Netherlands Antilles: What to know?

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The Netherlands Antilles is a group of five islands in the Caribbean Sea, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands were originally used for the Caribbean slave trade, but later found success in oil refineries and tourism. The islands have a diverse population and are governed by a monarch, governor, and cabinet. The group is expected to break up in December 2008, with some islands becoming autonomous entities and others becoming Dutch municipalities.

The Netherlands Antilles are two small island groups located in the Caribbean Sea. Overall, five islands make up the Netherlands Antilles: Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten is actually only half of an island, the other half of which, St. Martin, is a French overseas collectivity. The Netherlands Antilles is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and enjoys autonomous status.

The Netherlands Antilles were originally discovered by the Spanish in 1490, but came under the control of the Dutch West India Company in the 17th century. The islands became the center of the Caribbean slave trade, which supplied African slaves to the United States and other areas of the New World. After the abolition of the slave trade in 17, the economy of the Netherlands Antilles suffered. However, in the early 20th century, the islands found a new niche, providing oil refineries for Venezuela’s oil reserves. Tourism, offshore finance and oil transshipment are other important aspects of the economy.

As the islands of the Netherlands Antilles are volcanic and coral in origin, agriculture is difficult and imports are essential. The Netherlands helps the Netherlands Antilles with development aid. The climate in the Netherlands Antilles is tropical and warm all year round, but hurricanes are a problem in some areas during the summer months.

Most of the people living in the Netherlands Antilles are descendants of European settlers and African slaves. Other nationalities represented in the islands include the Caribbean, Latin America and East Asia. The official languages ​​of the Netherlands Antilles are Dutch, English and Papiamentu, a creole language. English and Papiamentu were granted official status in March 2007. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, while other Christian denominations and Judaism are important minority faiths.

The Monarch of the Netherlands is the head of state of the Netherlands Antilles. A governor and cabinet serve as the local executive branch on the islands. The legislative branch of government is divided into two parts, one in which delegates from each island help make decisions for the Netherlands Antilles as a group, and one which is limited to each individual island and deals with day-to-day matters.

The Netherlands Antilles will not survive long, as it is expected to break up in December 2008. A former island belonging to the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, has already split from the group in 1986 to become an autonomous entity, although still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curaçao and Sint Maarten are expected to follow the same path as Aruba, while Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius will become Dutch municipalities, similar in many respects to municipalities within the borders of the Netherlands.

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