Whither the Netherland Antilles?

Dutch parliament

As of Sunday 10 October, the islands of Curacao, St Maarten, Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire now have varying degrees of internal autonomy.

The other Dutch Caribbean territiotry, Aruba, negotiated its own internal autonomy with Holland which took effect in 1986.

That move was borne out of a desire to remove itself from under Curacao, the largest island and defacto capital of the now-being-disbanded Netherlands Antilles.

After several unsuccessful attempts at working arrangements satisfactory to the remaining islands and Holland (The Netherlands), St Maarten led a process that will culminate with this Sunday’s official fragmentation of the group.

Family feud

Willemstad, capital of Curacao

Once again the trigger for the break-up has been disquiet between Curacao and its smaller sister islands.

The familial bickering ranged from the smaller islands – St Maarten, Saba, St Eustasius and Bonaire – fretting that too much power was centred and weighted in favour of Curacao.

Language has also proved to be a bothersome stumbling block, though not a full-blown barrier.

In the ‘northern’ islands – St Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius, English is widely spoken.

However, in Curacao and Bonaire located over 500 miles west of Trinidad and off the coast of Venezuela, the indigenous language is Papiamentu, a mix of Portuguese and Spanish with traces of English, Dutch and French.

Dutch is the official language throughout the islands.

Economy

With standards of living comparing better-than-favourably with most of the English-speaking Caribbean, the Netherlands Antilles, St Maarten especially, have become a magnet for migration – both legal and illegal.

Financial affairs

Debt, taxation, the collection and sharing of revenue has been a longstanding problem in the Netherlands Antilles.

Collectively the islands have amassed an enormous debt of around 2 billion euros mainly owed to Holland.

The smaller islands have also argued that this was a debt accumulated for the most part by Curacao.

Curacao has in turn complained that it was carrying too much of the financial strain for, especially the three smallest: Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire.

Dutch treat

saba, statia and bonaire stacked image

A series of negotiations, with Holland in the role of part partner/part arbiter, resulted in an agreement in which Curacao and St Maarten will become ‘separate countries’ with direct ties to Holland.

The three smaller islands of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, (the BES islands) will become Dutch municipalities.

It has not been all smooth sailing with targets dates being missed and political power changing hands in St Maarten and Curacao resulting in calls for aspects of the agreement to be reviewed.

In the case of Curacao, the new coalition government includes a party that is adamantly pro-independence.

Holland has insisted on a number of tough ‘good governance’ stipulations especially in financial management and the judiciary.

It will also retain control of foreign affairs and defence.

Dutch threat

Gert Wilders

The new constitutional structure between The Netherlands and its Caribbean territories might yet have another hurdle to clear.

One key and controversial faction of the incoming Dutch coalition is known not to favour the new constitutional arrangement – nor the Dutch Caribbean for that matter.

Gert Wilders, of the anti-Islamic Dutch Freedom Party, who also has very strong views against immigration, is questioning the document.

Wilders, who has been on trial in Holland for comparing Islam to Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany, wants all Antilleans – as people from the Dutch Caribbean are known – who are convicted of crimes in Holland to be ‘deported’ back to the Caribbean.

The problem is – they are holders of Dutch/European passports.

Wilders has also called for the Dutch Caribbean islands to be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the Dutch version of ebay.

However, experts say now that the accord between Holland and its Caribbean territories has been ratified by the Dutch parliament and enshrined into the constitution, any challenge to it will be extremely difficult to succeed.

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