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The Netherlands Antilles (Dutch: ), previously known as the Netherlands West Indies or Dutch Antilles/West Indies, is part of the Lesser Antilles and consists of two groups of islands in the Caribbean Seamarker: Curaçaomarker and Bonairemarker, just off the Venezuelanmarker coast, and Sint Eustatiusmarker, Sabamarker and Sint Maartenmarker, located southeast of the Virgin Islands. The islands form an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands' economy depends mostly upon tourism, international financial services, international commerce, shipping and petroleum.

The Netherlands Antilles is scheduled to be dissolved as a unified political entity on October 10, 2010, so that the five constituent islands will attain new constitutional statuses within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Both the leeward (Alonso de Ojeda, 1499) and windward (Christopher Columbus, 1493) island groups were discovered by Spainmarker, but only the leeward islands were settled by them. In the 17th century, the islands were conquered by the Dutch West India Company and were used as military outposts and trade bases. In the late 18th century St. Eustatiusmarker became the most prosperous island of the Northeastern Caribbean, earning the nickname "The Golden Rock." Both Curaçao and Sint Eustatius became prominent in the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in 1863.

In 1954, the status of the islands was up-graded from a colonial territory to a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a separate country within the kingdom. The island of Arubamarker was part of the Netherlands Antilles until 1986, when it was granted status aparte, becoming yet another part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a separate country within the kingdom.

Between June 2000 and April 2005, each island of the Netherlands Antilles had a referendum on its future status. The four options that could be voted on were:
  • closer ties with the Netherlands
  • remaining within the Netherlands Antilles
  • autonomy as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (status aparte)
  • independence

Of the five islands, Sint Maarten and Curaçao voted for status aparte, Saba and Bonaire voted for closer ties to the Netherlands, and Sint Eustatius voted to stay within the Netherlands Antilles.

On November 26, 2005 a Round Table Conference (RTC) was held between the governments of the Netherlands, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, and each island in the Netherlands Antilles. The final statement to emerge from the RTC stated that autonomy for Curaçao and Sint Maarten, plus a new status for Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius would come into effect by July 1, 2007.On October 12, 2006, the Netherlands reached an agreement with Saba, Bonaire, and Sint Eustatius; this agreement would make these islands special municipalities.

On November 3, 2006, Curaçao and Sint Maarten were granted autonomy in an agreement,but this agreement was rejected by the then island council of Curaçao on November 28. The Curaçao government was not sufficiently convinced that the agreement would provide enough autonomy for Curaçao. On July 9, 2007 the new island council of Curaçao approved the agreement previously rejected in November 2006.


The head of state is the ruling monarch of the Netherlandsmarker, who is represented in the Netherlands Antilles by a governor. A council of ministers, chaired by a prime minister, forms the local government. Together with the governor, who holds responsibility for external affairs and defense, it forms the executive branch of the government.

The legislative branch is two-layered. Delegates of the islands are represented in the government of the Netherlands Antilles, but each island has its own government that takes care of the daily affairs on the island.

The Netherlands Antilles are not part of the European Union.Since 2006 the Islands have given rise to diplomatic disputes between Venezuela and the Netherlands. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez claims that the Netherlands might allow the United States to install military bases that would be necessary for a planned U.S. invasion of Venezuela. Curaçao is under consideration as a Cooperative Security Location, not a full Main Operating Base.

Future status

The Netherlands Antilles is to be disbanded on October 10, 2010.The idea of the Netherlands Antilles as a state never enjoyed the full support of all of the islands, and political relations between islands were often strained. Arubamarker seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, and formed its own state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The desire for secession has also been strong in Sint Maartenmarker.

In 2004, a commission of the governments of the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlandsmarker reported on a future status for the Netherlands Antilles. The commission advised a revision of the Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles.

Two new associated states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands would be formed, Curaçaomarker and Sint Maartenmarker. Meanwhile, Bonairemarker, Sabamarker, and Sint Eustatiusmarker would become a direct part of the Netherlands as special municipalities (bijzondere gemeente), a form of "public body" (openbaar lichaam) as outlined in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution. These municipalities will resemble ordinary Dutch municipalities in most ways (they will have a mayor, aldermen and a municipal council, for example) and will have to introduce most Dutch law. Residents of these three islands will also be able to vote in Dutch national and European elections.

There are, however, some derogations for these islands. Social security, for example, will not be on the same level as it is in the Netherlands, and it is not certain whether the islands will be obliged to introduce the euro; they may retain the Antillean guilder pending further negotiations. All five of the island territories may also continue to access the Common Court of Justice of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles (with the Joint Court probably receiving a new name). The three islands will also have to involve the Dutch Minister of Foreign Relations before they can make agreements with countries in the region.

Originally the term used for Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius to describe their expected association with the Netherlands was "Kingdom Islands" (Koninkrijkseilanden). The Dutch province of North Holland has offered the three new municipalities the opportunity to become part of the province.

Additionally, the Kingdom government would consist of the government of the Netherlands and one mandated minister per Caribbean country. The special municipalities would be represented in the Kingdom Government by the Netherlands, as they can vote for the Dutch parliament.

The Netherlands has proposed that the Treaty of Lisbon allow the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba to opt for the status of Outermost Region also called Ultra Peripheral Region (UPR), if they wish.The provision reads:


Map showing French Saint-Martin (north) and Dutch Sint Maarten (south).

The Netherland Antilles have no major administrative divisions, although each island has its own local government.

The two island groups of which the Netherlands Antilles consists are:


Map of the Netherlands Antilles

The windward islands are all of volcanic origin and hilly, leaving little ground suitable for agriculture. The leeward islands have a mixed volcanic and coral origin. The highest point is Mount Scenerymarker, 877 metres (2,828 ft), on Sabamarker (also the highest point in all the Kingdom of the Netherlands).

The Netherlands Antilles have a tropical climate, with warm weather all year round. The windward Islands are subject to hurricanes in the summer months.


Tourism, petroleum transshipment and oil refinement (on Curaçao), as well as offshore finance are the mainstays of this small economy, which is closely tied to the outside world. The islands enjoy a high per capita income and a well-developed infrastructure as compared with other countries in the region.

Almost all consumer and capital goods are imported, with Venezuelamarker, the United Statesmarker, and Mexicomarker being the major suppliers, as well as the Dutch government which supports the islands with substantial development aid. Poor soils and inadequate water supplies hamper the development of agriculture. The Antillean guilder has a fixed exchange rate with the United States dollar of 1.79:1.


A large part of the Netherlands Antilleans descends from European colonists and African slaves that were brought and traded here from the 17th to 19th century. The rest of the population originates from other Caribbean islands, Latin America, East Asia and elsewhere in the world. In Curaçao there is a strong Jewish element going back to the 17th century.

Papiamentu is predominant on Curaçao and Bonaire (as well as the neighboring island of Aruba). This creole descends from Portuguese and West African languages with a strong admixture of Dutch, plus subsequent lexical contributions from Spanish and English. English is the mother tongue of the inhabitants of Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten.

After a decades-long debate, English and Papiamentu have been made official languages alongside Dutch in early March 2007.Legislation is produced in Dutch but parliamentary debate is in Papiamentu or English, depending on the island. Due to a massive influx of immigrants from Spanish speaking territories such as the Dominican Republic in the Windward Islands and increased tourism from Venezuela in the Leeward Islands, Spanish is also becoming increasingly known.

The majority of the population are followers of the Christian faith, mostly Roman Catholic. Curaçao also hosts a sizeable group of followers of the Jewish faith, descendants of a Portuguesemarker group of Sephardic Jews that arrived from Amsterdam and Brazilmarker from 1654.

Most Netherlands Antilleans are Dutch citizens and this status permits and encourages the young and university-educated to emigrate to the Netherlands. This exodus is considered to be to the islands' detriment as it creates a brain drain. On the other hand, immigrants from the Dominican Republicmarker, Haitimarker, the Anglophone Caribbean and Colombiamarker have increased their presence in recent years.


The origins of the population and location of the islands give the Netherlands Antilles a mixed culture.

Tourism and overwhelming media presence from the United Statesmarker have increased the regional United States influence. On all the islands, the holiday of Carnival has become an important event after its importation from other Caribbeanmarker and Latin American countries in the 1960s. Festivities include "jump-up" parades with beautifully colored costumes, floats, and live bands as well as beauty contests and other competitions. Carnival on the islands also includes a middle-of-the-night j'ouvert (juvé) parade that ends at sunrise with the burning of a straw King Momo, cleansing the island of sins and bad luck.

Miscellaneous topics

Unlike the metropolitan Netherlands, same-sex marriages cannot be performed here, but those performed in other jurisdictions are recognized.

See also


  1. Curaçao verwerpt slotakkoord
  2. Chavez Says Holland Plans to Help US Invade Venezuela
  3. "Antilles allow Papiamentu as official language", The Times Hague/Amsterdam/Rotterdam, 9 March 2007, page 2.

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