The islands and territories collectively known as the Netherlands Antilles were conquered by the Netherlands during the 17th century: Curaçao in 1600, Bonaire in 1663, St. Eustatius in 1636, Saba in 1640, St. Maarten in 1631 and Aruba in 1636. In 1845, these islands forged a political and administrative union under the name of the Netherlands Antilles Federation and since 1945, they have enjoyed autonomy in their internal affairs, though they depend on the Netherlands in issues of defense, foreign policy and certain judicial functions.

In 1986, Aruba withdrew from the federation and became an entity apart from the Netherlands. The federation was later dissolved by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2010. At that time, the islands of Curaçao and St. Maarten (the Netherlands side of the island of St. Martin) became “constituent countries” within the Kingdom of the Netherlands while the islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire became special municipalities within the Netherlands. Under the “constituent countries” regime, Curaçao and St. Maarten, along with Aruba and the Netherlands, formed the four autonomous regions that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Officially, they are not considered part of the European Union (UE), but because issues of citizenship and immigration for the four autonomous countries are handled exclusively by the government of the Netherlands, citizens retain EU citizenship. On the other hand, as “special municipalities,” the islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius were integrated into the Netherlands and therefore into the European Union, and can vote in European elections.

Under this new arrangement, however, the islands enjoyed wide autonomy in terms of monetary policy and were not obligated to adopt the euro as a common currency. The Dutch guilder was the currency in circulation in the Dutch Antilles since 1974. In 1986, Aruba created its own currency, the Aruban guilder. The Dutch guilder continued to be the currency in the rest of the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, and in 2011 three of the islands adopted the U.S. dollar (Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius) while the other two islands, Curaçaoand St. Maarten, continued using the Dutch guilder as the local currency while awaiting the issuance of a new local common currency for the two islands, which is expected to appear in 2013. The abbreviation of the new currency, called the Caribbean guilder, will be “CMg.” Once the change occurs, the Dutch guilder will cease circulation in the Caribbean.

Although the Netherlands Antilles continues to handle foreign relations primarily through the government of the Netherlands, it has recently strengthened ties with other Caribbean governments. The islands have been allowed to participate as observers in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and in December, 1998, they signed an agreement to become members of the Association of Caribbean States.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 09, 2012.

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