"We come together today to celebrate freedom; freedom from the oppressive system that saw people robbed of their homeland, their family, their dignity, and in extreme cases their lives. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade is a historic event that binds St. Maarten together with all its Kingdom partners.
"The joint realization that slavery is a crime against our humanity is another historic moment that binds us together. It is that latter fact that should drive us in this modern age. That is the way for us to give life to this year's theme: "Emancipation from within; the voice of our people!" As government, we speak on behalf of our people, and our discussions and actions should always lead to greater freedom for our people.
"On June 23, 2000, the people of St. Maarten chose to become an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Some 10 years later on October 10, 2010, that status began a new era; a new era that I think mirrors the historic effort to end slavery. One of the commonalities between the end of slavery and the new status for St. Maarten is that both were born out of calls from the people on this island to be liberated; to be free; to not have others speak for them; to be able to chart our own destiny.
"Coming to a joint consensus that slavery is abhorrent and that we should be allowed greater autonomy are also both part of a realization in the Kingdom that we can do more if we work together, instead of for each other; that we are all better off when we work in a spirit of partnership, and not through the use of subjugation.
"This is the context in which St. Maarten continues to engage especially the Kingdom government; a context in which we directly give voice to the concerns of the people of St. Maarten. Forums such as the Kingdom Conference and the Inter-parliamentary Consultation of the Kingdom are now places where our people can directly speak to our issues. We once had the Government of Netherlands Antilles speaking on our behalf; today, we are able to do this for ourselves. We see with each meeting, more and more, that the voice of our people is being heard. That is something we should celebrate this Emancipation Day.
"But even as we celebrate the voice of our people being heard more clearly, we must also admit that there is much work to be done to emancipate our people here at home; right here within the borders of our sweet St. Maarten land. Every day, as my cabinet and I go about our duties, we see people locked in a state of reliance; we see people locked in a state of subsistence. It is our goal to emancipate them from that position.
"This government wants our people to be free in every aspect. That is why we remain committed to projects like the National Development Plan and to the creation of a new comprehensive Economic Plan. These two projects are important elements of our vision to make the people who live here free; to emancipate us, if you wish. We will do this by listening to the voice of the people. We will be guided by the expressed thoughts and wishes of those we are called to serve. It is government's hope that the entire population will join us in this project of creating and maintaining emancipation for all.
"There will likely be a plethora of views expressed today about emancipation; about freedom. Some may talk about being politically free, others may speak of being financially free and some may even talk about being free of societal influences. As Prime Minister, I hope the common thread in everything shared today is that with freedom comes responsibility.
"When I look at the period after slavery, our ancestors did all they could to ensure that not only could they enjoy their freedom; they used that freedom to improve their lives. I call on each of us to do the same. I make this call because enforcing freedoms from the top down is not the correct approach. To sustain freedom we must all actively participate; we must all make the effort."