Background Notes - Netherlands Antilles

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 Cura¡ao).
Cities: Capital--Willemstad (metropolitan pop. 133,600).
Islands: Cura¡ao (pop. 133,600) Sint Maarten (35,000), Bonaire (10,600), Sint Eustatius (2,600), Saba (1,400).
Terrain: Generally hilly, volcanic interiors.
Climate: Tropical; ameliorated by northeast trade winds.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dutch Antillean(s).
Population (2005): 185,513.
Annual growth rate (2004): 0.02%.
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% Cura¡ao; 96.3% Netherlands Antilles (2001).
Health (1999 est.): Infant mortality rate (2002 est.)--7.38 deaths/1,000 live births; Life expectancy (2002)--female, 78.7 yrs. male, 72.1 yrs.
Work force (56,549, 2002): 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, Cura¡ao.
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 PeopleÌs Party (SMPP); PeopleÌs Progressive Alliance (PPA); United PeopleÌs 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); PeopleÌs Labor Party (PLP).
Saba Labor Party (SLP); Windward Islands PeopleÌs Movement (WIPM).

Economy (2005)
GDP: $3.3 billion.
Real growth rate: 1.2%.
GDP per capita: $17,800.
Natural resources: Beaches.
Tourism/services (84% of GDP): Cura¡ao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire.
Industry (15% of GDP): Types--petroleum refining (Cura¡ao), petroleum transshipment facilities (Cura¡ao and Bonaire), light manufacturing (Cura¡ao).
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 Cura¡ao for Spain in 1499 and it remained under Spanish rule until the Dutch took control in 1634. Cura¡ao was a strategically important point for Dutch military advances against the Spanish and as the center of the Caribbean slave trade. Cura¡ao became the seat of the Netherlands Antilles Government in 1954.

With origins similar to Cura¡ao, 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 Cura¡ao, 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 Cura¡ao. 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 KingdomÌs 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--Burney F. El Hage
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 Cura¡ao, 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 WorkersÌ Liberation Front (FOL) emerged with only 2 seats (5 seats in 2002), while the Labor Party PeopleÌs Crusade (PLKP) did not get sufficient votes for a single seat (2 seats in 2002). During a previous government, FOL leader Anthony Godett had been convicted of corruption by local courts, which was later affirmed by the Supreme Court in the Netherlands. A coalition government was formed by the PAR, together with the National PeopleÌs Party (PNP), St. MaartenÌs Democratic Party (DP--St. Maarten) and National Alliance (NA), and BonaireÌs 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 Kingdom. The target date for implementing these changes is December 15, 2008, but it is unclear if this 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 AntillesÌ 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 islandsÌ 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--Robert E. Sorenson
Vice Consul--William J. Furnish, Jr.

The U.S. Consulate General for Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg #1, Willemstad, Cura¡ao; 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

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at For additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
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