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Non-Sovereign Caribbean Territories and Citizenship (4/4): the Netherlands

The final country in our four-part series on non-sovereign Caribbean territories is the Netherlands, which colonised Suriname (until 1975) and the Dutch Caribbean. The latter was geographically divided between Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba, forming the Leeward islands in the south, and St Maarten, St Eustasius and Saba, forming the Windward islands in the north. The Dutch West Indies always held an inferior position in comparison to the Dutch possessions in Asia. While the Dutch East Indies greatly contributed to the Dutch treasury, the Caribbean islands were often a liability – and still are to this day in the view of some commentators. However, the Dutch inhabitants of the Dutch Caribbean have consistently voted against full independence in a series of referenda. The establishment of oil refineries on Curaçao and Aruba in the period between the two World Wars brought great prosperity to these islands – and consequently to the Netherlands.


The Dutch Caribbean never became independent and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the present day. Moreover, the islands were and remain governed by the Dutch Nationality Act. Against this backdrop, we can say the following about the relationship within the Kingdom between the European part (the Netherlands proper), on the one hand, and the Dutch Caribbean, on the other.

The Dutch Antilles, as the islands were called before a major constitutional reform of 10 October 2010, have been under Dutch rule since the first half of the seventeenth century. The worldwide decolonisation process in the aftermath of the Second World War had important consequences for the region and in 1954 the so-called Charter of the Kingdom (Statuut voor het Koninkrijk) entered into force, governing the relationship between the different territories forming the Kingdom. In 1975 the Charter was amended because Suriname became independent; the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles would become separate countries within the Kingdom. In 1986 the island of Aruba separated itself from the other islands comprising the Dutch Antilles and obtained the status of a separate country within the Kingdom (a so-called ‘status aparte’).

Finally, a major restructuring of the Kingdom took place on 10 October 2010. As of that date, the Dutch Antilles as such no longer exist, but the islands remain part of the Kingdom under different legal statuses. St Maarten and Curaçao, which, following the example of Aruba, acquired a ‘status aparte’, became autonomous countries within the Kingdom, while Bonaire, St Eustasius and Saba became ‘special municipalities’ of the Netherlands.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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