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Netherlands Antilles

The Netherlands Antilles dissolved on 10 October 2010. Curacao and Sint Maarten (the Dutch two-fifths of the island of Saint Martin) became autonomous territories of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius now fall under the direct administration of the Netherlands.

Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba – the Caribbean Netherlands – acquired a new status as special municipalities. This means that they are part of the Netherlands itself. On 10 October 2010, the government of the Netherlands took over the task of public administration from the Government of the Netherlands Antilles.

As “special municipalities”, the islands are officially considered “public bodies” (openbare lichamen) under Dutch law. Their status has been laid down in an Act of Parliament (Wet Openbare lichamen BES). The Netherlands’ other public bodies are the national government, the municipalities, the provinces and the water boards.

Antillean legislation has remained in force after 10 October 2010, except in those cases where an island municipal law has replaced an Antillean law. It would be impossible to simply introduce the entire body of Dutch legislation in one go. Because Dutch laws were created for the situation in the Netherlands, introducing them all at once on the islands would cause confusion. Dutch legislation will therefore be introduced in stages, with careful consideration being given to the situation on each island.

As from 10 October 2010, when the islands became municipalities of the Netherlands, the inhabitants of the Caribbean Netherlands have the same rights as Dutch citizens. They have naturally retained their own culture, which is unique to them. They will also have access to new or improved facilities.

The Netherlands Antilles had been an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 1954. Aruba separated from the territory in 1986, and in October 2010 the Netherland Antilles were dissolved. The Netherlands Antilles comprised five islands: the southern Leeward Islands of Bonaire and Curaçao (near Venezuela), and the northern Windward Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. The latter comprises the southern 40% of an island shared with Saint-Martin, a French overseas territory. A distance of 900 km lies between the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands. Curacao and Sint Maarten became autonomous territories of the Kingdom of Netherlands, while Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba became special municipalities of the Netherlands.

Up until dissolution, the Netherlands Antilles possessed self-determination on all internal matters and had its own constitution; it deferred to the Kingdom of the Netherlands on issues of defense, foreign policy, and some judicial functions. A governor represented the monarch of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The central government, based on the parliamentary system, was located in Willemstad, Curaçao. Each island had a local government with an island council and a legislative assembly.

Papiamentu, Dutch, and English were the official languages of the Netherlands Antilles. Other languages spoken included Spanish, Creole, and Portuguese.

In 2008, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 19,512, with tourism and services accounting for 84% of GDP. Tourism and related activities were the islands’ largest source of employment. Industrial activities accounted for 15% of GDP, primarily oil refining, petroleum transshipment facilities, and light manufacturing. Agriculture only represented 1% of GDP. Between 2006 and 2010, the economy of the Netherlands Antilles continued to prosper, despite the impact of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis. However, Curaçao and Sint Maarten faced economic challenges as new autonomous territories, especially Sint Maarten, whose small economy depends on tourism for a whopping 82% of GDP.

In the late 1990s, the Netherlands Antilles was struggling with a declining economy that offered little hope for the future. The country was also struggling with a gigantic government budget deficit. Many islanders lived below the poverty line, leading to an enormous rise in crime. Attempts by the then Government of the Antilles to tackle these problems proved unsuccessful. The Netherlands Antilles was also unable to act as a single state or nation. Curaçao was dominant, often at the expense of the smaller islands.v In 2005, the Netherlands Antilles held a national referendum. The results showed that the vast majority of people wished to remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, either as an independent country within the Kingdom or as part of the Netherlands itself. The referendum formed the basis for the new constitutional order for Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba.

Following the agreement for separation, Curaçao and Sint Maarten worked out a series of arrangements to prepare and implement their new political administrations. This process included administrative mechanisms to establish new ministries of health and a progressive strengthening of the capacity of the new health authorities to run the health sector.

The available demographic information is from the territory’s 2001 census, with some projections being based on island registry offices. Much of the demographic data are either out of date or unavailable. As of 2010, the total estimated population of the Netherlands Antilles was 197,621 (46% male and 53.1% female), representing a 12.5% increase in relation to 2001. The population under 15 years of age represented 15.1% of the total population, while persons 60 years old and older accounted for 12.7%.

In 2010, Curaçao had 142,180 inhabitants (71.9% of the total population) and Sint Maarten had 37,429 inhabitants (18.9%), representing 90.8% of the former territory’s total population. The corresponding figures for the other islands were as follows: Bonaire, 13,389 inhabitants (6.8%); Sint Eustatius, 2,886 (1.5%); and Saba, 1,737 (0.9%).

Most of the population was urban (93.2%). The islands had dynamic annual demographic changes, with net migration outpacing the natural increase. The population included a wide range of ethnic groups and nationalities: most were mixed race Afro-Caribbean (85%) and the remainder of Caucasian, Amerindian, and Asian ancestry.

In 2010, there were 2,032 live births and 1,246 deaths. That same year, the total fertility rate was 2.0 live births per woman and the estimated life expectancy at birth was 76.9 years (74.5 years for males and 79.3 for females). The crude total mortality rate was 6.3 deaths per 1,000 population; infant mortality was 8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The climate of the islands comprising the former Netherlands Antilles is tropical, with average annual temperatures ranging between 27° and 28°C and average annual rainfall of 552 mm (Curaçao). Sint Maarten, Curaçao, and Bonaire relied on water supplied by desalination plants, while the supply of drinking water in Sint Eustatius and Saba came mainly from cisterns or groundwater.

In 2006–2010, the Netherlands Antilles continued to make progress in the health sphere, despite the international financial crisis of 2008–2009. The territory’s relative high level of economic development, significant coverage and benefits of the social security system, a developed health care network, and close relationships with the Netherlands (most inhabitants of the territory were citizens of the Netherlands) helped buffer the impact of the economic downturn.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2017 18:20:07 ZULU