|National motto: Libertate unanimus|
(Latin: "Unified by freedom")
- % water
| (All islands) |
- Total (2000)
|Dependent area of||Netherlands|
|Time zone||UTC -4|
Both the Leeward (Christopher Columbus, 1493) and Windward (Alonso de Ojeda[?], 1499) island groups were discovered and initially settled by the Spanish. In the 17th century, the islands were conquered by the Dutch West India Company and were used as bases for slave trade. Only in 1863 was slavery abolished.
In 1954, the islands were promoted from colony to a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island of Aruba was granted a "status aparte" in 1986, and is now considered a separate part of the kingdom. Some of the other islands have indicated that they wish to obtain the same status, but no agreements on this have yet been reached.
Head of state is the ruling monarch of the Netherlands, who is represented in the Netherlands Antilles by a governor. The governor is also head of the local government, and forms, together with the council of ministers, the executive branch of the government.
The legislative branch is two-layered. Delegates of the islands are represented in the government of the Netherlands Antilles, but each island has its own government that takes care of the daily tasks on the island.
The Netherland Antilles have no major administrative divisions, although each island has its own local government.
The two island groups, of which the Netherlands Antilles consists, are the Windward Islands (Benedenwindse Eilanden) off the Venezuelan coast and the Leeward Islands' (Bovenwindse Eilanden) east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Tourism, petroleum transshipment and oil refinement (on Curašao), as well as offshore finance are the mainstays of this small economy, which is closely tied to the outside world. The islands enjoy a high per capita income and a well-developed infrastructure as compared with other countries in the region. Almost all consumer and capital goods are imported, with Venezuela, the United States, and Mexico being the major suppliers, as well as the Dutch government which supports the islands with substantial development aid[?]. Poor soils and inadequate water supplies hamper the development of agriculture. The Antillean guilder has a fixed exchange rate with the United States dollar of 1.79:1.
The largest part of the Netherlands Antilleans - about 85% - descends from the African slaves that were brought and traded here from the 17th to 19th century. The rest of the population consists of Caribbean Indians, Europeans and Asians.
The majority of the population are followers of the Christian belief, mostly Roman Catholic. Curašao also hosts a sizeable group of Jews, descendants of a Portuguese group of Sephardic Jews that arrived from Brazil in 1654.
A large group of young and/or highly educated Antilleans has emigrated to the Netherlands over the past decades, which leaves the islands with big social and economic problems.
The origins of the population and location of the islands give the Netherlands Antilles a mixed culture. Dutch influence is can still be seen, even though not much of the population is of Dutch origin. Tourism from the United States has recently also increased the importance of American culture.