Netherlands Antilles no more
(BBC) As of tomorrow a new chapter in the annals of Caribbean history will be written with the dissolution of the Dutch Caribbean federation known as the Netherlands Antilles.
10-10-10 will bring an end to 56 years of a constitutional arrangement between the Netherlands(Holland) and its Caribbean dependencies, except Aruba, as a group.
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 tomorrow’s official fragmentation of the group.
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 Eustatius 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.
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.
St Maarten is a leading tourist destination
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.
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.