The Netherlands Antilles is made up of two groups of islands separated by 800 kilometers; it is an autonomous unit of the Netherlands and has political equality with the Netherlands homeland under the constitution. The southern group, consisting of Curaçao and Bonaire, are known informally, together with Aruba, as "the ABCs." (Aruba is a self-governing part of the Netherlands and is not part of the Netherlands Antilles; however, it shares much of its culture with the other islands.) The northern group, consisting of Saint Eustatius (Sint Eustatius; Statia), Saint Martin (Sint Maarten), and Saba, are known informally as the "Three s's." Curaçao (home of the capital city, Willemstad) is located at 12°12′ N and 68°56′ W; Saint Martin at 18°03′ N and 63°05′ W. Although the official language is Dutch, most people also speak English, and many speak Spanish; the lingua franca, however, is Papiamento, a language based on Portuguese but with infusions of Dutch, Spanish, and English as well as of African and Indian languages. Racially and ethnically, the population of 183,500 is mixed. Most of the people (85 percent) are of mixed Black African descent, and the rest are Carib Indian, Oriental, European, and Latin.
Each island has had a somewhat different history, but common to all was conflict among European powers over ownership and at least one change of hands, and in the case of Saint Martin sixteen changes of ownership. Generally speaking, the Spanish lost interest in these islands because they found little of economic value and, in particular, no gold.
The islands have been autonomous since 1948, even though the Dutch Crown appoints the governor, who, since the 1960s, has been Antillian. Crown influence is further limited in that the governor's power is used only by the Council of Ministers. The legislature is the Parliament, which consists of fourteen members from Curaçao, three from Bonaire, three from Saint Martin, one from Saba, and one from Saint Eustatius. In addition, each island has its own council and lieutenant governor. The Netherlands Antilles has its own independent court system.
Economic development is greatest on Curaçao, which has a tourist industry, petroleum refining and shipment, and manufacturing, primarily of electronics components. Saint Martin has a developed tourist industry as well, and Bonaire has petroleum-shipment facilities.
See alsoArubans; Curaçao
Bor, Wout van den (1981). Island Adrift: The Social Organization of a Small Caribbean Community, the Case of St. Eustatius. Leiden: Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology, Department of Caribbean Studies.
Juliana, Elis (1988). Matrimonio i parto. Report no. 5. Willemstad: Institute of Archeology and Anthropology of the Netherlands Antilles.
Koulen, Ingrid, and Gert Oostindie (1987). The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba: A Research Guide. Providence, R.I.: Foris Publications.