Big troubles on (half of) the little island of St. Martin


The "SXM Strong" hashtag belies the underlying struggles of the people on the island to see some semblance of normalcy resume in their lives.
The "SXM Strong" hashtag belies the underlying struggles of the people on the island to see some semblance of normalcy resume in their lives.

More than two years after suffering massive damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria the island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten continues its efforts towards recovery. But as the peak winter visitor season approaches the challenges the island faces in rebuilding have perhaps never been more pointed. And the split between the French and Dutch sides of the island is perhaps more real than ever. To the point that some roads/borders are being closed as a result.

I visited the island six months ago for the Caribbean Aviation Festival. I even took an extra couple days and rented a car to explore the island again, to take in the recovery efforts and see how the tourism infrastructure was recovering. n the Dutch side evidence of damage remained, but it also presented a “business as usual” feel in many cases. Some hotels are still rebuilding, but many are open and the infrastructure mostly welcomes visitors.

Two years on from the storms and the signs talking about reconstruction on the French side of the island are much more visible than evidence of such reconstruction efforts
Two years on from the storms and the signs talking about reconstruction on the French side of the island are much more visible than evidence of such reconstruction efforts


Cross to the French side of the island, however, and the storm damage is much more visible. Recovery is not coming quickly on the northern side of the island. The impact of that slower recovery appeared – at that time – to mostly be affecting locals, not tourists. Hotel room inventory was down significantly but if you could find a room the restaurants and bars and excursions that catered to visitors mostly were in good shape. That’s the experience I had at Orient Bay and other neighborhoods as I explored the island.

The nightlife at Orient Bay village is up and running
The nightlife at Orient Bay village is up and running, assuming you can find a room nearby to stay. Many of the local hotels are struggling to recover

Alas, the lack of recovery for the locals spilled over to much larger problems this winter.

Read More: St Maarten, St Croix moving forward with airport reconstruction efforts

Reports on the island last week had some local bandits/gangs closing roads and extorting “tolls” for travelers to cross the border. The US and Canadian governments issued travel warnings (admittedly at their lowest levels) about visits to the French side of the island.



The French government sent in 80 gendarmes, repositioned from Guadeloupe, to help quell the troubles. And by most accounts their presence is helping. But not enough. Traffic on the island was already bad, especially at the couple pinch points where the roads cross the border. With the closures in place that only worsens the problems.

Read More: Refreshed renderings, funding fears for Sint Maarten redevelopment

Beach loungers and construction galore on the French side of St. Martin
Beach loungers and construction galore on the French side of St. Martin

The protests are driven in part by questions around double standards on reconstruction priorities and permissions. The so-called “red zone” areas, regions likely to see severe flooding again  with a future storm, as supposed to be off limits for development. But some approvals have been granted. Those are perceived to be driven by wealth and race. For those who are denied permission to rebuild the State will condemn the land and take it over. It is an ugly situation and the delays in coming to a resolution further fan the flames of unrest.

The "SXM Strong" hashtag belies the underlying struggles of the people on the island to see some semblance of normalcy resume in their lives.
The “SXM Strong” hashtag belies the underlying struggles of the people on the island to see some semblance of normalcy resume in their lives.

Combine those challenges with an already weak economy on the French side of the island and slower tourism recovery and the unrest begins to make some sense. Locals are frustrated and have limited options for recourse available.

As much as it hurts to say so, avoiding the French side of the island appears to be the smart choice for now. And maybe for a while. Until real progress is made on the reconstruction planning and efforts the chance of a recurrence is probably not worth the risk.

The arrivals hall at SXM in June 2019. Reconstruction continues and the latest news finally has additional financing secured, something that should've been managed long ago but for local leadership issues
The arrivals hall at SXM in June 2019. Reconstruction continues and the latest news finally has additional financing secured, something that should’ve been managed long ago but for local leadership issues

It is truly a shame, as the airport reconstruction (finally, much later than it should have) secured the IMF-backed funding it needs to complete the project. The work is underway and while the terminal is not a great passenger experience today, it is coming along. But if the French side cannot stabilize and get the rebuilding underway demand may suffer.

At least the plane spotting at Maho Beach on the Dutch side is mostly unaffected.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.


Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

9 Comments

  1. Let me guess, it was white Mormon men ages 15-60 who…. No, we all know who it was and it is the same in South Africa, Paris, Haiti, Rio or Chicago. We are never going to have safety and peace until we can publicly address who commits a disproportionately high amount of violence and work at isolating and separating ourselves from these groups. What a paradise these Caribbean islands like St. Maarten, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Jamaica would be without these trouble makers.

    1. You’re correct, it is the white people who showed up, declared themselves in charge and then bent the rules in their own favor to receive outsized benefits at the expense of the others living on the land for generations.

      The idea to just get rid of the people living there for the sake of colonialists and tourists is pretty myopic.

      1. What has been the case is that everywhere in the world it is blacks who commit the highest rate of violent crime and cause disruption for everyone else. Every ounce of economic success of these islands is because of tourism so the residents should be grateful instead of attacking white western tourists which has been going on increasingly so in the Bahamas, St. Maarten, and the Dominican Republic.

        For the record the people who comprise 90% of the population in St. Maarten weren’t on these islands when the Dutch, Spanish, and French arrived. Slavery was the greatest mistake in the world because it has condemned the west to dangerous neighborhoods and degenerate culture.

        1. I gotta give you credit for at least not trying to hide that you’re a racist asshat. The part where you changed your name while posting from the same computer is amusing, though.

          Go troll somewhere else. That attitude won’t fly here.

          1. Right? What would be even nicer is if these racist, xenophobic males of white privilege were not allowed on the island. They should stay home and attend the maga cult rallies.

  2. We visited SXM the week of December 15. Stayed on Dutch side, but tried three nights to eat diner on the French side. Each time stopped by roadblocks of trash, tires, concrete, pallets. Reports on local newspaper and website that roads had been cleared were wrong. Paid $20 tip to circumvent blockade to get back to Dutch side in our final attempt. Random van torched in parking lot in front of Marigot Monoprix at we had purchased cheese and wine the day prior. The gendarmes we saw merely stood watch without interaction.

  3. What are the French and Dutch Govts doing to help the local people?!! I just returned from 10 days on the French side and before and after Irma is not shockingly night and day. I stayed right next to the first pic posted at the Les Temps hotel next to the Rainbow Café. The area looks terrible two years later and I feel extremely sorry for the local people. I love SXM but have no desire to return. Understanding that 90% of this lsland was affected and greatly devastated, the French side looks terrible and my heart goes out to the people living there. The French Govt should step up looks like they are doing absolutely nothing to fix it unless you are a big hotel chain, the obvious reason for the riots.

  4. What a shame. We visited SXM a few years ago for my birthday and had a great time. It is so sad that rebuilding from the devastation of the hurricane has not made more progress. I hope that the governments step up, do right by their people, and speed up the process.

  5. Me and a family group visited St.marteen 10/30_19 and had a wonderful and peaceful time .No problems, nothing but alot of fun,sun and relaxation. We stayed on the Dutch side and went to Rainbow restaurant many times. Yes there is still work to be done on both sides.

Comments are closed.

BoardingArea