Netherlands American Dependencies

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The five islands of the Netherlands Antilles are divided geographically into two groups: the Leeward Islands (Benedenwindse Eilanden) and the Windward Islands (Bovenwindse Eilanden). The Windward group, off the north coast of South America, comprises the islands of Curaçao, with an area of 444 sq km (171 sq mi), and Bonaire, 288 sq km (111 sq mi). Aruba, another Windward island, seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986. The Leeward group, more than 800 km (500 mi) to the northeast, consists of the southern part of St. Martin (Sint Maarten), 34 sq km (13 sq mi); Saba, 13 sq km (5 sq mi); and Sint Eustatius, 21 sq km (8 sq mi). The islands total 800 sq km (309 sq mi).

All the Windward Islands have volcanic bases, partly covered with coral reefs; they are semiarid and flat, with little vegetation. The Leeward Islands are more mountainous and receive enough rainfall to enable crops and vegetation to flourish. Saba, the most fertile, is an extinct volcano with luxuriant vegetation in its crater, on its sides, and leading down to the sea. Temperatures average between 25° and 31°c (77° and 88°f); annual rainfall averages 107 cm (42 in) on the Windward Islands and 51 cm (20 in) on the Leeward Islands. The entire population of the Netherlands Antilles was estimated at 219,958 in mid-2005. Most of the inhabitants were born on the islands. Persons of mixed African origins account for 85% of the population, but over 40 ethnicities are represented, including Dutch, Surinamese, British, Latin Americans, French West Indians, Carib Amerindians, and US emigrants.

The official language is Dutch. Papiamento, a lingua franca evolved from Dutch and English with an admixture of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arawak, and African words, is also common, principally in the Leeward Islands. English is spoken, mainly in the Windward Islands. Spanish is also widely spoken. Roman Catholicism has the most adherents on the Leeward Islands and Saba, but Protestantism is dominant on St. Martin and Sint Eustatius.

Buses, private automobiles operating as small buses on fixed routes, and taxicabs provide the only public transportation. There are no rivers or railroads. Each island has a good all-weather road system. The most important port is on Curaçao, where there is a natural harbor at Willemstad. Airline connections to nearby islands and countries are provided by Royal Dutch Airlines (Koninklijke Luchtvaart MaatschappijKLM) and other international carriers.

The European discovery of the Windward Islands was made by Columbus in 1493, and that of the Leeward Islands (including Aruba) by a young Spanish nobleman, Alonso de Ojeda, who sailed with Amerigo Vespucci in 1499; hence the claim went to Spain. The Dutch fleet captured the Windward Islands in 1632 and the Leeward Islands in 1634. Peter Stuyvesant was the first governor. In 1648, St. Martin was peacefully divided between the Netherlands and France; this division still exists. During the colonial period, Curaçao was the center of the Caribbean slave trade. For a period during the Napoleonic wars (180715), Great Britain had control over the islands. Slavery was abolished in 1863.

Under a 1954 statute, the Netherlands Antilles is a component of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with autonomy in internal affairs. A governor, appointed by and representing the crown, heads the government, with a Council of Ministers as the executive body. The ministers are responsible to the Staten, a 22-member legislature (14 from Curaçao, 3 each from Bonaire and St. Martin, and 1 each from Saba and Sint Eustatius). Members are elected by general suffrage of Dutch nationals aged 18 or older. A 1951 regulation established autonomy in local affairs for each of the thenexisting island communitiesAruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, and the Leeward Islandswith responsibilities divided between an elected island council, an executive council, and a lieutenant-governor. By agreements made in 1983, St. Martin, Saba, and Sint Eustatius have separate representation in the Staten, elect their own separate councils, and have their own lieutenant-governors and executive councils. Cases are tried in a court of first instance and on appeal in the Joint High Court of Justice, with justices appointed by the crown. Defense is the responsibility of the Netherlands; a naval contingent is permanently stationed in the islands, and military service is compulsory.

The prosperity of Curaçao is inseparably linked with its oil refineries. These were built there, beginning in 1918, chiefly because of the favorable location of the islands, their good natural ports and cheap labor, and the political stability of the territory. Tankers bring crude oil from Venezuela. The economic significance of the refineries is great, not only because of their output, but also because they provide employment and stimulate other economic activities, such as shipbuilding, metal industries, shipping, air traffic, and commerce in general. The government controls the price of basic foodstuffs and participates in the setting of rates to be charged for transportation and by privately owned utilities.

The currency unit is the Netherlands Antilles guilder, or florin (NAf) of 100 cents; NAf1 = $0.55866 (or $1 = roughly NAf1.79). The GDP for 2003 was estimated at us$2.45 billion, or us$11,400 per capita. The unemployment rate was 15.6% in 2002, and 6070% of the work force was organized in labor unions. The principal agricultural products are sorghum, orange peel, aloes, groundnuts, yams, divi-divi, and some assorted vegetables. Curaçao's favorable position at the crossing of many sea-lanes has stimulated commerce since the earliest days of European settlement. Transit trade benefits from Curaçao's improved harbors; Willemstad is a free port, as are the islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius. In 2004, exports were estimated at us$2.076 billion and imports at us$4.383 billion. Refined petroleum products are exported to the Netherlands and other countries from a refinery on Curaçao. Petroleum shipments dominate the country's foreign trade. In 2004, primary export partners included: the United States (20.4%), Panama(11.2%), Guatemala (8.8%), Haiti (7.1%), the Bahamas (5.6%), and Honduras (4.2%). The primary import partners were: Venezuela (51.1%), the United States (21.9%), and the Netherlands (5%).

The Bank of the Netherlands Antilles (Bank van de Nederlands Antillen) issues currency, holds official reserves, regulates the banking system, and acts as the central foreign exchange bank.

Numerous commercial banks and several savings and loan institutions that also handle financial matters. Tax treaties with the United States have encouraged US individuals and businesses to shelter their funds in the islands.

In addition to nursery schools, primary schools, and secondary schools located on the islands, the University of the Netherlands Antilles is found on Curaçao; all schools are government-supported. The language of instruction is Dutch in the Leeward Islands, except in the International School, where classes are taught in English; English is also used in the Windward Islands. The literacy rate was 96.7% in 2003.

All the islands have cable, radiotelegraph, or radiotelephone connections with one another and, via the central exchange at Curaçao, with international systems. There are 8 AM, 19 FM, and 3 TV stations on the islands. Broadcasts are in Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish, and English. There are 2,000 Internet users. Newspapers include La Prensa, the Bonaire Reporter, Vigilante, Extra, Antilliaans Dagblad, the Daily Herald and Amigoe, along with several weekly and monthly periodicals.

Tourism is a significant source of revenue. Annually, some 470,000 cruise passengers visit the islands; total visitors to the islands amount to over 1,000,000.


The island of Aruba is located off the north coast of South America, nw of Curaçao. It has an area of 193 sq km (75 sq mi). The land is basically flat and is renowned for its white-sand beaches. The temperature is almost constant at 27°c (81°f); the annual rainfall averages 60 cm (24 in). The mid-2005 population was estimated at 71,566. The official language is Dutch, but Papiamento, English, and Spanish are also spoken. The religion of the majority is Roman Catholic.

There are no rivers or railways. The road system connects all major cities. There are three deepwater harbors, at San Nicolas, Oranjestad, and Barcadera. Airline connections are provided by Royal Dutch Airlines (Koninklijke Luchtvaart MaatschappijKLM) and other international carriers.

In March 1983, at the Hague, the governments of the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles agreed to grant Aruba the status of a separate state. On 1 January 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, becoming a separate member of the kingdom. In 1990, Aruba requested and received from the Netherlands a cancellation of the agreement that would have granted independence in 1996.

The head of government is a governor appointed by and representing the crown. A Council of Ministers, led by a prime minister, has executive power. The ministers are responsible to the Staten, a legislative body of 21 members elected by universal adult suffrage for four-year terms. Cases are tried in a court of first instance and on appeal in the Common Court of Justice of Aruba, with justices appointed by the crown. Defense is the responsibility of the Netherlands; a naval contingent is stationed on the island, and military service is compulsory.

The two principal sources of revenue for the island are tourism and oil refining. Coastal Aruba Refining Co., produces asphalt, diesel fuel, feedstock for other refineries, kerosene, and residual fuel oil at the Lago refinery. Since the refinery reopened in 1993, economic growth has surged, as the refinery provides a major source of employment and foreign exchange earnings. The currency unit is the Aruban florin (Af) of 100 cents, with a fixed exchange rate of Af1 = $0.5587 (or $1 = Af1.79) since 1986. The GDP for 2002 was us$1.94 billion, or us$28,000 per capita. The unemployment rate was 0.6% in 2003, leading to a large number of unfilled job vacancies despite recent sharp increases in wage rates.

In 2004, Aruban exports were valued at us$80 million (mostly refined petroleum products), and imports at us$875 million. The United States and the EU are Aruba's major trading partners. There is a Central Bank of Aruba, and there are other commercial banks.

Medical care is entirely subsidized by the government; there is a modern hospital. The literacy rate is high (97%). There are 2 AM and 16 FM commercial radio stations and one television station in Aruba. There are 24,000 Internet users. There is one daily newspaper published in Dutch, one in English, and 1 in Papiamento. There were an estimated 37,100 main telephones on the island in 2002; 53,000 mobile cellular telephones are also in use.

Tourism is the major source of revenue. Over 500,000 tourists annually visit the island, with about half coming from the United States.