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Netherlands Antilles

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Overseas Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

(This content is currently being revised as administrative changes have occured recently)

General information


Name of Country: Netherlands Antilles
Region: Caribbean
Land area: 800 km2
Population: 200,000 (est. 2008); density: 246/km2
GNI per capita: € 12,850 (2005, Central Bureau of Statistics, Netherlands Antilles)
Literacy rate: 97 % of population 15 and older
Unemployment rate: 17% (est. 2002)
% below poverty line: 22%

Situated in the Caribbean Sea, the Dutch Antilles comprise 5 islands. The 3 northern or Leeward Islands are situated north of the Lesser Antilles and to the east of Puerto Rico. These three small islands are Saba, St Eustatius (or Statia) and St. Maarten (the Dutch part, the other part is the French overseas territory of Saint Martin formerly part of Guadeloupe). They are nearly 1000 km from the 2 southern or Windward Islands (Bonaire and Curaçao). The two groups of islands have different climate, geomorphology and biodiversity.

Cloud forest on the island of Saba, distinct from that found on other islands in the Caribbean
Cloud forest on the island of Saba, distinct from that found on other islands in the Caribbean
Saba Bank is a large seamount with a flat top ranging from 10-50 m depth, covering an area of more than 2000 km2 just south of the island of Saba, it is. Willemstad, the capital of the Netherlands Antilles on Curaçao, has been declared a World Heritage site. The Windward Islands are volcanic and characterized by rugged landscapes. The Leeward Islands have a less rugged landscape; they consist mostly of older volcanic formations capped by coral reef. The highest point in the Netherlands Antilles (and indeed of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) is Mount Scenery in Saba (862 metres). The Netherlands Antilles has a tropical climate, but the Windward Islands are more humid and more subject to tropical storms than the Leeward Islands. In 2008 the territory numbered some 255,369 inhabitants, but the population density is highly variable (ranging from 35 inhabitants per km² in Bonaire up to 1,000 inhabitants per km² in Sint Maarten). The Netherlands Antilles’ economy is based on tourism, with more than a million visitors per year, but also on refining oil from Venezuela (in Curaçao) and offshore financial services. Agriculture and fishing are largely undeveloped.

The Netherlands Antilles form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands but have been autonomous since 1954. They have full autonomy for internal affairs, while the Kingdom government is responsible for defense, foreign relations, and some maritime surveillance tasks. The relations between the Netherlands Antilles, the Netherlands, and Aruba are regulated by a Charter of the Kingdom. The territory has an elected parliament; the leader of the party winning the elections usually becomes Prime Minister and head of government. A Governor General is appointed by and represents the Dutch Queen. The Council of Ministers includes a representative in the Netherlands (Minister Plenipotentiary). The territorial Parliament has legislative powers.

Internally the territory is actually a federation, and each island also has its own government, and a Lieutenant General appointed by the Queen after nomination by the territorial government and consultation with the islanders. Each island has an Executive Council and an Island Council with legislative power, elected every 4 years by the islanders, and makes its own socio-economic and environmental plans, but legal and judicial affairs, police, taxation, public health, education, labour legislation, banking are territorial matters. The national government is situated in Curaçao. Aruba used to be part of the Netherlands Antilles, but split off in 1986. Both Curaçao and St. Maarten now also want to adopt a separate status, like Aruba, while Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will be integrating more closely with the Netherlands. In December 2009, the Netherlands Antilles will be disbanded to create two autonomous territories of Curaçao and Sint-Maarten, and three Dutch communes with special status, Bonaire, Saba and Saint Eustatius.