About Us Visit to Sint Maarten (14-19 August, 2014)

Ambassador Smita Purushottam paid her first visit to Sint Maarten from August 14-19, 2014. This was the first visit by an Indian Ambassador in Caracas in at least 5 years. St. Maarten Island is a jewel in the Caribbean Sea, and is under the concurrent accreditation of the Embassy in Caracas (we recently organized a visa camp there which was much appreciated by the residents). It was part of the former Dutch Antilles. Despite having a population of only 40,000 and an area of just 36 sq. km., it attracts 2.5 million tourists per annum! The entire island is a duty free zone and has varied activities for tourists including zip-lining, para-sailing, jet-skiing and trekking.


It has excellent eateries and a harmonious and diverse population with over 100 nationalities present in this island. Its per capita income is over US$ 16,000. It has a dynamic Indian community of over 4,000 people.


The Ambassador had meetings with several dignitaries including H.E. Eugene B. Holiday, Governor of Sint Maarten; the dynamic President of Parliament H.E. Dr. Gracita R. Arrindell; the Prime Minister on the Dutch Side the Honourable Sarah Wescot-Williams; Honourable Dennis L Richardson, Minister of Justice; Honourable Martin Hassink, Minister of Finance; The Honorable Cornelius De Weever, Minister of Public Health, Social Development & Labor; Ms. Khalilah Peters, Head of the Foreign Office and her team; the representative of the French side Mrs. Vanderpool, and Ms. Peggy Ann M. Brandon, LLM, President, St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce & Industry and her team.


The Ambassador of India was met with courtesy and affection everywhere. There was enormous curiosity about India and the new government and she received many queries regarding bilateral cooperation, investment from India, capacity building in St. Maarten and technology transfer. Areas of cooperation that emerged were in medical tourism and eco-tourism.


Ambassador had several interactions with the Indian community organized through the Indian Merchants Association. Special thanks are due to Shri Prakash Mirpuri, President of the Indian Merchants Association; Shri Damu Rawtani who is going to be our Honorary Consul in St. Maarten to give greater focus to bilateral relations and Shri Sidharth Bijlani, first Indian in the former Dutch Antilles to enter politics which is a very important step towards the more active participation of the Indian community in the political, economic and social life of the islands.


The Indian community in the islands is prosperous and talented as can be seen from the variety programme performed during the excellent Independence Day celebrations.


Other areas of cooperation could be in gems and jewelry as St. Maarten is a duty free port with many high-end boutique jewelry and clothing stores which attract tourists. The jewelry designs are outstanding, modern and reasonably priced. Indian jewelers can learn a lot by visiting these islands and understanding new fashion trends.


The other great attraction of St. Maarten is its incredible coast line as well as emerald green hills. The waters are calm and milky turquoise blue and are incredibly beautiful. The charming President of Parliament Dr. Arrindell called for Bollywood to consider filming here, due to the natural beauty, high level of development, security and safety and excellent infrastructure.


The St. Maarten Independence Day celebrations united the Indian community and local people on the French and Dutch sides. The Indian community celebrates this event together making it a very inclusive occasion. The Independence Day celebrations featured dances, patriotic songs and speeches by the representatives of the Indian community - Shri Prakash Mirpuri, Shri Damu Rawtani, Shri Sidharth Bijlani and other eminent attendees. It was addressed by high level dignitaries from the St. Maarten side, the President of the Parliament H.E. Dr. Gracita R. Arrindell, the Prime Minister on the Dutch Side the Honourable Sarah Wescot-Williams, and the representative of the French side Mrs. Vanderpool. They made warm and excellent references to India and the possibilities of bilateral cooperation. Ambassador also addressed the gathering and outlined the progressive direction that the Indian economy was taking under the new government. There were Bollywood and Bharatnatyam dances which brought the house down, a music performance by young Indian talent, and local dances performed by young Sint Maartinians.


The Ambassador was also fortunate to attend the Janamashtmi celebrations which featured the breaking of the Matka and singing of bhajans. The Indian community is now celebrating Ganapathi Visarjan and will be celebrating Diwali soon.


Indian entrepreneurs should visit these islands to understand the extraordinary level of achievement given the lack of natural resources, opportunities for cooperation in the gems and jewelry and development of resort tourism abound.