minister, representing the island in the capital of the US, and picked up another university degree. He also did some work curating special shows and collections, before returning to his island. Here, he was asked to write a report for the MinCul, outlining his thoughts for cultural development and when he put down his pen it was unanimously decided that he just wrote himself a great job description and was told to go to work, a suggestion he embraced enthusiastically.

It’s an 8 year plan, he says, that will include changes and updates in the Historical and Archaeological museums in Oranjestad. It will also add three new museums in San Nicholas to the list of must see: An Industrial museum, a Carnival museum and a Community museum.

From my perspective, this is a good move, because visitors appreciate museums, places where they can be exposed to our art and culture and way of life. And it’s usually a self supporting venture, which will become sustainable over time, after all visitors pay at admission fee. Imagine Amsterdam without the Rijksmuseum? Or Paris without the Louvre. These two museums earn their keep, and in turn inspire and energize their cities. We need some bastion of culture here, too, to do the same.

The current exhibition at the Historical Museum in Fort Zoutman, dedicated to weaving, was part of Renwick’s vision. The show traces our relationship to an ancient craft. The exhibition hall has three different wings, a past, present and future interpretation of the theme. The best part, the third wing, contains a show by four local female artists on the theme of weaving, definitely worth seeing, with Jes Wolff, Eliza Lejuez, Belinda de Veer and Vanessa Paulina, showing off immense wit and outstanding craft.

The exhibition is part of a series exploring the local culture, with the next one already in the pipeline, transforming Fort Zoutman into a garden, interpreting our relationship with the “Hofi,” our gardens and backyards, in collaboration with talented museum director Joase Ann Van Der Biest.

As part of making culture more accessible, the Archaeological museum, in the Ecury Complex in Oranjestad, recently hosted a Café Cultural which was extremely well attended and which proves we are ready to look at our history, beliefs, customs, practices, values, and social behaviors, over coffee or cocktails, in an informal setting.

In San Nicholas, of the three upcoming museums, the Community museum is the first to come on line. It is now housed in temporary digs and will be moving to the Nicholas Store building as soon as the restoration is complete. Six hundred people visited its unofficial opening day to view the displays of artifacts from yesteryears.

The industrial museum, on the drawing board, will be checking into the fully restored water tower in San Nicholas. It will describe Aruba’s Gold Rush years, the days of Phosphate mining, and the oil refinery and its contributions to life on the island. It will also outline a brief history of Aloe, not competing with the Aloe museum, and tackle the current pursuit of Green Energy.

Last but not least the Carnival museum will be a big draw. It’s there that visitors will experience the diverse offerings of culture and artistic expression found in our community.

Sizzling Summer Music Festival, 2016

It was a great cocktail party masquerading as a press conference at the Ritz Carlton ballroom. Open premium bar and butler passed hors d’hoeuvres. We felt like VIPs. Then the MinTour arrived and joined the panel on stage outlining the program for the upcoming Summer Music Festival, June, 24th, 25th & 26th. He talked about ATA’s second annual investment in the concerts and emphasized the ROI, the return on investment. It turned out well in 2015, he said, and he believes it will turn out even better in 2016.

Dear MinTour, it’s your week. I liked everything you did this week, including the marking of our monuments, the directional signs in Oranjestad, the beach policy debut and now the summer concerts.

Incidentally, a few minutes before the MinTour’s arrival I checked with Carolina Voullieme, director of sales at the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino and she mentioned that her resort got some positive action last year from the concerts and that she was expecting to be booked this year as well.

So it’s mid-summer, it’s hot and dry and uneventful. Nothing’s happening. Zero excitement in the air. Then some local promoter, a local bobo, sorry, Loco Lobo, expresses his undying desire to organize a series of concert. Really? It that what you wanna do?? Ok, then I say, go with God! Success to you, although you are a bit related to a certain local newspaper, who might in gratitude for the fat investment of over one million dollars, reserve its best pages every day for the amazing exploits of the MinTour.

Sure, I smell a rat, but I say, go ahead, organize the concert, but it’d better be good, and everyone’d better get paid, and you’d better not run into trouble. Just give us a good time, don’t create any unnecessary drama, and we’ll even let you do it again in 2017.

Why do I say that? 1. Because we really need some star power to spark interest in summer travel to the island.  2. I am not prepared to organize the concerts myself. And I checked with Speed, he doesn’t have any time either.

Line up? Three nights, a young and crazy first at the APA arena, with parking inside: Local celebrity Dj Nutz Beatz, Chino & Nacho, the Venezuelan pop duo, and Wisin the Puerto Rican reggaeton artist, then a second Latin dance night with salsa royalty Tito Nieves and the Spanish King of Latin Pop, Enrique Iglesias. Somewhere in between, not sure what night, my favorites, Gente de Zona, the Cuban reggaeton group. The third night, will be a Caribbean extravagance with local bands D’Licious, Tsunami, In’Fusion and Youth Extreme also featuring Destra Garcia, a soca superstar from Trinidad, who will bring down the house says Patrick Melchior, who saw her do that in St Maartin, and Mark Benson adds that her music is already super popular here at all Carnival Queen Elections. That third night, perhaps inspired by the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival, has just been announced at the press conference. Most importantly, the sound and light will be a collaboration of Elite, High Performance and Purple Entertainment group, all three companies working on the event but Eric Clement say the roof is Elite’s.

So here’s the deal: The concerts are organized by Simon Diaz of SD Concerts, from Venezuela. He is the one with showbiz contacts, young, with an attitude, also a blonde girlfriend in a short skirt. Luis Miguel Mansur is the man with the local contacts, at the helm at Diario TV, and naturally related to the newspaper. Raynold Kelly, the son of a local music legend, working full time for Setar, is the third leg of the entrepreneurial triangle. They already did a number of concerts here, the washed out Romeo Santos, and the unforgettable PitBull, Elvis Crespo, Carlos Vives happenings last summer. Suzi Maduro, explains everyone working for Setar should have a hobby, otherwise they go crazy. And Raynold reassured me he takes a week vacation from work when the concerts are on.

So yes, only in Aruba. But what can you do, we are a small island and we are all related somehow.

Tickets are available at Sandra’s garden, I will let you guess why, from April 1st, for $50/$100/$150 & $300 a piece, depending on the distance from the stage. Ticket prices will go up before the concerts. What will you be drinking that night?  Old Parr, by Romar Trading and Presidente Beer by the Aruba Trading Company.

NEW SHOWROOM, COURAGEOUS INVESTMENT

The Yrausquin Family invited a small crowd of press members, clients and friends to the inauguration of its new showroom dedicated to Ford and Lincoln, the same exact brands sold by the family patriarch, Ruben Yrausquin Sr., in 1952, when the showroom first opened.

The renovations of the grand boulevard location, in two phases, featured a big hoopla for the Mercedes Benz event in April of last year, and a more low-key and family oriented mood for the second and last phase.

The third generation Yrausquin cuties were invited to cut the ribbon. Inside, in elegance and comfort guests were introduced to the luxury of Lincoln and the common sense of Ford, with cars ranging in prices and features, befitting today’s versatile customer profile.

As the leader of the pack, Ruben Yrausquin Jr. welcomed guests, and talked about the family’s passion for cars and dedication to customer service, he also introduced the Ford and Lincoln Regional Operation Manager. In turn, the visiting dignitary presented the family with a plaque, the Golden Shovel Award representing “Excellence in Job Creation and Economic Development Efforts.” It was a great photo opportunity with beautiful sisters, diligent colleagues Marcilla, Christina & Nathalie Yrausquin.

Baby brother Juan David was absent! He is now living in NY with his family, picking up additional university degrees to better prepare him for his eventual political comeback. His first political round was a nightmare. I hope the second one will be easier. I hear from Juan David now and then, especially when I write about politics, he is very encouraging, stating that Aruba can benefit from good analysis, and that we need public discussions and opposing forces, which he thinks are good for the development of the country in general.

While the showroom displays Ford Edge, -Everest and –Ranger, Marcila says the Ford Figo will be catching fire soon. She foresees great demand for the cool new car, as soon as everyone realizes how loaded it is and how reasonable it is, available in four models starting at Awg 27.950.

And talking about the FIGO: The car has sufficient leg room and huge trunk space and the feature I liked most is a docking station for the iphone, on the dashboard, which allows the passenger, not the driver, to Skype, watch the news, use FaceTime, and answer the phone. The car in designed to compete with the Toyota Yaris and the Kia Rio. So if you can’t afford a Mercedes, don’t fret, get a Figo!

We’re a country of contrasts: Beaches VS Petroleum

We are a country of contrasts, while one government minister is ballsily undertaking the protection of our beaches; the other one is in a rush to compromise our environment, health and safety in favor of petroleum. All in a day’s work.

As you know, the implementation of the Beach Policy was put into motion this week. We realize that the MinPres and MinInfra would rather poke their eye out, than try to introduce some semblance of law and order on the beach, but the MinTour is determined. It’s one of his pet projects. It is a central issue in his discussions with the Governor and with the MinPres, he wants to see if carried through, and he started the ball rolling. It will not be pretty, and he accepts that fact that there will be law suits down the road, but he is ready to tackle that cow pie head on. You have our blessing. It will be bloody but it needs to be done. We want our beaches back.

So in the next few weeks all watersports companies and hotel properties must apply for all respective permits to operate and exploit Aruba’s #1 attraction. I checked randomly with Divi Resorts & La Cabana Beach Resort & Casino, both properties reported smooth sailing; they will comply with the process and have no illegal construction on the beach.

I did not bother to check with the watersports companies, because there I know, the situation is messier, and we need all the help we can get to curb their appetite for tourist dollars. They will all have to reapply for business permits, and licenses, and will have to present their registrations at the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Affairs. They will have to prove that indeed they are paying taxes as suggested by the government, and that they comply with all tax authority requirements. Amen.

The announcement regarding the requirements were made, DIP & DSA will oversee compliance. MinTour did the dirty work, now MinJust and MinInfra need to pitch in to make it happen!

The Refinery’s Via Dolorosa

We read the MinEnergy’s winded and wishy-washy explanations about the Definite Participation Agreement, that “E ta mustra bon, pero tin hopi trabao ainda,” needing to go to the ministers, to parliament to the board of CITGO and its Ladder of Command and to the board of Valero and its Ladder of Command. I have to admit I almost feel sorry for the MinEnergy for the via dolorosa he travels, having laid his political future on the line. For what?

“E ta trahando riba dje y ta bayendo positive,” can only go so far! And the MinEnergy seems to be in this alone, not a single expert by his side, not from Shell, nor from Delft University of Technology, or even the Rietveld Academy. Someone. Someone is better than no one. Anyway, if they had one of these experts on board he/she would vote against the move, and tell us to fohgeddaboudit, the reopening of the refinery is baloney.

The MinEnergy seems to be in a hurry to sign something, with an almost bankrupt company. Listen to this: ”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.” (Quote from Bloomberg).

The whole exercise is designed to sooth the voters and avoid actually making 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 it won’t.

If Jesus can resolve the issues, let him!

On Thursday we went to the cinema to watch a full length movie in Papiamento, Siñami Stimabo, runtime 96 minutes, rating PG, genre Drama/Comedy, starring Sharleen Tromp, Isilda Tromp and Theresa Brathwaite, by director Marilyn L. S. Richardson, an original film, based partly on her life experiences, about two families forced to face the fact that there is nothing real in their reality.

I did not know anything about the movie before going, except that it was a one-woman project and she got it done on a shoe-string budget, on the wings of her passion for story-telling.

I enjoyed the experience, I shed some tears at the predictable moment and I applauded the director for her courage and determination in getting her church-friends together to bring the project to fruition. Some of the movie characters are excellent actors and the rest of the cast including an alcoholic, a grandmother, a kid and a punk, are all doing credible, heartfelt jobs. The music is great, the lyrics too, all original composition by the multi-talented director and her cast, which I met after the show and they’re all on fire, gearing up for the shooting of Siñami Stimabo II.

Ok, the part about the church became clear at the denouement, after the buildup of issues and tensions and scenarios, when the final resolution to the dramatic narrative came, and it was a one size fits all recommendation and it said: Come to Jesus.

It turned out that I was watching a Morality Play, a genre popular since medieval times, where the hero meets many challenges that prompt him to make a decision to choose Godly life over one of evil. It’s one of the earliest forms of theater entertainment, and it work to this day.

So what issues did the film present? Alcoholism, Teen Pregnancy, Gang Life, Infidelity, False Pride, Sexual Abuse, disrespect of parents, all in just two families, in 96 minutes, and they all saw the light at the end, over Christmas dinner, choosing the path for salvation, as propaganda for the church.

And that’s OK with me, because if Jesus can successfully deal with all the ills and evil of today’s reality, then I say: Let Him!