1969 Curaçao uprising

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Street with destroyed buildings on both sides
Buildings destroyed in the riots

The 1969 Curaçao uprising (known as Trinta di Mei or Thirtieth of May in Papiamentu, the local language) was a series of riots on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, then part of the Netherlands Antilles, a semi-independent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The uprising took place mainly on May 30, but continued into the night of May 31 – June 1, 1969. The riots arose from a strike by workers in the oil industry. A protest rally during the strike turned violent, leading to widespread looting and destruction of buildings and vehicles in the central business district of Curaçao's capital, Willemstad.

Several causes for the uprising have been cited. The island's economy, after decades of prosperity brought about by the oil industry, particularly a Shell refinery, was in decline and unemployment on the rise. Curaçao, a former colony of the Netherlands, became part of the semi-independent Netherlands Antilles under a 1954 charter, which re-defined the relationship between the Netherlands and its former colonies. Under this arrangement, Curaçao was still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Anti-colonial activists decried this status as a continuation of colonial rule, but others were satisfied with the political situation as being beneficial to the island. After slavery was abolished in 1863, black Curaçaoans continued to face racism and discrimination. They did not participate fully in the riches resulting from Curaçao's economic prosperity and were disproportionately affected by the rise in unemployment. Black Power sentiments were spreading, mirroring developments in the United States and across the Caribbean, of which Curaçaoans were very much aware. The Democratic Party dominated local politics, but could not fulfill its promises of maintaining prosperity. Radical and socialist ideas became popular in the 1960s. In 1969, a labor dispute arose between a Shell sub-contractor and its employees. This dispute escalated and became increasingly political. A demonstration by workers and labor activists on May 30 became violent, sparking the uprising.

The riots left two people dead and much of central Willemstad destroyed; hundreds were arrested. The protesters achieved most of their immediate demands: higher wages for workers and the Netherlands Antillean government's resignation. It was a pivotal moment in the history of Curaçao and of the vestigial Dutch Empire. New parliamentary elections in September gave the uprising's leaders seats in parliament, the Estates of the Netherlands Antilles. A commission investigated the riots and put the blame on economic issues, racial tensions, and police and government misconduct. The uprising prompted the Dutch government to undertake new efforts to fully decolonize what was left of its colonial empire. Suriname became independent in 1975, but leaders of the Netherlands Antilles resisted independence out of fear of the economic repercussions. The uprising stoked long-standing distrust of Curaçao in nearby Aruba, which seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986. Papiamentu gained social prestige and more widespread use after the uprising. It was followed by a renewal in Curaçaoan literature, much of which dealt with local social issues and sparked discussions about Curaçao's national identity.

Background and causes[edit]

refer to caption
Map of Curaçao

Curaçao is an island in the Caribbean which is a country (Dutch: land) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1969, it had a population of around 141,000, of whom 65,000 lived in the capital, Willemstad. Until 2010, it was the most populous island and seat of government of the country Netherlands Antilles, the former Dutch colony in the Caribbean comprising six islands with a total population of around 225,000 in the late 1960s.[1]

In the 19th century the island's economy was in poor shape. It had few industries other than dyewood, salt, and straw hats. After the Panama Canal was built and oil was discovered in Venezuela's Maracaibo Basin, Curaçao's economic situation changed for the better. Shell opened a refinery in 1918; it was continually expanded until 1930. The plant's production peaked in 1952, when it employed around 11,000 people.[2] This economic boom made Curaçao one of the wealthiest islands in the region and raised living standards even above those in the Netherlands.[3] This attracted immigrants, particularly from other Caribbean islands, Suriname, Madeira, and the Netherlands.[4] In the 1960s, the number of people working in the oil industry shrank and, by 1969, the number of people employed by Shell in Curaçao had dropped to around 4,000. This was a result both of automation and of sub-contracting. Employees of sub-contractors typically received lower wages than Shell workers. Unemployment on the island rose from 5,000 in 1961 to 8,000 to 1966,[5] with nonwhite, unskilled workers particularly affected.[6] The government's focus on attracting tourism brought some economic growth, but did little to reduce unemployment.[7]

The rise of the oil industry had led to civil servants being brought in, mostly from the Netherlands. This led to a segmentation of white, Protestant Curaçaoan society into landskinderen, those who had been in Curaçao for generations, and makamba, the new inhabitants from Europe with had closer ties to the Netherlands. Dutch immigrants undermined native white Curaçaoans' political and economic hegemony. As a result, the latter began to emphasize their Antillean identity and use of Papiamentu, the local Creole language.[8] Dutch cultural dominance in Curaçao was a source of conflict. For example, the island's official language was Dutch and this was the language used in schools. This created difficulties for many students.[9]

Another issue that would come to the fore in the uprising was the Netherlands Antilles', and specifically Curaçao's, relationship with the Netherlands.[10] Its status had been changed in 1954 by the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Under the charter, the Netherlands Antilles, like Suriname until 1975, was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but not of the Netherlands itself.[11] Foreign policy and national defense were Kingdom matters and presided over by the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which consisted of the full Council of Ministers of the Netherlands with one minister plenipotentiary for each of the countries Netherlands Antilles and Suriname. Other issues were governed at a more local level, that of the country (Netherlands Antilles) or island (Curaçao).[12] Although this system had its proponents, who pointed to the fact that managing its own foreign relations and national defense would be too costly for a small country like the Netherlands Antilles, many Antilleans saw it as a continuation of the area's subaltern colonial status. There was no strong pro-independence movement in the Antilles as most local identity discourses centered around insular loyalty.[13]

The Dutch colonization of Curaçao began with the importation of African slaves in 1641 and in 1654 the island became the Caribbean's main slave depot. Only in 1863, much later than Britain or France, did the Netherlands abolish slavery in its colonies.[14] A government scholarship program allowed some Afro-Curaçaoans to climb the social ladder, but the racial hierarchy from the colonial era largely remained intact and blacks continued to be hit disproportionately by poverty and face racism and discrimination.[15] Although 90% of Curaçao's population was of African descent, the spoils of the economic prosperity that began in the 1920s benefited whites and recent immigrants much more than black native Curaçaoans.[16] While Curaçao, like the rest of the Netherlands Antilles, was formally democratic, political power was mostly in the hands of white elites.[17]

In many ways, the situation of black Curaçaoans was similar to that of blacks in the US and Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, or Barbados. The movement leading up to the 1969 uprising therefore used many of the same symbols and rhetoric as Black Power and civil rights movements in those countries.[18] A high Antillean government official would later claim that the island's wide-reaching mass media was one of the uprising's causes. People in Curaçao were well aware of events in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. As well as having access to media, many Antilleans traveled abroad, including students. Moreover, many tourists from the US and the Netherlands visited Curaçao and many workers from abroad worked in Curaçao's oil industry.[19] The uprising would parallel anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist movements throughout the world. It was particularly influenced by the Cuban Revolution. Government officials in Curaçao would falsely claim that Cuban communists were directly involved in sparking the uprising, although the revolution did have an indirect influence in that it inspired many of the participants. Many of the uprising's leaders donned khaki uniforms similar to those worn by Fidel Castro. Similarly, Black Power movements were emerging throughout the Caribbean and in the United States at the time. Foreign Black Power figures were also not directly involved in the 1969 uprising, but they did inspire many of its participants.[20]

Street with several shops
Downtown Willemstad in 1964

Another issue that contributed to the uprising lay in local politics. The Democratic Party (DP) had been in power in the Netherlands Antilles since 1954. A center-left party, the DP was more closely connected to the labor movement than its major rival, the National People's Party (NVP). This relationship was strained by its inability to satisfy expectations it would improve workers' conditions. Meanwhile, the DP was also mainly associated with the white segments of the working class and blacks criticized it for primarily advancing white interests.[21] The 1960s also saw the rise of radicalism in Curaçao. Many students went to the Netherlands for studies and some returned with radical left-wing ideas. They founded the Union Reformista Antillano (URA) in 1965. It established itself as a socialist alternative to the established parties, although it was more reformist than revolutionary in outlook.[22] Beyond parliamentary politics, the Vitó movement emerged. Vitó was a weekly magazine at the center of a movement aiming to put an end to the economic and political exploitation of the masses thought to be a result of neo-colonialism. It published analyses of local economic, political, and social conditions. When Vitó started being published in Papiamentu rather than Dutch in 1967, it gained a mass following. It had close ties with radical elements in the labor movement. Papa Godett, a leader in the dock workers' union, worked with Stanley Brown, the editor of Vitó.[23]

Labor dispute[edit]

Although the progressive priest Amado Römer had warned that "great changes still need to come through a peaceful revolution, because, if this doesn’t happen peacefully, the day is not far off when the oppressed [...] will rise up",[24] Curaçao was thought an unlikely site for political turmoil, despite low wages, high unemployment, and economic disparities between blacks and whites. The relative tranquility was attributed by the island's government to the strength of family ties. In a 1965 pitch to investors, the government ascribed the absence of a communist party and labor unions' restraint to the fact that "Antillean families are bound together by unusually strong ties and therefore extremist elements have little chance to interfere in labor relations."[25] Labor relations, including those between Shell and the refinery's workers, had indeed generally been fairly peaceful. After two minor strikes in the 1920s, a contract committee for Shell workers was established after a strike in 1936. Only from 1942 on did workers, though only those with Dutch nationality, have the right to elect their representatives on this committee. In 1955, the Puerto Rican section of the American labor federation Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) aided workers in launching the Petroleum Workers' Federation of Curaçao (PWFC). In 1957, the Federation reached a collective bargaining agreement with Shell for workers at the refinery.[26]

The PWFC was part of the General Conference of Trade Unions (AVVC), the island's largest labor confederation. The AVVC generally took a moderate stance in labor negotiations and was often criticized for this, and for its close relationship to the Democratic Party, by the more radical parts of the Curaçaoan labor movement.[27] Such close relations between unions and political leaders were widespread in Curaçao, though few unions were explicitly allied with a particular party and the labor movement was starting to gain independence.[28] The Curaçao Federation of Workers (CFW), another union in the AVVC, represented construction workers employed by the Werkspoor Caribbean Company, a Shell sub-contractor. It was to play an important role in the events that led to the uprising. Among the unions criticizing the AVVC was the General Dock Workers Union (AHU), led by Papa Godett and Amador Nita. It was guided by a revolutionary ideology seeking to overthrow the remnants of Dutch colonialism, especially discrimination against blacks. Godett was closely allied with Stanley Brown, the editor of Vitó. The labor movement in the time before the 1969 uprising was very fragmented and personal animosity between labor leaders further exacerbated this situation.[29]

Refinery with several tanks and a bay in the foreground
Shell refinery in Curaçao in 1975

In May 1969, there was a labor dispute between the CFW and Werkspoor. It revolved around two central issues. For one, Antillean Werkspoor employees received lower wages than workers from the Netherlands or other Caribbean islands as the latter were compensated for working away from home. Secondly, Werkspoor employees performed the same work as Shell employees but received lower wages. Werkspoor's response pointed to the fact that it could not afford to pay higher wages under its contract with Shell. Vitó was heavily involved in the dispute, helping to keep the conflict in the public consciousness. Though the dispute between CFW and Werkspoor received the most attention, that month significant labor unrest occurred throughout the Netherlands Antilles.[30]

On May 6, around 400 Werkspoor employees went on strike. The Antillean Werkspoor workers received support and solidarity both from non-Antilleans at Werkspoor and from other Curaçaoan unions. On May 8, this strike ended with an agreement to negotiate a new contract with government mediation. These negotiations failed, leading to a second strike starting on May 27.[31] The dispute became increasingly political, as labor leaders felt that the government should intervene on their behalf. The Democratic Party was in a dilemma, as it did not wish to lose support from the labor movement and was wary of drawn-out and disruptive labor disputes, but also felt that giving in to excessive demands by labor would undermine its strategy to attract investments in industry.[32] As the conflict progressed, radical leaders like Amador Nita and Papa Godett gained influence. On May 29, as a moderate labor figure was about to read a declaration announcing a compromise and postponing a strike, Nita took that man's notes and read a declaration of his own. He demanded that the government resign and threatened a general strike.[33] That same day, thirty to forty workers marched to Fort Amsterdam, the Antillean government's seat, contending that the government, which had refused to intervene in the dispute, itself was contributing to wages being kept low. While the strike was led by the CFW, the PWFC, under pressure from its rank and file, showed solidarity with the strike. It decided to call for a strike to support the Werkspoor workers.[34]


Dutch newsreel covering the uprising on May 30, 1969

On the morning of May 30, more unions announced strikes in support of the CFW's struggle against Werkspoor. Some three to four thousand workers gathered at a strike post. While the CFW emphasized that this was merely an economic dispute, Papa Godett, the dock workers' leader and Vitó activist, advocated a political struggle in his speech to the strikers. He criticized the government's handling of the labor dispute and demanded its removal. He called for another march to Fort Amsterdam, which was seven miles away in Punda in downtown Willemstad.[35] "If we don't succeed without force, then we have to use force. [...] The people is the government. The present government is no good and we will replace it", he proclaimed.[36] By the time this march started moving towards the city center, some 5,000 workers were taking part. As it progressed through the city more people who were not associated with the strike joined, most of them young, black, and male, some oil workers, some unemployed. There were no protest marshals and leaders had little control over the crowd's actions. They had not anticipated any escalation.[37]

Among the slogans the crowd chanted were "Pan y rekonosimiento" ("Bread and recogntion"), "Ta kos di kapitalista, kibra nan numa" ("These are possessions of capitalists, just destroy them"), and "Tira piedra. Mata e kachónan di Gobièrnu. Nos mester bai Punda, Fòrti. Mata e makambanan" ("Throw stones. Death to the government dogs. Let's go to Punda, to the fort. Death to the makamba.").[38] The march started becoming increasingly violent. First, a pick-up truck with a white driver was set on fire and two stores were looted. Then, large commercial buildings including a Coca-Cola bottling plant and a Texas Instruments factory were attacked and marchers entered the buildings to halt production. Texas Instruments had a poor reputation because it had prevented unionization among its employees. Housing and public buildings, on the other hand, were generally spared. Once it became aware, the police moved to stop the rioting and called for assistance from both the local volunteer militia and Dutch troops stationed in Curaçao. The police, with a mere sixty officers at the scene unable to halt the march, wound up enveloped by the demonstration, with cars attempting to hit them.[39]

The police moved to secure a hill on the march route. They were pelted with rocks. Papa Godett was shot in the back by the police. He would claim that the police had specific orders to kill him, while law enforcement claimed that officers had only done what was necessary to save their own lives. Godett was taken to the hospital by members of the demonstration. Parts of the march followed him there. Two fire trucks were dispatched to assist the police. One was set on fire and pushed towards the police lines with a striker steering it. He was shot and killed. The main part of the march moved on to Willemstad's central business district, Punda. There the crowd broke up into smaller groups.[40] The protesters chanted "Awe jiu di Korsou a bira konjo" ("Now the people of Curaçao are really fed up") and "Nos lo sinja nan respeta nos" ("We will teach them to respect us").[41] Some moved across a bridge to the other side of Sint Anna Bay, an area known as Otrabanda. The first building burned in Otrabanda was a shop that had been criticized by Vitó for having particularly poor working conditions. From this store, flames spread to other buildings. Stores on both sides of the bay were looted and subsequently set on fire, as were an old theater and the bishop's palace. Women took looted goods home in shopping carts. There was even an attempt to damage the bridge that crossed the bay.[42]

Several colorful buildings on the seafront
Punda, the central business district, seen from the harbor

The government imposed a curfew and a ban on liquor sales.[43] The Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles, Ciro Domenico Kroon, went into hiding during the riots,[44] while the Governor of the Netherlands Antilles, Cola Debrot, and the Deputy Governor were also absent. It was left to lower-ranking government officials to request the assistance of Dutch marines stationed in Curaçao. This request, which the Kingdom was constitutionally required to honor under the Charter, would not be officially approved by its Council of Ministers until later. However, the soldiers immediately joined police, local volunteers, and firemen as they fought hard to stop the rioting, put out fires set in looted buildings, and guarded banks and other key buildings while thick plumes of dark smoke emanated from the city center.[45] Many of the buildings in this part of Willemstad were old and burned easily. The compact nature of the central business district further hampered firefighting efforts. In the afternoon, clergymen put out a statement over the radio urging the looters to stop. Meanwhile, union leaders announced that they had reached a compromise with Werkspoor. Under this deal Shell workers would receive equal wages whether they were employed by contractors or not and independently of their national origin.[46]

Despite the struggle's economic aims having been achieved, rioting continued throughout the night. It slowly abated on May 31.[47] The uprising's focus shifted from economic demands to political goals. Union leaders, both radical and moderate, demanded that the government resign, threatening a general strike.[48] Workers broke into a radio station, forcing it to broadcast this demand. They argued that failed economic and social policy had led to the grievances that led to the uprising.[49] On May 31, Curaçaoan labor leaders met with union representatives from Aruba, also part of the Netherlands Antilles. The Aruban delegates agreed with the demand for the government's resignation, announcing that Aruban workers, too, would go on a general strike should it be ignored. By the night of May 31 to June 1, the violence had ceased. Another 300 Dutch marines arrived from the Netherlands on June 1 to maintain order.[50]

refer to caption
A Dutch soldier patrolling Willemstad, with rubble in the background

The uprising cost two lives, identified as A. Gutierrez and A. Doran, left 22 police officers and 57 others injured, and led to a total of 322 arrests, including the leaders Papa Godett and Amador Nita of the dock workers' union and Stanley Brown, the editor of Vitó.[51] Godett was kept under police surveillance while he recovered in the hospital from his bullet wound.[52] 43 businesses and 10 other buildings were burned in the course of the riots and 190 buildings were damaged or looted. Thirty vehicles were destroyed by fire. The total damage caused by the uprising was around 40 million US dollars. The looting was highly selective: businesses owned by whites were primarily targeted, while tourists were not. In fact, in some cases rioters led tourists caught up in the disturbance to their hotels to protect them.[53] Nevertheless, the riots drove away most tourists[54] and damaged the island's reputation as a tourist destination.[55] On May 31, Amigoe di Curaçao, a local newspaper, declared that with the uprising "the leaden mask of a carefree, untroubled life in the Caribbean Sea was ripped from part of Curaçao, perhaps forever."[56] The riots evoked a wide range of emotions among the island's population: "Everyone was crying" when it ended, claimed one observer.[57] There was pride that Curaçaoans had finally stood up for themselves. Some were ashamed that it had come to this or ashamed of having taken part. Others were angry at the rioters, at the police, or at the social wrongs that had given rise to it all.[58]

The uprising achieved both its economic demands, wage equality for Shell workers, and its political demands. On June 2 all parties in the Estates of the Netherlands Antilles, pressured by the Chamber of Commerce, which feared further strikes and violence,[59] agreed to dissolve that body.[60] On June 5, the Prime Minister Ciro Domenico Kroon submitted his resignation to the Governor. Elections for the Estates were set for September 5.[61] On June 26, an interim government headed by new Prime Minister Gerald Sprockel took charge of the Netherlands Antilles.[62]


Trinta di Mei was a pivotal moment in the history of Curaçao, contributing to the end of white political predominance.[63] While Peter Verton as well as William Averette Anderson and Russell Rowe Dynes characterize the events as a revolt, the historian Gert Oostindie considers this too broad a term. All agree that revolution was never in the cards.[64] Anderson, Dynes, and Verton see it as part of a broader movement, the May Movement or May 30 Movement, which began with the strikes in early 1969 and continued in electoral politics and with another wave of strikes in December 1969.[65]

Political effects[edit]

Ernesto Petronia
Ernesto Petronia, the Netherlands Antilles' first black Prime Minister, elected shortly after the 1969 uprising

The uprising's leaders, Godett, Nita, and Brown, formed a new political party, the May 30 Labor and Liberation Front (Frente Obrero Liberashon 30 Di Mei, abbreviated FOL), in June of the same year. Brown was still in prison when the party was founded.[66] The FOL contested the September 5, 1969, elections against the Democratic Party, the National People's Party, and the URA with Godett as its top candidate. It campaigned on the populist anti-colonial and anti-Dutch messages voiced during the uprising, espousing black pride and a positive Antillean identity. One of its campaign posters depicted Kroon, the former Prime Minister and the Democratic Party's main candidate, shooting protesters. The FOL received 22% of the vote in Curaçao and won three of the twelve Curaçao-based seats in the Estates, which had a total of twenty-two seats. The three aforementioned leaders took those seats.[67] In December, Ernesto Petronia of the Democratic Party became the Netherlands Antilles' first black Prime Minister, with the FOL part of the coalition government. In 1970, the Dutch government also named Ben Leito the first black Governor of the Netherlands Antilles.[68]

In October of the same year, a commission similar to the Kerner Commission in the United States was established to investigate the uprising. Five of its members were Antillean, three were Dutch. It released its report one year after the event, in May 1970, after gathering data, conducting interviews, and holding hearings. It deemed the uprising unexpected, finding no evidence that it was pre-planned. It concluded that the primary causes for the riots were racial tensions and disappointed economic expectations. The report was critical of the conduct of the police and recommended appointing a Lieutenant Governor with police experience and this advice was followed. Patronage appointments were also reduced in keeping with the commission's recommendations. Most of its suggestions, as well as its criticism of government and police conduct, were ignored. The commission also pointed to a contradiction between the demand for national independence and economic prosperity: according to the report, independence would almost certainly lead to economic decline.[69]

Members of Parliament debating
The Dutch Parliament on June 3, 1969 discussing the riots in Curaçao

On June 1, 1969, 300 to 500 marched in support of the struggle in Curaçao and clashed with police in The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, among them Antillean students. They denounced the deployment of Dutch troops and called for Antillean independence.[70] The 1969 uprising would turn out to be a watershed moment in the decolonization of Dutch possessions in America.[71] The Dutch parliament discussed the events in Curaçao on June 3. The parties in government and the opposition agreed that no other response to the riots was possible under the Kingdom's charter. The Dutch press was more critical. Images of Dutch soldiers patrolling the streets of Willemstad with machine guns went around the world. Much of the international press viewed Dutch involvement as a neo-colonial intervention. The Indonesian War of Independence, in which the former Dutch East Indies broke away from the Netherlands in the 1940s and in which some 150,000 Indonesians and 5,000 Dutch lost their lives, was still on the Dutch public's mind.[72] In January 1970, consultations about independence between Joop Bakker, the Dutch Minister for Surinamese and Antillean Affairs, Surinamese Prime Minister Jules Sedney, and Petronia commenced. The Dutch government, fearing after Trinta di Mei that it could be forced into a military intervention, wanted to release the Antilles and Suriname into independence. "It would be preferably today rather than tomorrow that the Netherlands would get rid of the Antilles and Suriname", as Bakker put it. Yet, the Netherlands insisted it did not wish to force independence on the two countries. Deliberations over the next years revealed that this would be a difficult task, as the Antilleans and the Surinamese were concerned about losing Dutch nationality and Dutch development aid. In 1973, both countries rejected a Dutch proposal for a path to independence.[73] This impasse was suddenly overcome with respect to Suriname in 1974 when new administrations took power in both the Netherlands and Suriname. Feverish negotiations resulted in Surinamese independence on November 25, 1975.[74]

The Netherlands Antilles resisted any swift move to independence. It insisted that national sovereignty would only be an option once it had "attained a reasonable level of economic development", as its Prime Minister Juancho Evertsz put it in 1975. Surveys in the 1970s and 1980s showed that most of Curaçao's inhabitants agreed with this reluctance to pursue independence: clear majorities favored continuing the Antilles' ties to the Netherlands, though many were in favor of loosening them. By the end of the 1980s, the Netherlands accepted that the Antilles would not be fully decolonized in the near future.[75] Aruba would secede from the Netherlands Antilles. Aruban separatism dated back to the 1930s, but never really came to a head until after the 1969 uprising in Curaçao. Unlike the black-majority Curaçao, most Arubans were of mixed European and Native descent. Though Aruba was just 117 kilometers away from Curaçao, there had long been resentment, with significant racial undertones, about being ruled from Willemstad. Aruban distrust of Curaçao was further stoked by Trinta di Mei, particularly the Black Power sentiments voiced therein. The Aruban island government started working towards separation from the Antilles in 1975 and Aruba became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in its own right in 1986. Eventually, in 2010, insular nationalism would lead to the Netherlands Antilles being completely dissolved and Curaçao becoming a country as well.[76]

Trinta di Mei reshaped Curaçao's labor movement. A strike wave swept Curaçao in December 1969. Around 3,500 workers participated in eight wildcat strikes that took place within ten days. Newer, more radical leaders were able to gain influence in the labor movement. As a result of unions' involvement in Trinta di Mei and the December strikes, Curaçaoans had considerably more favorable views of labor leaders than of politicians, as a poll in August 1971 found. In the following years, unions built their power and were able to gain considerable wage increases for their members, even forcing the notoriously anti-union Texas Instruments to negotiate with them. Their membership also grew. The CFW, for instance, went from a pre-May 1969 membership of 1,200 to around 3,500 members in July 1970. The atmosphere after the uprising led to the formation of four new unions.[77] The labor movement's relationship to politics was changed by Trinta di Mei. Unions had been close to political parties and the government for several reasons: They had not existed for very long and were still gaining their footing. Secondly, the government played an important role in economic development and, finally, workers' and unions' position vis-à-vis employers was comparatively weak and they relied on the government's help. The events in 1969 both expressed a more distant relationship between labor and the state and accelerated this estrangement. They were now more distinct entities, though still trying to influence one another. Labor was now willing to take a militant position against the state. Unions and the state both realized that labor was a force in Curaçaoan society. Moreover, the government was accused of letting workers down, even using force to suppress their struggle. Unions' relationship with employers changed in a similar way. The latter were now forced to recognize labor as a force to be reckoned with.[78]

Social and cultural effects[edit]

The 1969 uprising put an end to white dominance in politics and administration in Curaçao. It led to the ascendance of a new black political elite and nearly all governors, prime ministers, and ministers in the Netherlands Antilles and Curaçao since 1969 have been black. Although there has been no corresponding change in the island's business elite, upward social mobility increased considerably for well-educated Afro-Curaçaoans and improved conditions for the black middle class.[79] The rise of black political elites was controversial from the start. Rank-and-file FOL supporters were wary of the party entering into government with the Democratic Party, which they had previously denounced as corrupt. The effects of the emergence of new elites for lower-class black Curaçaoans have been limited. Although workers received some new legal protections, their living standards stagnated. In a 1971 survey, three quarters of the respondents claimed that their economic situation had remained the same or worsened. This is mostly the result of difficult conditions that hamper most Caribbean economies, but critics have also blamed mismanagement and corruption by the new political elites.[80]

Among the lasting effects of the uprising was Papiamentu becoming more prestigious and more widely used in official contexts. Papiamentu was spoken by most Curaçaoans, but its use was shunned – children who spoke it on school playgrounds were punished.[81] According to Frank Martinus Arion, a Curaçaoan writer, "Trinta di Mei allowed us to recognize the subversive treasure we had in our language". It empowered Papiamentu speakers and sparked discussions about the use of the language. Vitó, the magazine that had played a large part in the build-up to the uprising, had long called for Papiamentu becoming Curaçao's official language once it became independent of the Netherlands. Indeed, it was recognized as an official language on the island, along with English and Dutch, in 2007. Curaçaoan parliamentary debate is now conducted in Papiamentu and most radio and television broadcasts are in this language. Primary schools teach in Papiamentu while secondary schools still teach in Dutch.[82] Trinta di Mei also accelerated the standardization and formalization of Papiamentu orthography, a process begun in the 1940s.[83]

The events of May 30 and the situation that spawned them were reflected in local literature. Papiamentu was considered by many devoid of any artistic quality, but after the uprising literature in the language blossomed.[84] According to Igma M. G. van Putte-de Windt, it was only in the 1970s after the May 30 uprising that an "Antillean dramatic expression in its own right" emerged.[85] Just days before the uprising, Stanley Bonofacio premiered Kondená na morto (Sentenced to death), a play about the justice system in the Netherlands Antilles. It was banned for a time after the riots. In 1970, Edward A. de Jongh, who watched the riots as he walked the streets of Willemstad, published the novel 30 di Mei 1969: E dia di mas historiko (May 30, 1969: The most historic day) describing what he perceived as the causes underlying the uprising: unemployment, the lack of workers' rights, and racial discrimination. Pacheco Domacassé wrote the plays Tula about a 1795 slave revolt in Curaçao in 1971 and in 1973 Konsenshi di un pueblo (A people's conscience), which deals with government corruption and ends in a revolt reminiscent of the May 30 uprising.[86] Curaçaoan poetry after Trinta di Mei, too, was rife with calls for independence, national sovereignty, and social justice.[87]

The uprising opened up questions concerning Curaçaoan national identity. Whereas prior to Trinta di Mei one's place in society was determined largely by race, such hierarchies and classifications were put into question by the events. This led to debates about whether Afro-Curaçaoans were the only true Curaçaoans and to what extent Sephardic Jews and the Dutch, who had been present throughout Curaçao's colonial period, and more recent immigrants belonged. In the 1970s, there were formal attempts at nation-building. An island anthem was introduced in 1979, an island Hymn and Flag Day instituted in 1984, and resources were devoted to promoting the island's culture. Papiamentu became central to Curaçaoan identity. More recently, civic values, rights of participation, and a common political knowledge are said to have become key issues in determining national identity.[88]


  1. ^ Anderson & Dynes 1975, p. 3, Oostindie 2015, p. 241, Sharpe 2014, p. 117.
  2. ^ Anderson & Dynes 1975, pp. 33–35.
  3. ^ Oostindie 2015, pp. 243–244.
  4. ^ Anderson & Dynes 1975, p. 35.
  5. ^ Anderson & Dynes 1975, p. 55.
  6. ^ Anderson & Dynes 1975, p. 57.
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