Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, November 13th, 2016

On the subject of the new Minster of Tourism, Culture & Transportation

What do we know about his skills, knowledge, and experience as it would apply to his responsibilities in this new position?

*Does he have experience in sales and/or marketing?  Experience in tourism or hospitality?  How about managing a very large staff as well as an outside entity in the ATA?  What about overseeing a VERY large budget—given this ministry has the largest budget on the island.

We would not go see someone who has no experience or skills as a mechanic to fix our car or as a dentist to fix our teeth…so why would we entrust the island’s product—tourism—our livelihood with someone with neither the qualifications, skills or experience…

Which leads me to how we will decide our next governing political party:

Should we not expect the same from all our appointed ministers and their assigned portfolios?  As we are voting, we really do not know what we are voting for—we are just voting for a party…portfolios can often change hands like they are merely pulled out of a hat.  Shouldn’t the parties be required to tell us WHO will be overseeing which portfolios? And as a free, democratic society, shouldn’t we be demanding to know, ahead of time, what the qualifications are for the various party members asking for our votes?

Which brings me to election season:

Instead of members of the parties ranting and raving about the opposing parties, how about some real, intellectual discussion—what are your plans?  How will you improve life on the island—from healthcare to education to taxes to budgets and spending (we do, after all have the highest taxes in the world, we deserve the right to know what their plans are with our precious, hard-earned money). Promises are one thing, but show us how you plan to deliver on those promises.

To the local press:

You call yourselves “journalists” but for the most part (and I have first hand, up-close, personal knowledge of this) most of you (there are definite exceptions with integrity for the craft of journalism) are merely publicists for the various party members—mouthpieces that repeat mistruths and distortions of the facts to the benefit of the minister or party that is in your pocket, or merely publish press releases sent to you and print them as legit news because you are too lazy to go out and uncover the truth and put legitimate research into your work.  Don’t cry and scream about this, it is the honest reality and you all know it!  TRUE JOURNALIST take out opinion and personal feelings and report the FACTS, not innuendos or here-say or unconfirmed rumors or stories “fed” to you, or insert personal beliefs. Whether it is reward in cash, favors, getting your street paved in front of your house—many of you are guilty as charged for conflict of interest without telling your readers that this is OPINION/editorial or information fed to you without confirming the facts and verifying sources. As journalist, you are ethically bound and morally obligated to report facts, truth, and well-researched articles.  You OWE your readers and your community this—otherwise get the hell out of this business and open up a PR firm and ooze and gush all you want the bullshit you want, but stay out of journalism.  The only people in your pocket should be your readers who deserve the truth.

To the Aruban people:

Don’t you WANT to know what the people you vote for stand for? Shouldn’t you know their platforms, their plans to make life enriching and improved on our precious island?  What is their plan to get from point A to point B? STOP voting for a politician because they are your cousin, uncle, neighbor, old schoolmate, or friend.  They will not be accountable to you if you do not DEMAND information, plans of actions, and accountability.  Ask your preferred party—who will be our Minister of Tourism, or Education, or Health, Culture, Transportation, Labor, and so on, and why are they qualified to earn my vote?  It’s time to move past the politics of nepotism—we are not a bobo Banana Republic!  We are not this sheltered little community on some Podunk Caribbean island—we are living in a global, informed society and we need to start acting like it and expect the same from those that are elected to hold our livelihoods in their hands!  Our dushi tera deserves it and so do you!

Rachel Brathen opens Island Yoga on the Noord road, in December

At the beginning there was a beautiful blonde yoga girl, a man in love, a camera, and an island with gorgeous beaches. Then a few dogs came along, a goat, and as of recently, a poppy-seed, a baby bump.

What happened in between is a success story. Yoga Girl became an international celebrity, a mini empire, against the backdrop of her home island.

I saw her speaking at TEDx Aruba 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=950lAeiJ1zI; please watch it, it’s really good and tells her story, from the horse’s mouth. If you think that living on a small island is a handicap that will prevent you from realizing your dreams, think again.

Yesterday, Dylser construction raised the Aruba flag on the roof, and the construction crew got to sip a few beers in honor of the building’s Spantenbier.

The location of Island Yoga on the Noord road is excellent. I have great memories from that address: Pasion, a restaurant Frans Sydow opened, around the Millennium, then a Mexican/French joint by the name of Senior Sanchos which flopped in 2005. Then there was nothing, then a Sports Bar, and another Sports Bar, and nothing again, until Rachel and Denis saw the building and decided to save it.

The project is ambitious. The original front of the building hosts a reception area and a store, a retail space for yoga clothes and sun dresses, then a large studio overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden, a Reiki room, an office for Yoga Girl, with an adjacent nursery, an office for her staff members running her international speaking engagements, her international teaching engagements and the events in Aruba, such as the upcoming Sup Yoga Teachers’ Training. Yes, little Yoga Girl is a serious business now. Including yoga video which will be shot from a professional studio.  Power to her.

We continued to tour the building, Dante, the contractor, says it’s not easy to mix new and old construction, but it lends the project a special feel. In the new part of the building in the back there is a vegetarian café, and a smoothie bar, a garden, a place to hang out between classes. Parking, of course.

I went to Rachel’s Facebook this morning, she has almost 400,000 followers. The posts are poetic, quirky, and inspirational, she pokes fun at herself, talks about mortality, and living in the moment, showcasing the beauty of Aruba. If I had been living in a city, working 9 to 5 in a cubbyhole, I would also be fascinated with Yoga Girl’s life. A few days ago she recommended hot lemon water, chia pudding and cuddles with an odd-looking stray dog for breakfast. I liked it.

When the island Yoga center opens in December it will host yoga retreats with up to 50 people. The first group in January has over 60 registered; they will be living in vacation rentals in the Noord area, practicing Yoga and lunching at the center, all for charity. The money will be earmarked to Sgt Pepper, http://www.sgtpeppersfriends.com/, Rachel’s dog rescue organization, she wants to build a shelter, and expand her organization’s ability to help the strays on the island.

Denis’ mom makes the best peppery croquets. I took one with my beer. Wish I had two. Also a pastechi, befitting a local Spantenbier celebration.

Not the end of the world

I woke up panicked at 5am to watch TV. What did you think, that I would stay up all night? I didn’t; I couldn’t take the nail biting anymore, and sometimes around midnight went to sleep knowing there will be a surprise in the morning.

Tada, Donald Tromp, the 45th POTUS, waited for me as I opened my eyes, and he was all sweet, conciliatory, mild and appealing, talking about “US,” and inviting all those he worked so hard to reject and exclude, in, again, to become part of his Great America.

That was a clever 180 degrees turn.

It was a shocker, the worst case scenario. My girlfriend Hillary couldn’t mobilize the African American and Latino votes, and white women alone couldn’t carry her into the White House. She must be devastated!

I am saying to myself, that there is no action without reaction: America had a Democrat black president for eight years, it’s all white and Republican now; we progressed a bit, even nominated a woman, got scared, pedaled back forcefully, but overall I am hopeful that some progress was made.

And that Republicans travel, so that Aruba is safe.

Throughout history, every revolution was followed by a counter-revolution. Think about it, the Russian Revolution, designed to liberate the workers of the world, was pursued by a period of dark oppression, as Stalin ruled the roost. There are many examples to that, the world takes two steps forward, becomes flabbergasted and confused, pulls back, and clamps down.

Repeat.

Breathe. Endure. This too shall pass.

A British newscaster summed it up well, “It’s not the end of the world, but the world just did get a lot crazier.”

Election night? We had a great evening at Tierra del Sol restaurant over their Election Special which featured an excellent 4-course surprise dinner by chef Jim Roosman, starting with a delicate smoked Carpaccio appetizer, followed by tasty Crab Cakes on a bed of green mango or papaya salad, whatever it was, it was amazing, chased by a cauliflower cream paired with a delicious square of lobster croque monsieur, and an ostrich and chicken main course with sweet potatoes and sugar snaps.

The room was filled with cheering Republicans which should have forewarned us, of the election results.

Meanwhile, I am concerned about the MinTour’s portfolio. We should have a professional, with a legitimate background in sales and marketing. Alas, I hear MinEnergy is interested. He says he is most qualified, perhaps hoping to gain access to the ATA bank, to help his friends at CITGO out a bit, with a loan here and there?! Culture? I understand it went to MinLabor, which is OK; been there, done that.

Now that we have no MinTour, should we/could we, give the position up??

Now is the time for the MinPres to move on the AHATA proposal from August, 2016, before he makes another misguided political commitment regarding the tourism portfolio.

In August, AHATA made the MinPres an offer: https://batibleki.visitaruba.com/8am-buzz/a-tale-of-an-offer-you-cannot-refuse/. It suggested to hand tourism back to tourism-professionals, and stay out of private sector decisions, for a handsome price. The MinTour at the time called it bribery.

The proposal went the following: Some of the room tax considered the Aruba Tourism Authority’s income which currently goes through the Tax Authority to fund the island’s marketing machine, will be held back, for the government spending pleasure, probably at the MinPres discretion. That’s a lot of cash, Awg 35 million.

So the hotels offered to give the government 35 million florins, in 2017, in exchange for the following concessions: Amend the so-called all inclusive legislation, allow the private sector to run tourism with an estimated budget of 65 million florin, revisit the labor laws, address the issue of taxation for the ‘Other Accommodations,’ and you will look like heroes, pocketing 35 million florins for education, security, whatever the government needs.

Added value: SAVINGS, on the salaries and the administration of the Ministry of Tourism, and its 24 coordinators, because ATA will be overseeing tourism under the supervision of a 7 person board, three private sector board members, and three unrelated persons from the public sector, no uncles, no cousins. Then the six board members may elect their own chair person, no dictates from above regarding the identity of that chair.

Tourism will be run by tourism professional, and incidentally, AHATA’s objectives, are pretty much in line with ATA objectives, so that ATA may continue its activities, guided by common sense instead of political considerations.

But, you’d better move now, accept the August 2016 proposal, before you make more misguided political commitments regarding the tourism portfolio.

(65 millions is based on actual spending in 2016. The money is derived from the 9.5% tax, levied on tourists’ accommodations, and funneled into the ATA bank. It was estimated at 100 millions for 2016 and for 2017. No wonder  all ministers are clamoring for the position, it is the only one with an independent source of income.)

 

Welcome to Heartbreak Motel!

I read the following news item with great upset,  http://www.noticiacla.com/news/7645, it is a disgusting ruling, and while I care about legalities, it is not right!

I wish the prosecutor would go after cases of child abuse, spousal abuse, and sexual assault with the same enthusiasm and dedication. How about all cases where people died in car accidents, caused by drunk drivers?!  Have they been prosecuted? Think about all those people who died on motorbikes last year, and this year. Is the prosecutor seeking justice for them with the same fervent zeal??

What am I talking about? There was a fatal, unfortunate car accident. The driver, had a close relationship with the passenger. The passenger passed away tragically. It was a bit of a fluke, because the impact couldn’t have been that strong, but it was strong enough. She had a valid driver’s license. She wasn’t drunk. She might have suffered from an epileptic seizure. Might is the key word.

Then the prosecution, and I dare say pressured by so-called grieving family members, drags the heart-broken driver to court, and when she is cleared, he repeals the sentence, and marches her into court again, relentless.

I find that appalling. And this whole mythology the family invented about a glorious loving past, re-writing history, and recounting a story that never was; it is just astounding to me.

Those of you who knew and loved the flamboyant and often chaotic Ashok Ramchandani, know what I am talking about. Many feel his absence, especially Indra Stamper who was the unfortunate driver, that morning. She suffered enough. And this whole legal Via Dolorosa inflicted by mean family members, via the prosecutor is a farce. Luckily her sentence is bearable. But not driving for three years? How is she going to feed herself?

What my legal adviser says: I’m not blaming the family. I am blaming the judges for applying Dutch standards. What they basically said was that they believe she suffered an epileptic seizure, but that she was still liable because she was getting them frequently, and was not taking her meds regularly, a fact her doctors were aware of. But, her doctors never told her not to drive, and her house doctor signed off on the extension of her driver’s license application.

Nevertheless the court felt she should have questioned the doctors herself, and incidentally, the first time she heard she shouldn’t drive was post-accident!

Unlike The Netherlands, Aruba does not have any guidelines, as to when persons suffering from seizures, are allowed to drive, possibly because our distances are shorter or maybe perhaps no one cares. In the Netherlands they have to be seizure free for three years.

If this ruling regarding her liability stands, it would mean that technically every one with a heart condition may be held liable in case of an accident, because he was driving aware of his condition! Same rule applies for example, for  someone who had a stroke. Can he be held liable, in the event that following an additional stroke, he caused an accident? That means people will be grounded for the smallest medical challenge for fear of the worst!

Not fair, not right.

AiRBnB Confronts Prejudice and Taxation

Airbnb recently circulated “A New Commitment,” among its global hosts, a commitment to rent accommodations without discrimination, regardless of Race, Color, Ethnicity, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Marital Status.

Apparently, renters encountered some issues, reportedly in NY, and as a result “Airbnb’s Nondiscrimination Policy: Our Commitment to Inclusion and Respect,” was born.

They sent it around worldwide; you can check it out at: https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1405/airbnb-s-nondiscrimination-policy–our-commitment-to-inclusion-and-respect?topic=250. Specific Guidance for Hosts in the United States and European Union is included, also instructions for other areas around the globe, and at the end the policy states: AirBnB will take steps to enforce this policy, up to and including suspending the host from the platform. Which means if you don’t conform, you are out, and 1,360 AiBnB’s hosts in Aruba, will be asked to endorse this policy, when their next new reservation comes in.

Obviously, AiRBnB will have no problems here where we are color-blind, where everyone belongs, where we welcome all guests with equal fanfare.

In reality, the fact that AirBnB asks hosts to sign this new commitment doesn’t mean anything, if hosts do not embrace the concept. In this case Airbnb chose an umbrella measure, one size fits all, instead of tackling and educating the pockets that require the fix, they sent their new policy around to everybody.

Aruba already upholds that policy, so why do they require hosts’ signatures here?

And they are threatening to ditch those who do not sign.

In the Trump era, they are trying to teach love, inclusion, and respect, with threats. But, otherwise it is a cool website, and their representative that signed a Memorandum of Understanding this past Monday on the island explained, that an average local host earns $4,400 a year.

In general I think you have to talk to your people, educate them, and not threaten, especially when you are talking about sharing people’s homes. I am asking myself how can you enforce compliance when you are hosting in private accommodations?!

If a host doesn’t accept kids, or pets, can he be called to the carpet for discrimination against pets and children? Just asking.

The CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority signed the MOU this week at Cas Di Cultura, announcing that a work group with representatives from Finance and the Tax Authority will tackle the regulation of the “Other Accommodation.”

I have been writing since the 90s, about this subject, all those who benefit from tourism should be taxed, so that they participate in the promotion of the island, and all “Other Accommodations,” ARE responsible to pay 9.5% tax +$3/day environmental fee.

I applaud ATA for the partnership agreement between ATA & AirBnB, because in 2015 34% of visitors stayed in the “Other Accommodations,” and in 2016, up to the end of September 27% of visitors chose non-traditional digs. AirBnB reports it booked 13.000 visitors in the past few years, and the Tax Inspector should get cracking.