Statia Day 2020 - 244th anniversary of the ‘First Salute’

Speech by Marnix van Rij, Government Commissioner during the opening ceremony of Statia Day 2020

Dear Statian residents, a pleasant good morning. Protocol has been established!

As you know better than I do, Statia Day this year will not be the same as it normally is due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the first time I have been included in Statia Day and I understand what an important day it is for Statia. Some of the first stories I heard when my wife Courtney and I came here in early February this year were about Statia Day. Legendarily, it is a long week packed with nightly live performances, motorcades,  culture parades, speeches, inter island games and sports. It is also a time which Statians love to live fully and freely.

This year we wanted to ensure that the pandemic did not rob us of yet another important celebration, considering we already could not celebrate Easter and Carnival the way we are used to. Many of you had to make sacrifices by cancelling or adjusting special family events such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, vacations. Therefore, we have done our best to ensure that Statia Day is celebrated, while adhering to Covid-19 protocol. The passion and enthusiasm and creativity which participants and organizers have shown is inspiring. It just goes to show how adaptable Statians are!

Statia Day is celebrated on November 16th and is a day to celebrate St. Eustatius’ rich heritage and culture and to commemorate the ‘First Salute’. As noted in the famous book, ‘The First Salute’ by Barbara Tuchman, “on November 16th, 1776, a ship flying the red-and-white striped flag of the Continental Congress entered the port of St. Eustatius. Adhering to custom on entering a foreign port, the ship fired a salute, and the guns of the island’s Fort Oranje returned a ritual response. This act of recognition acknowledged that the vessel and its flag represented a legitimate nation. It was the first official salute to the United States of America.”

2020 marks the 244th celebration of that auspicious day.

I always like to look forward. But for the future to make sense, it is also important to look at the past as well. That is why celebrating moments in history are so very important.

Looking back at 2020 there are several landmark events which took place. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way the world lives and operates, on Statia we were able to realize or will be able to realize a lot of projects. The most important event in the year during Covid-19 times were the democratically held elections and a new Island Council was voted in. This was a historic election and the turnout was above 75%.  Other accomplishments of 2020 were getting a new water storage unit finished, completion and continuing work on water pipes, many road projects, including Cherry Tree, (Jeems Road) and the road to Lower Town ‘Smoke Alley’ have advanced significantly. The airport is almost done and boasts a new tower and passenger terminal as well as essential grooving on the runway which is imperative for safety. The Fort Oranje Cliff restoration project has completed and was recently reforested.  Roaming cattle is being dealt with. Several projects in the social domain have completed. The Viola van Zanten Assisted Living Complex, the first of its kind, has completed with the construction of a second phase of 5 additional dwellings expected to commence soon. The Golden Opportunity job programme agreement was signed with Golden Rock Resort and will help Statians to be trained and find employment in the new resort scheduled to open in the 1st quarter of 2021.

Those are just a few things which were accomplished in 2020. The year is not over as you know, so I expect that list to lengthen!

But, as I said, I like to look forward. So why not look forward to 2026. That will be the year when Statia will celebrate the 250th anniversary of ‘The First Salute’ on Statia Day. What will Statia look like then?

I believe the economy will be more sustainable and diversified. The civil service will be better organized and as a result government will improve service to the community. There will be more prosperity for more people and enough work for everyone. The fishery and agriculture will be self-supporting. The airport and harbor will be fully functional and able to welcome and handle large amounts of people and cargo coming and going. The oil terminal will be doing brisk business. Our educational and health care system will be excellent. New hotels will be open and catering to nature and history lovers and to people who won’t mind to pay top dollar to come to find relaxation on an authentic and historic island.

St. Eustatius is a gem. Not only because of its beauty, rich history and culture and central location in the Caribbean. It is a gem because of the people. Statia has a diversified population. Statians, people from other islands like Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Martin, Suriname, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Saba, Bonaire and Curacao. But there are also Dutch, Americans, Austrians, Swiss, French and other Europeans, Chinese, people from Africa and many other countries. This diversity of the many cultures was displayed this past week as primary schools celebrated culture day. It is displayed here once again this morning. What I find to be one of the best sides of Statia is the way all of us live together peacefully. And that it is safe here. That is because people respect each other. Let us keep it this way.

I wish to express profound thanks to all civil servants and stakeholders with whom Government has worked intensively throughout the year. Your dedication, support and commitment in the interest of the further development of this island is admirable. We need to keep that focus.

On behalf of the Public Entity of St. Eustatius it is my pleasure to wish Statians at home and abroad a joyful and safe Statia Day.