The Netherlands Antilles
Curaçao savours the prospect of autonomy
AS independence struggles go, the process of dismantling the federation of the Netherlands Antilles is about as orderly and peaceful as it gets. On 10-10-10 (October 10th 2010) Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius will go their separate ways—but only up to a point. Curaçao and St Maarten will become self-governing territories, following the example of Aruba, a sixth Dutch-speaking island in the Caribbean which broke away in 1986. But all will remain under the Dutch crown. The tiniest three islands—Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius—will become overseas municipalities, with a similar status to towns in the Netherlands.
The attractions of autonomy are obvious in Curaçao (population: 142,000), the most populous island. It will take over government assets such as a large oil refinery and one of the Caribbean’s biggest dry docks, both in Willemstad, the capital, and the taxes from thriving tourist and offshore-banking industries. Generously, the Dutch will pay off 70% of the federation’s $3.3 billion debt. Local leaders have ambitious plans to develop new port facilities and hotels, and to modernise the dry dock.
The Netherlands will continue to handle foreign and defence policy. That may be just as well. Curaçao risks friction with a mighty neighbour. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s leftist president, objects to the United States using the island as a base for anti-drug surveillance flights over the Caribbean. And the oil refinery is leased until 2019 by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, for $18m a year. PDVSA uses it to refine 200,000 barrels per day—well below its capacity.
A court has ordered the refinery to cut its sulphur-dioxide emissions or face heavy fines. In the past PdVSA has proposed an overhaul, but only if it is allowed to buy the refinery. But Curaçao wants to renegotiate the contract, when it can, to get a higher rent, says David Dick, the commissioner of economic affairs.
As well as hoping for a defence umbrella, supporters of autonomy want the continued link with the Netherlands to help prevent corruption. A small but vociferous movement wants independence and closer ties with South America. “Why do we have to go across the Atlantic Ocean to talk to our neighbours?” asks Helmin Wiels of the Curaçao island council. Life after October 10th threatens to be a bit less orderly.
Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16015552&source=hptextfeature