The end of an era as Antillies go it alone
The Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten are to become autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, marking the end of the Netherlands Antilles as a federation.
The decision was reached after two days of talks between the Antillian and Dutch governments. Earlier it was agreed that Saba, Sint Eustatius and Bonaire would become de facto Dutch local authorities with their own councils and mayors. Aruba pulled out of the federation in 1986 to become an autonomous Dutch territory.
The changes follow referendums in all five islands – none of which voted for independence.
The islands’ Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage said she was delighted with the agreement and assured the islands’ citizens that they would benefit from the changes, Radio Netherlands reported. The Netherlands has agreed to take over the islands’ debt of around €2.3bn in return for assurances that the islands will balance their books.
The far-flung Caribbean islands were colonised by the Netherlands in the 17th century and became self-governing Dutch overseas territories in the middle of last century. Petroleum refining, tourism and offshore finance are the mainstays of the economy.
High unemployment has fuelled emigration from the islands, mostly to the Netherlands. The islands have also been branded a key transshipment point for the South American drugs trade.
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