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Caribbean, Netherlands Antilles

Nederlandse Antillen, Dutch West Indies, refining of petroleum, Dutch government, Papiamento

Netherlands Antilles (Dutch De Nederlandse Antillen), integral part of the Netherlands, comprising two island groups of three islands each, the Netherlands Leeward and the Netherlands Windward islands, in the Caribbean Sea. The former group, consisting of Curacao, Bonaire, and until 1986 Aruba, is situated northwest of Caracas, Venezuela. The Netherlands Windward Islands consist of the southern half of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) and all of Saint Eustatius and Saba. These islands are situated at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles chain, to the southeast of Puerto Rico. The total population of the Netherlands Antilles (2002 estimate) is 214,258, and the islandsí total area is 800 sq km (310 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Willemstad, population (1993 estimate) 130,000.

The major industry of the Netherlands Antilles is the refining of petroleum imported from Venezuela. Large refining facilities are located on the islands of Aruba and Curacao. Petroleum and fuels account for 95 percent of the value of exports. Other manufactures include textiles, electronic equipment, rum, and salt. Calcium phosphate is mined in Curacao. Tourism is also an extremely important industry. The Netherlands Antilles guilder, or gulden, is the currency unit (1.79 guilders equal U.S.$1; 2000 annual average).

Willemstad, the capital, is on the island of Curacao. Executive power is exercised by a governor, who is an appointee of the Dutch government, and the council of ministers. Legislative authority is vested in the Staten, which is composed of 22 popularly elected members. Defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the Netherlands. Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands Antilles. The people also speak English, Spanish, and Papiamento, a mixture of mostly Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. The University of the Netherlands Antilles (1970) is at Willemstad.

The Spanish took possession of the Leeward Islands in 1527. The Dutch took control of the group in 1634 and have ruled the Windward Islands uninterrupted since the early 19th century. Those islands named in these two island groups, once known as the Dutch West Indies, formed a colony of the Netherlands until 1954, when they were made an integral part of the kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles and became self-governing in 1986.

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