New Internationalist

Netherland Antilles

March 1988

new internationalist
issue 181 - March 1988

COUNTRY PROFILE

Netherland Antilles*
Netherland Antilles The 'Antilles of the Five' - the five islands once commonly known as the Netherland Antilles - offer many contradictions. Their inhabitants enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the less-developed world - $1,610 per capita in 1985 - yet two major industries, oil refining and offshore financial services, are shadows of their former selves.

Dutch aid is the key, running at about $400 million to the Antilles and $130 million or so per year to a sixth island, Aruba. Unhappy with the share-out of federal revenues, Aruba demanded separation from the other islands and succeeded in this in 1986 - but only after agreeing to independence in 1996, a future which is opposed by nearly all the 67,000 islanders. Fears of the loss of Dutch aid has meant great reluctance to face the realities of international political and economic life.

The 'Antilles of the Five' today comprise Curaçao and Bonaire, flat and arid islands - as is Aruba - off the Venezuelan coast. Nearly 1,000 km away lie tropical and mountainous St Maarten (an island shared with France, an extraordinary relic of the competitive colonialism in the days of King Sugar); St Eustatius (or Statia) and Saba, the so-called Dutch Windward Islands. These English-speaking Windward Islanders now rely on the US tourist market for a prosperous living. On none of the islands is there any significant agriculture or fishing industry.

The colonialists had other priorities. Willemstad, the federal capital on Curacao, clearly shows its prosperous Dutch heritage. But nearby is the former Shell refinery, now working at less than half capacity, leased to the Venezuelan oil company. Aruba's Exxon refinery is forlorn and rusty. It closed completely in 1985, squeezed out by large US offshore plants built after environmental regulations had been eased by Washington.

The US also moved the goalposts as far as the offshore finance industry was concerned. A double taxation treaty was ended in 1984 and other measures taken to plug tax loopholes.

Although these contractions have forced austerity budgets and an emphasis upon fickle tourism, unemployment has sharply risen. But its impact has been blunted by emergency Dutch aid, extensive drawing on reserves and the expulsion of the remaining migrants who had been attracted to Antillean riches.

All the irony of aid is found here. The Dutch Government cannot afford to cut it significantly as this would trigger widescale emigration to its over-crowded cities. Yet by continuing its assistance, the Netherlands ensures that the Antilleans and the Arubans will cling to dependency, both political and economic. Self-reliance is not a popular word in this part of the world.

Tony Thorndike

*Also known as Netherlands Dependencies

Leader: Prime Minister Don Martina (Antilles of the Five); Henny Eamon (Aruba)

Economy: GNP per capita $1,610 (US $15,390)
Monetary unit: Antillean and Aruban guilder at fixed rate of A8 to the US dollar. Heavy reliance on tourism now that traditional oil-refining industry has now nearly collapsed. Almost no local agriculture or fishing.

People: 264,000

Health: Excellent services due to extensive Dutch aid and application of Dutch standards. Culture Languages: Papiamento and Dutch in Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba but English is also widely used. In St Maarten, St Eustatius (Statia) and Saba, English only.


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*****
Well developed social security system

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Poor - large foreign debt, very low food production, dependent on imports

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Generally progressive

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Centre right, parliamentary democracy

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As high as in Western Europe

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No political prisoners

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Comparable to Western Europe
(US 75 years)

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This article was originally published in issue 181

New Internationalist Magazine issue 181
Issue 181

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