The Netherlands Antilles are a federation of 2 Caribbean island groups some 806 kilometers (500 miles) apart. The first group, known as the Dutch Leeward Islands, comprises Curaçao and Bonaire, and is located about 81 kilometers (50 miles) off the northern coast of Venezuela. The second group, known as the Dutch Windward Islands (confusingly, because they are part of the larger Leeward Island chain), is about 242 kilometers (150 miles) east of Puerto Rico, and includes Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten (the southern half of the island of Saint-Martin). The combined area of the 5 islands is 958 square kilometers (370 square miles), or about 5 times the area of Washington, D.C.
Curaçao is the largest island (461 square kilometers, or 178 square miles) and home to the federation's capital, Willemstad (pop. 24,235 in 1992), the islands' commercial and industrial center. Blessed with the world's seventh largest natural harbor and the largest in the region, Curaçao was once the base for Dutch trade activity in the region and the site of a major slave market. Since the early 20th century it has been sustained by its oil refining industries, which include 1 of the largest refineries in the world. Its terrain is volcanic and semi-arid, and its climate tropical.
Bonaire (290 square kilometers, or 112 square miles), some 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the west, is better served environmentally and includes a scenically spectacular coastline and several fine beaches, the bases jointly of its tourist industry. Bonaire's main town is Kralendijk.
In the northern group the principal territory is Sint Maarten (52 square kilometers, or 20 square miles), the Dutch portion of the island of Saint-Martin (96 square kilometers, or 37 square miles), which, since its dual occupation by French and Dutch forces in 1648, has been split into 2 parts. Northern Saint-Martin belongs to French Guadeloupe, and it shares with its Dutch neighbor the Netherlands Antilles' only border, 10 kilometers (6.3 miles) long. The island has the distinction of being the smallest in the world shared by 2 nations. Mountainous and arid, the island's beaches and picturesque scenery have made tourism its main industry. The principal town of Dutch Sint Maarten is Philipsburg.
Sint Eustatius, known by its inhabitants as "Statia," and Saba (21 and 13 kilometers, or 8 and 5 square miles, respectively) are also noted for their rugged scenery. The islands too, unlike Curaçao and Bonaire, lie in the Caribbean hurricane belt and are periodic targets in the July to October hurricane season. All of Sint Eustatius's inhabitants live in the island's capital, Oranjestad. Saba's capital is the tiny village of The Bottom. Its central
Aruba lies about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Bonaire. Its land area is 193 square kilometers (74.5 square miles), slightly larger than Washington D.C., with a coastline of 69 kilometers (42.6 miles). It shares the dry sub-tropical climate of its neighbor the Netherlands Antilles, and like Bonaire and Curaçao relies on desalinated seawater for drinking water. But its geography tends to be flatter; its highest point is Mt. Jamanota at 188 meters (616 feet). The capital and main port is Oranjestad (1991 pop. 20,045).
The Netherlands Antilles' combined population was estimated in 2000 at 210,134. Of these more than two-thirds (146,100 or 69.5 percent) lived on Curaçao, while Bonaire's inhabitants numbered 11,000 (5.2 percent), Sint Maarten's 29,500 (14.0 percent), Sint Eustatius's 1,861 (0.9 percent), and Saba's around 1,100 (0.5 percent). Relatively good health conditions (compared to its Caribbean neighbors) have given Antilleans a life expectancy of 74.72 years.
The Antillean national birth rate of 16.94 per 1,000 has produced a growth rate of 1.01 percent per annum— considerably above its economic growth rate of-4.4 percent (2000). This fact has contributed to the worryingly high rate of emigration , especially in the 17-to-30-year-old age group. The Netherlands, which receives 80 percent of emigrants, has 100,000 Antilleans. For the islands the long-term consequences of emigration are very serious, and it is a problem both Dutch and Antillean governments are concerned to address—especially as the flow shows signs of quickening: 3.0 percent of Antilleans emigrated in 1998, jumping up to 3.5 percent in 1999, and to as much as 4.1 percent (8,420 people) in the first 10 months of 2000 alone. The skewing effect this has on the population can be seen in the islands' age distributions. In the Windward Islands, where employment is high, those over 60 constitute 5 percent of the population; in Curaçao, where emigration has been heaviest, they are 11 percent. By 2017, if the rates of loss remain the same, 20 percent of Curaçao's population could be over 60. The effect of this on the island's already strained social services could be devastating.
Aruba's population stands at 69,539, and its demographic statistics, when compared to the Netherlands Antilles, reflect its generally greater prosperity. The life expectancy is 78.37 years at birth. The birth rate is 13.1 births per 1,000 of population, with a growth rate of 0.7 percent (2000 est.)—well within the economic growth rate of 3 percent (1998). In fact, not only does Aruba enjoy near full employment , it has often been obliged to import additional labor from neighboring islands. Nearly one-third of Arubans live in the capital Oranjestad.
Ethnically the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are a diverse mix. The mushrooming of the oil industry in the 1920s attracted workers from around the Caribbean, doubling the population and further expanding what was already a broad ethnic base. Around 50 nationalities are represented, with Dutch, African, Spanish, Jewish Portuguese, Lebanese, and Chinese origins being the most common. What survived of the indigenous Arawak Indian community was absorbed in the early 20th century; no full-blooded Indians remain. Religions are similarly diverse, with Roman Catholicism, various forms of Protestantism, Judaism, and Seventh-Day Adventism all represented. The official language of both countries is Dutch, but Papiamento, a hybrid of Spanish, Dutch, English, and Portuguese is also spoken, especially in the (southern) Leeward Group, while English tends to dominate in the (northern) Windwards.
Tourism is a crucial industry for both the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, and most of their economic growth since the 1960s has come from this sector.
Curaçao's quaint Dutch-style towns and stark, cactus-dotted interior, coral reefs, and brilliantly blue waters draw around 225,000 stay-over tourists per annum, with a roughly equal number from the cruise ship trade (223,788 and 171,675, respectively, in 1995). Around 30 percent come from the Netherlands, 15 percent from the United States, and 14 percent from Venezuela. Most of the island's hotel facilities are luxurious. Sint Maarten, renowned for its beaches and duty -free shopping, is one the Caribbean's top cruise-ship destinations and attracts 2 million visitors annually. Since the first hotel was opened in 1955, development has been rapid and extensive, and the island boasts an array of expensive hotels, restaurants, casinos, and boutiques. Saba's lack of a port has made development difficult, and the tourist trade is low-key, with around 25,000 visitors annually, about 65 percent making overnight stays, the rest being day-trippers (1992). The island's major attraction is the diving at its Marine Park, established in 1987 to protect the island's exceptionally diverse marine environment. Bonaire also relies heavily on its diving attractions, which draw 44 percent of the island's visitors, though wind-surfing and bird-watching are also becoming important. Cruise ship calls are another key source of income, with visits rising from 18 ships in 1998-99 to 61 in 1999-2000. Sint Eustatius's tourist development has long been hindered by its lack of beaches and its poverty; it is the poorest of the Antillean islands. Attempts to capitalize on its diving opportunities have met with mixed success, with tourist arrivals declining from 10,000 in 1994 to around 8,500 in 1997, though showing some signs of recovery in 1998-99.
But Caribbean tourism is a highly contested trade, and the Antillean industry in particular is not without its problems. The Antillean islands are handicapped by having relatively few beaches. Most of the best ones are on Sint Maarten, but Sint Maarten is prone to hurricane damage and was badly affected by severe storms in 1995 and 1998 that seriously disrupted its tourism sector. Competition from other Caribbean islands has also put pressure on tourist arrivals, especially the numbers of cruise ship visitors from the United States. Steps being taken to address this issue include the renovation of Willemstad's port—sponsored by the Netherlands and European Union—and the construction, begun in 1998, of a new pier to handle larger cruise ships. Several new hotel facilities on Curaçao are also planned. Progress is also being made in Bonaire, where the exceptional diving opportunities are starting to attract significant numbers of tourists. The islands' total earnings from tourism in 1998 were US$749.5 million, or 31 percent of the GDP.
Aruba's tourist industry is even more developed. The decision to promote the industry was taken at the IMF's prompting in the wake of the crisis that followed the closing of the island's oil refinery by Exxon in 1985. Since then Aruba has almost quadrupled the number of its hotel rooms (from around 2,000 in 1985 to 7,103 by 1996), becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. One-third of the island's jobs are related to the industry, with 14,825 Arubans in 1999 in full-time tourism-related employment. The island attracts around 650,000 stay-over visitors per annum, producing receipts totaling US$715 million, or 41 percent of the GDP (1998).
It was the flight of Dutch business capital offshore during the World War II, much of it to the Netherlands Antilles, that was the beginning of the Antillean offshore banking sector. As of 1995 some 21,000 companies were listed on the offshore register, including 39 international banks. The industry employs around 2,500 Antilleans and is responsible for 23 percent of GDP. The local financial sector has 16 commercial banks, 2 savings banks, 21 savings and credit funds, and 26 credit unions. The remaining 45 banks are exclusively for offshore business.
But here too stresses have been felt. The repeal of a withholding tax by the United States in 1984 removed many of the islands' tax advantages. Shortly afterwards the United States and Britain cancelled their double taxation treaties (allowing U.S. businesses to trade in the euro-dollar market directly, without "diversion" through the Netherlands Antilles), further compounding the damage. The result for the islands was a dramatic slump in their financial services sector. The subsequent deregulation of the industry brought steady recovery in the 1990s, and the islands have sought new business in the captive insurance and mutual funds market. But evidence that the islands may be serving as a money-laundering venue for the illicit drugs trade has strained relations with the United States and placed the industry under something of a cloud. To allay fears a reporting center was established in Curaçao in 1997 to monitor all large banking transactions, and closer cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has made available funds to allow even closer supervision.
Aruba's offshore banking sector is also important. Targeted for development, the sector was deregulated in the 1980s and more effective legislation was enacted. In an effort, however, to prevent the island from being used to launder drug money, some of the sector's openness was stopped, and in 1998 the State Ordinance on the supervision of the credit system was set in place to consolidate the central bank's powers as the industry's monitor.
Relatively high standards of living and the high concentration of consumers have greatly benefitted the islands' retail sector, especially on the larger islands. Aruba and Curaçao are equipped with a wide variety of restaurants, shops, malls, and supermarkets selling goods from around the world. Tourism has provided an additional stimulus. Sint Maarten's status as a duty-free port—a continuation of its old trading center heritage— has made shopping one its main attractions, and its more than 500 duty-free stores carry a full array of jewelry, perfumes, handbags, leatherwear, and electronic goods.
Netherlands Antilles and Aruba have no territories or colonies.
Aruba Ministry of Economic Affairs and Tourism. December 1997. <http://www.arubaeconomicaffairs.com> . Accessed 1 March 2001.
Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "Key Statistics. 1998." <http://www.iseeyou.com/kvk/kvk5.html> . Accessed 10 April 2001.
Economist Intelligence Unit. "Country Profile: Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands ." 2000. <http://db.eiu.com/report_dl.asp?mode=pdf&valname=CPAAWB> . Accessed 1 March 2001.
Economist Intelligence Unit. "Country Report: Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands ." December 2000. <http://db.eiu.com/report_dl.asp?mode=pdf&valname=CRAAWC> . Accessed 1 March 2001.
Goslinga, Cornelis Christiaan. A Short History of the Netherlands Antilles and Suriname . The Hague and Boston: M. Nijhoff, 1979.
Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties. "Aruba en de Nedelandse Antillen ." <http://www.minbzk.nl> . Accessed 10 April 2001.
NRC Handelsblad. Dossier Nederlandse Antillen . <http://www.nrc.nl/W2/Lab/Antillen/inhoud.html> . Accessed 10 April 2001.
Willemstad. Aruba: Oranjestad.
Netherlands Antillean guilder or florin (NAG). One Netherlands Antillean guilder has 100 cents. Notes include 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 guilders. Coins include 1, 2.5, 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 cents. Aruba: Aruban guilder or florin (AG). One Aruban guilder has 100 cents. Notes are of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 guilders. Coins include 1, 2.5, and 5 guilders and 5 cents.
Petroleum products. Aruba: Transport equipment, live animals and animal products, art and collectibles, machinery, electrical equipment.
Crude petroleum, manufactured and consumer goods, food. Aruba: Machinery and transport equipment, crude oil for refining and re-export, foodstuffs.
US$2.4 billion (purchasing power parity, 1998 est.). Aruba: US$1.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 1998 est.).
Exports: Netherlands Antilles, US$303 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.); Aruba, US$1.17 billion (including oil re-exports, 1998). Imports: Netherlands Antilles, US$1.3 billion (c.i.f., 1998 est.); Aruba, US$1.52 billion (1998).