WILLEMSTAD, Curacao (AP) — A prominent politician in Curacao’s coalition government was fatally shot Sunday on a public beach in broad daylight, sending shockwaves across the small Dutch Caribbean island off the Venezuelan coast.
At an evening news conference, Prime Minister Daniel Hodge said Parliament member Helmin Wiels was hit with five bullets at Marie Pompoen beach, a popular spot for eating and swimming. Hodge said he saw the lawmaker’s bloody body on the beach after he rushed there following panicked reports to the police in the late afternoon.
“This act was horrendous, terrible, and we are in shock. We are not accustomed to these things on the island. We are living in a democracy, and we should respect each other. We condemn this in the strongest words possible,” Hodge said.
In a phone interview shortly after the shooting, Public Prosecutor Norman Serphos said witnesses reported seeing attackers shoot Wiels on the small beach and then speed off in a car. Nobody else was hurt and there had been no arrests.
Wiels was the fiery leader of the Pueblo Soberano political party, which advocates for Curacao’s independence. The island is a mostly autonomous “constituent country” of the Netherlands. His pro-independence party led voting in October general elections but holds only five of 21 seats in Parliament.
Justice Minister Nelson Navarro said Wiels had received threats and typically had security throughout the week. He did not disclose details of the threats against Wiels, who had a divisive image on the island.
The politicians present at the news conference urged the public to remain calm. Navarro said there security would be increased for all of Curacao’s elected officials.
Hodge said the Netherlands offered to help with the police investigation. He said there was “not a lot of details at the moment” about the assailant or assailants, “but we will use all the resources we can to solve this case.”
Images on TV station TeleCuracao showed some people crying outside the headquarters of Wiels’ political faction. Ivar Asjes, a member of the Pueblo Soberano party, described the slain man as a “great leader.”
“Those who are behind this murder will not achieve their goal,” Asjes said.
Local blogger and activist Jermain Ostiana said he was still trying to process the news of the apparent assassination on the small island of roughly 150,000 inhabitants.
“Curacao’s first political murder could have serious consequences,” he said.
Associated Press writer David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report.