Netherlands Antilles and Aruba - Poverty and wealth

Mounting economic problems are exposing deep rifts in Antillean society. The islands' multicultural composition obscures an ethnic hierarchy, the source of continuing tensions. Traditionally the islands' elite have been its white settlers and administrators, with the largely Jewish Portuguese and Lebanese mercantile class in a secondary position, and the black majority at the bottom. The explosive race riots of 1969 drew critical attention to this division, but even 30 years later Antillean blacks are far from achieving social equality.

The federation continues, in fact, to be ruled by a small circle of political insiders, who monopolize the government, staff its bureaucracy, and control its industry. In Aruba this elite is made up of just a few powerful families.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Netherlands Antilles & Aruba 9,800 11,500 11,800 N/A 11,400
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Jamaica 3,260 N/A 3,300 3,350 3,700
St. Lucia 4,400 4,100 4,300 N/A 4,500
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations , 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

Politics is informal, and appointments are made on the basis of contacts and patronage. The result in both countries has often been ineffective and unresponsive leadership and sometimes even flagrant corruption. Another byproduct has been the unequal distribution of resources. The same elite which controls the islands' politics also controls their wealth. The richest 20 percent Curaçaoans, for example, have an income 9.8 times that of the poorest 20 percent. This discrepancy has greatly contributed to the polarization of politics in the islands.

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