Netherlands Antilles (11/08)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Netherlands Antilles

Area: 960 sq. km. (597 sq. mi.); more than five times the size of Washington, DC; five islands divided geographically into the Windward Islands (northern) group (Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten) and the Leeward Islands (southern) group (Bonaire and Curaçao).
Cities: Capital--Willemstad (metropolitan).
Islands: Curaçao (pop. 137,094) Sint Maarten (38,959), Bonaire (11,537), Sint Eustatius (2,699), Saba (1,491).
Terrain: Generally hilly, volcanic interiors.
Climate: Tropical; ameliorated by northeast trade winds.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dutch Antillean(s).
Population (2007): 191,780.
Annual growth rate (2007): 2.4%.
Ethnic groups: Mixed black 85%, mixed Latin American, white, East Asian.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Seventh-day Adventist, Islam, and Hindu.
Languages: Dutch (official), Papiamento (a Spanish-Portuguese-Dutch-English dialect) predominates, English is widely spoken, Spanish.
Education: Literacy--96.4% Curaçao; 96.3% Netherlands Antilles (2001).
Health (2006 est.): Infant mortality rate (2006 est.)--7.0 deaths/1,000 live births; 59.7 live births per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old. Life expectancy (2002)--female, 78.7 yrs. male, 72.1 yrs.
Work force (77,516; 2005): Agriculture--1%; industry--8%; services--91%.

Type: Parliamentary.
Independence: Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Constitution: December 1954, Statute of the Realm of the Netherlands, as amended.
Branches: Executive--monarch represented by a governor-general (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), Cabinet. Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--Joint High Court of Justice appointed by the monarch.
Subdivisions are by island: Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Curaçao.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Political parties:
Partido Antia Restruktura (PAR); Frente Obrero Liberashon 30 di Mei (FOL); MAN; Partido Nashonal di Pueblo (PNP); Forsa Korsou; Niun Paso Atras (NPA); Partido Laboral Krusado Popular (PLKP); Pueblo Soberano; Partido Democraat (DP); Un Pueblo Nobo; Moviemenu Social Laboral (MSL); Curacao Nobo Nobo (CNN); Partido Adelanto Korsou (PAK); Vota Kontra; Geen Stap Terug (GST); Movementu Patriotiko Korsou (MPK); Socialistise Party Antilliaanse Nederlanders (SPAN); BanVota; PAPPS; E Mayoria; ModPOR; Akshon Pro Independensha; Partido Trafiko Sigur (PTS); Lista Patriotiko Korsou (LPK); P-100.
St. Maarten:
St. Maarten Democratic Party (DP--St. Maarten); National Democratic Party (NDP); National Alliance (NA) (note: the National Alliance is a joint effort by the St. Maarten Patriotic Alliance and National Progressive Party); St. Maarten People's Party (SMPP); People's Progressive Alliance (PPA); United People's Labor Party (UPLP).
Bonaire Democratic Party (DP--Bonaire); Patriotic Union of Bonaire (UPB); Bonaire Social Party (PABOSO); New Labor Party of Bonaire (POB).
St. Eustatius:
St. Eustatius Democratic Party (DP--St. Eustatius); St. Eustatius Alliance (SEA); People's Labor Party (PLP).
Saba Labor Party (SLP); Windward Islands People's Movement (WIPM).

Economy (2005)
GDP: $3.3 billion.
Real growth rate: 1.2%.
GDP per capita: $17,800.
Natural resources: Beaches and offshore diving sites.
Tourism/services (84% of GDP): Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire.
Industry (15% of GDP): Types--petroleum refining (Curaçao), petroleum transshipment facilities (Curaçao and Bonaire), light manufacturing (Curaçao).
Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--aloes, sorghum, peanuts, vegetables, tropical fruit.
Trade: Exports ($3.4 billion)--petroleum products. Major markets--U.S. 24%, Venezuela 15%, Guatemala 10%, Singapore 6%. Imports ($3.5 billion)--machinery and electrical equipment, crude oil (for refining and re-export), chemicals, foodstuffs. Major suppliers--Venezuela 59.8%, U.S. 12.55%.
Exchange rate (2005): U.S.$1=1.78 ANG (fixed).


The Arawaks are recognized as the first human civilization to inhabit the Netherlands Antilles. A Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda claimed the island of Curaçao for Spain in 1499 and it remained under Spanish rule until the Dutch took control in 1634. Curaçao was a strategically important point for Dutch military advances against the Spanish and as the center of the Caribbean slave trade. Curaçao became the seat of the Netherlands Antilles Government in 1954.

With origins similar to Curaçao, Bonaire was captured by the Dutch in 1634, and was a granary for the Dutch East Indian Company until 1791, when the government reclaimed control.

Sint Eustatius
The first settlement in Sint Eustatius was established in 1636 and changed hands between the Dutch, French, and Spanish 22 times in its history. In the 18th century the island became a duty-free port for overburdened colonizers shipping back to the homeland, which propelled it into a major port with rapid population growth that lost momentum after the American-British peace treaty in 1783.

Columbus was the first to sight Saba, but it was the Dutch who colonized the island in 1640 with a party from Sint Eustatius. Because of its difficult terrain, the island's growth progressed slowly, and it remains the least populated island in the Dutch Kingdom.

Sint Maarten
The Dutch were the first to colonize Sint Maarten in 1631, but within 2 years the Spanish invaded and evacuated the settlers. The Dutch failed in an attempt to regain the island in 1644, but 4 years later the Spanish abandoned the island of their own accord. In 1648 the island was divided between the Dutch and the French; however, complete control of the island was seized numerous times in a series of conflicts. The British became involved as well, taking power for 6-year and 10-year stints. Finally, in 1817, the current partition line between Dutch and French was established. The island flourished under a slave-based plantation economy and the exportation of salt until abolition of slavery in 1863.

In 1845 the Dutch Windward islands united with Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba in a political unit. The abolition of slavery hurt the islands' economy until the 20th century, when oil was discovered off the shores of Venezuela and a refinery was established on Curaçao. In addition, during the same period, an offshore financial sector was created to serve Dutch business interests. Since 1945, the federation of the Netherlands Antilles--Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten--have been autonomous in internal affairs. Aruba was part of this federation until January 1, 1986, when it gained status apart within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

About 85% of Curacao's population is of African derivation. The remaining 15% is made up of various races and nationalities, including Dutch, Portuguese, North Americans, natives from other Caribbean islands, Latin Americans, Sephardic Jews, Lebanese, and Asians. Roman Catholicism predominates, but several other religions are represented, which include Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon, Baptist, Islam, and Hindu. The Jewish community is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1634. While faltering economic conditions caused the Netherlands Antilles to experience high rates of migration by citizens to the Netherlands from 1998-2002, this trend has largely been reversed in recent years.

Current political relations between the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba stem from 1954 and are based on the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a voluntary arrangement between the Netherlands, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. At the time, the Charter represented an end to colonial relations and the acceptance of a new legal system in which each nation would look after their own interests independently, look after their common interests on the basis of equality and provide each other with mutual assistance. In 1975, Suriname left the Kingdom's political alliance. Since 1986, Aruba has had separate status within the Kingdom and is no longer part of the Netherlands Antilles. The Netherlands Antilles enjoys self-determination on all internal matters and defers to the Netherlands in matters of defense, foreign policy, and some judicial functions.

The Antilles is governed by a popularly elected unicameral "Staten" (parliament) of 22 members. It chooses a prime minister (called minister president) and a Council of Ministers, consisting of six to eight other ministers. A governor, who serves a 6-year term, represents the monarch of the Netherlands. Local government is assigned authority independently on each island. Under the direction of a kingdom-appointed island governor, these local governments have a "Bestuurscollege" (administrative body) made up of commissioners who head the separate governmental departments.

Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Frits M. d. l. S. Goedgedrag
Prime Minister--Emily S. de Jongh-Elhage
Deputy Prime Minister--Ersilia T.M. de Lannooy
Minister of Constitutional and Interior Affairs--Roland Duncan
Minister of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports--Omayra V.E. Leeflang
Minister of Finance--Ersilia T.M. de Lannooy
Minister of General Affairs and Foreign Relations--Emily S. de Jongh-Elhage
Minister of Economic Affairs and Labor--Elvis Tjin A. Sjoe
Minister of Public Health and Social Development--Ersilia T.M. de Lannooy
Minister of Justice--David A. Dick
Minister of Transportation and Telecommunication--Omayra V.E. Leeflang
Minister Plenipotentiary to The Hague--Paul R.J. Comenencia
Minister Plenipotentiary to Washington, DC--Norberto V. Ribeiro
Director, Bank of the Netherlands Antilles--Emsley D. Tromp
Attorney General--Dick A. Piar

In the parliamentary elections of January 27, 2006, the Antillean Restructuring Party (PAR) gained 5 of the 14 seats available in Curaçao, an increase of one seat from the 2002 elections. The PAR had emphasized unity in its electoral campaign with its popular new leader Emily de Jongh-Elhage. Former Prime Minister Etienne Ys had earlier stepped down as party leader. The Workers' Liberation Front (FOL) emerged with only 2 seats (5 seats in 2002), while the Labor Party People's Crusade (PLKP) did not get sufficient votes for a single seat (2 seats in 2002). A coalition government was formed by the PAR, together with the National People's Party (PNP), St. Maarten's Democratic Party (DP--St. Maarten) and National Alliance (NA), and Bonaire's Patriotic Union of Bonaire (UPB).

Voters in the Netherlands Antilles have opted to dismantle the Netherlands Antilles and create new structures between the various islands and the Kingdom. St. Maarten and Curacao have opted for an autonomous country status within the Kingdom similar to Aruba's status. Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Bonaire have opted for closer ties to the Netherlands. The target date for implementing these changes is 2010-2011, but it is unclear if the target will be met.

Drug smuggling by means of swallowing narcotics packets and boarding flights was a major issue for the Netherlands Antilles, but has been significantly reduced through intensive cooperation among Dutch and Antillean law enforcement authorities.

Tourism and the financial services sector have been the mainstays of the Netherlands Antilles' economy since the 1970s. The Central Bank reported that the economy of the Netherlands Antilles became somewhat stronger during 2006, backed by positive developments in the private and public sectors, led by the construction, wholesale and retail, and financial services sectors. The higher economic activities did translate into more jobs, as the unemployment rate fell to 14.7% in 2006. Inflationary pressures were up in 2006 as the annualized inflation rate soared to 3.4%, largely fueled by higher world oil prices. The islands' public finances are characterized by structurally high deficits and a high and rising debt ratio and as a result, interest payments absorb an increasing part of revenues. Overall, the islands enjoy a high per-capita income and a well-developed infrastructure compared with other countries in the region.

The Netherlands Antilles conducts foreign affairs primarily through the Dutch Government. However, the Netherlands Antilles recently has strengthened its relations with other Caribbean governments. It has been granted observer status at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and in December 1998, signed an agreement with the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) that made the Netherlands Antilles an associate member.

The United States maintains positive relations with the Netherlands Antilles and works cooperatively to combat narco-trafficking.

Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General--Timothy J. Dunn
Vice Consul--James E. Hogan
Management Officer--Donald Feeney

The U.S. Consulate General for Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg #1, Willemstad, Curaçao; tel. 599-9-461-3066, fax: 599-9-461-6489; Monday-Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm. Email:

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE