FRENCH QUARTER--Words such as unity, togetherness, and cooperation have become clichéd over the years in St. Martin Day speeches but while this was still a favourite theme on Tuesday's 66th November 11 celebration, some speakers looked at it in a different context, alluding to derogatory remarks about tearing up the Treaty of Concordia and establishing borders attributed to a French Parliamentarian some months ago. It caused a stir on the Dutch side.
No one dismissed such outside threats more forthrightly than caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams in a typically rousing and patriotic speech that elicited rounds of applause.
"In the hearts of St. Martiners the Treaty of Concordia is alive and kicking," she said. " It is we that need to bring this across to the young people; it is we who need to give thanks and continue to talk about St. Martin the way it used to be. We get indications of proposals to close the border. Then you wonder why I would become very preoccupied by any indication or notion that I would not be able to come to this side to pick up my birth certificate.
"When it comes to outsiders seeking to destroy that unity we will stand together. We must put up a front to those outside who want to divide St. Martin. It's up to us to keep this country together. Our legacy is a strong one, our resilience comes from generations past but I hope it will come from generations to come. Without fire in your belly we will not have the determination to stand up when the going gets tough."
On cooperation, Wescot-Williams said "it's a long and hard road and we spend hours together on it. It is not just talk. I want to thank the Collectivité, the Préfet, and all the technicians who work continuously for cooperation to have a formal basis."
The French side hosted the official ceremonies this year under a marquee at the Thelbert Carti Stadium in French Quarter. Dignitaries from both sides of the island attended, as well as from Anguilla and Saba. Also present was a representative from the European Commission, a Member of Parliament for French Guiana Chantal Berthelot, and the Mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique, Didier Laguerre. Those two islands are about to become Collectivités d'Outre Mer (COM).
Dutch-side Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Patricia Lourens-Philips reminded that friendship, unity, and family connections are very much alive and present.
"These are bonds that know no borders or boundaries, and it is what has kept us together for the past 366 years. They cannot be broken by any nation outside of this island as this is what sustains us," she said in her address.
President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson highlighted cross border cooperation in her address.
"We are advancing in the general interest of St. Martin," she asserted, noting a cooperation meeting had been held Monday between Dutch side and French side. "We know what we have to face to keep growing and becoming stronger."
She outlined the challenges that the French and Dutch side have taken up to, "improve basic infrastructure, preserve the environment, consolidate the island's position in a very competitive tourism industry," among other concrete plans in the context of cooperation. She thanked the technicians who work behind the scenes on cooperation.
Hanson congratulated the population on its efforts to clean up after Hurricane Gonzalo noting "this is the St. Martin way." In a reference to the Collectivité's battles with the State of France, she said St. Martin will "fight" to get what is owed to it financially.
Governor of St. Maarten Eugene Holiday in his address said challenges the island faces should be guided by values embedded in the spirit of St. Martin day; devotion to St. Martin and unity of purpose, two essential values for good governance.
"It is a call to be mindful in the preservation and building of our island, our home, he said. "It is a call to each person, each home, each family, and each neighbourhood. I trust that all of us, builders of our homes, will heed this builder's call and embrace these values. It is my hope that in addressing these challenges we face, we will be known to all people by these values. By their observance our heritage, our inheritance, our sweet St. Maarten land will, through our devotion continue to grow in unity, culturally, socially and economically."
Speeches were also given by Senator Guillaume Arnell and Préfet Philippe Chopin.
Earlier, wreaths were laid at the monument in Belle Plaine by Sarah Wescot-Williams and President Aline Hanson and by Préfet Philippe Chopin and Governor Eugene Holiday following the church service.
The dignitaries were then taken by bus to the Delta Petroleum station on the RN7 to watch the parade of troupes. Taking part were the Explorateurs, the police from the Dutch side, Boys and Girls Brigades from both sides of the island, Pathfinders from Dutch and French sides, the New Generation Status Band, and Turning Point Extreme Convention.
An unexpected cloud burst of rain interrupted the parade halfway through its march to the stadium but troupes had no choice but to continue. The rain, however, ceased at the stadium and activities were able to continue. Several food stands had been set up outside the stadium for the population to enjoy. Speeches by the elected officials ended with the customary champagne toast.
Traditional games and a basketball match were due to take place later in the afternoon inside the stadium. Live music and entertainment was also on the programme for the rest of the day.