Checked content

Netherlands Antilles

Related subjects: Americas; Countries

Background to the schools Wikipedia

SOS believes education gives a better chance in life to children in the developing world too. SOS Child sponsorship is cool!

Netherlands Antilles
Nederlandse Antillen
Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands




Flag Coat of arms
Latin: Libertate unanimus
("Unified by freedom")
Anthem without a title
Capital Willemstad
Languages Dutch, English, Papiamento
Government Constitutional monarchy
 -  1954-1980 Juliana of the Netherlands
 -  1980-2010 Beatrix of the Netherlands
 -  1951-1956 Teun Struycken
 -  1962-1970 Cola Debrot
 -  1983-1990 René Römer
 -  2002-2010 Frits Goedgedrag
Prime minister
 -  1954-1968 Efraïn Jonckheer
 -  1973-1977 Juancho Evertsz
 -  2006-2010 Emily de Jongh-Elhage
Legislature Estates of the Netherlands Antilles
 -  Established 15 December 1954
 -  Secession of Aruba 1 January 1986
 -  Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles 10 October 2010
 -  2001 800 km² (309 sq mi)
 -  2001 est. 175,653 
     Density 219.6 /km²  (568.7 /sq mi)
Currency Netherlands Antillean guilder
Internet TLD .an
Calling code +599

The Netherlands Antilles (Dutch: Nederlandse Antillen, Papiamentu: Antia Hulandes), also referred to informally as the Dutch Antilles, was an autonomous Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of two groups of islands in the Lesser Antilles: Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire ( ABC Islands), in Leeward Antilles just off the Venezuelan coast; and Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten ( SSS Islands), in the Leeward Islands southeast of the Virgin Islands.

Aruba seceded in 1986 as a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved on 10 October 2010, resulting in two new constituent countries, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, with the other islands joining the Netherlands as "special municipalities", officially public bodies.

The name 'Netherlands Antilles' is still sometimes used to indicate the islands which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


In the 18th century, Sint Eustatius was the most important Dutch island in the Caribbean.

Spanish-sponsored explorers discovered both the leeward ( Alonso de Ojeda, 1499) and windward (Christopher Columbus, 1493) island groups, but Spain founded settlements only in the leeward islands. In the 17th century, the islands were conquered by the Dutch West India Company and were used as military outposts and trade bases. From the last quarter of the 17th century, the group consisted of six undisputedly Dutch islands: Curaçao (settled in 1634), Aruba (settled in 1636), Bonaire (settled in 1636), Sint Eustatius (settled in 1636), Saba (settled in 1640) and Sint Maarten (settled in 1648). Before, Anguilla (1631–1650), the British Virgin Islands (1612–1672), St. Croix and Tobago had also been Dutch.

In the second half of the 18th century. Sint Eustatius became the commercial hub of the north-eastern Caribbean, earning the nickname "The Golden Rock." This invoked the envy of the French and English who from 1795 made sure the island lost that position by occupying the island and ruining it—the French through their taxes and the English by closing the island off and diverting all trade to their own islands.

From 1815 onwards, Curaçao and Dependencies formed a colony of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Slavery was abolished in 1863, and in 1865 a government regulation for Curaçao was enacted that allowed for some very limited autonomy for the colony. Though this regulation was replaced by a constitution (Dutch: Staatsregeling) in 1936, the changes to the government structure remained superficial, and Curaçao continued to be ruled as a colony.

The island of Curaçao was hit hard by the abolition of slavery in 1863. Its prosperity (and that of neighboring Aruba) was restored in the early 20th century with the construction of oil refineries to service the newly discovered Venezuelan oil fields.

Colonial rule ended after the conclusion of the Second World War. Queen Wilhelmina had promised in a 1942 speech to offer autonomy to the overseas territories of the Netherlands, and British and American occupation—with consent by the Dutch government—of the islands during the war led to increasing demands for autonomy within the population as well.

In May 1948, a new constitution for the territory entered into force, allowing the largest amount of autonomy allowed under the Dutch constitution of 1922. Among others, universal suffrage was introduced. The territory was renamed to "Netherlands Antilles" as well. After the Dutch constitution was revised in 1948, a new interim Constitution of the Netherlands Antilles was enacted in February 1951. Shortly thereafter, on 3 March 1951, the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles (Dutch: Eilandenregeling Nederlandse Antillen or ERNA) was issued by royal decree, giving fairly large autonomy to the various island territories in the Netherlands Antilles. A consolidated version of this regulation remained in force until the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.

The new constitution was only deemed an interim arrangement, as negotiations for a Charter for the Kingdom were already underway. On 15 December 1954, the Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the Netherlands acceded as equal partners to an overarching Kingdom of the Netherlands as established in the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. With this move, the United Nations deemed decolonization of the territory complete and removed it from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles on 1 January 1986, paving the way for a series of referendums among the remaining islands on the future of the Netherlands Antilles. Whereas the ruling parties campaigned for the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, the people voted for a restructuring of the Netherlands Antilles. The coalition campaigning for this option became the Party for the Restructured Antilles, which ruled the Netherlands Antilles for much of the time until its dissolution on 10 October 2010.


Even though the referendums held in the early 1990s resulted in a position in favour of retaining the Netherlands Antilles, the arrangement continued to be an unhappy one. Between June 2000 and April 2005, each island of the Netherlands Antilles had a new referendum on its future status. The four options that could be voted on were the following:

Flag of the Netherlands Antilles after Aruba seceded in 1986.
  • 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 26 November 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 1 July 2007. On 12 October 2006, the Netherlands reached an agreement with Saba, Bonaire and Sint Eustatius; this agreement would make these islands special municipalities.

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

The acts of parliament integrating the BES islands (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) into the Netherlands were given royal assent on 17 May 2010. After ratification by the Netherlands (6 July), the Netherlands Antilles (20 August), and Aruba (4 September), the Kingdom act amending the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands with regard to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles was signed off by the three countries in the closing Round Table Conference on 9 September 2010 in The Hague.


The Constitution of the Netherlands Antilles was proclaimed on 29 March 1955 by Order-in-Council for the Kingdom. Together with the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles it formed the constitutional basis for the Netherlands Antilles. The fact that the Constitution depended on the Island Regulation, and the fact that the Island Regulation gave fairly large autonomy to the different island territories, and the fact that the Island Regulation was older than the Constitution, has led many scholars to describe the Netherlands Antilles as a federal arrangement.

The head of state was the ruling monarch of the Netherlands, who was represented in the Netherlands Antilles by a governor. The governor and the council of ministers, chaired by a prime minister, formed the government. The Netherlands Antilles had a unicameral legislature called the Estates of the Netherlands Antilles. Its 22 members were fixed in number for the islands making up the Netherlands Antilles: fourteen for Curaçao, three each for Sint Maarten and Bonaire, and one each for Saba and Sint Eustatius.

The Netherlands Antilles were not part of the European Union, but instead listed as overseas countries and territories (OCTs). This status was kept for all the islands after dissolution, and will be kept until at least 2015.

Island territories

The Island Regulation originally divided the Netherlands Antilles into four island territories: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and the Windward islands. In 1983, the island territory of the Windward islands was split up to form the new island territories of Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, and Saba. In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, reducing the number of island territories to five. After the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten became autonomous countries within the Kingdom and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba became special municipalities of the Netherlands.

Flag Name Capital Area (km²) Remarks
Flag of Curaçao.svg Curaçao Willemstad 444 Capital of the Netherlands Antilles
Flag of Bonaire.svg Bonaire Kralendijk 288
Flag of Sint Maarten.svg Sint Maarten Philipsburg 34 Were part of the island territory of the Windward islands until 1 January 1983
Flag of Sint Eustatius.svg Sint Eustatius Oranjestad 21
Flag of Saba.svg Saba The Bottom 13
Flag of Aruba.svg Aruba Oranjestad 193 Seceded on 1 January 1986
Flag of the Netherlands Antilles (1959-1986).svg Netherlands Antilles Willemstad 993


The flat landscape of Klein Bonaire
Map of the Netherlands Antilles after the secession of Aruba.

The two island groups of which the Netherlands Antilles consisted were:

  • the "Leeward Islands" (Benedenwindse Eilanden), part of the Leeward Antilles island chain off the Venezuelan coast (along with Aruba) ( ABC islands).
    • Bonaire, including an islet called Klein Bonaire ("Little Bonaire")
    • Curaçao, including an islet called Klein Curaçao ("Little Curaçao")
  • the "Windward Islands" (Bovenwindse Eilanden) east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands ( SSS islands). These are part of what are in English called the Leeward Islands, but French, Spanish, Dutch and the English spoken locally these are considered part of the Windward Islands.
    • Saba
    • Sint Eustatius
    • Sint Maarten, the southern half of the island Saint Martin (the northern half, Saint-Martin, is an overseas collectivity of France).

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 was Mount Scenery, 877 metres (2,877 ft), on Saba (also the highest point in all the Kingdom of the Netherlands).


The Netherlands Antilles had a tropical climate, with warm weather all year round. The windward Islands are subject to hurricanes in the summer months, while the leeward Islands are warmer and drier.


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

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


A large percentage of the Netherlands Antilleans descended from European colonists and African slaves who were brought and traded here from the 17th to 19th centuries. The rest of the population originated from other Caribbean islands as well as Latin America, East Asia and elsewhere in the world. In Curaçao there was a strong Jewish element going back to the 17th century.

The language Papiamentu was predominant on Curaçao and Bonaire (as well as the neighboring island of Aruba). This creole descended from Portuguese and West African languages with a strong admixture of Dutch, plus subsequent lexical contributions from Spanish and English. An English-based creole dialect, formally known as Netherlands Antilles Creole, was the native dialect of the inhabitants of Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten.

After a decades-long debate, English and Papiamentu had been made official languages alongside Dutch in early March 2007. Legislation was produced in Dutch but parliamentary debate was 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 had also become increasingly used.

The majority of the population were followers of the Christian faith, with a Protestant majority in Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten, and a Roman Catholic majority in Bonaire, Curaçao and Saba. Curaçao also hosted a sizeable group of followers of the Jewish faith, descendants of a Portuguese group of Sephardic Jews that arrived from Amsterdam and Brazil from 1654.

Most Netherlands Antilleans were Dutch citizens and this status permitted and encouraged the young and university-educated to emigrate to the Netherlands. This exodus was considered to be to the islands' detriment, as it created a brain drain. On the other hand, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Anglophone Caribbean and Colombia had increased their presence on these islands in later years.


A Bulawaya dance in Curaçao

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

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

Retrieved from ""