The countdown has started. Exactly a year from now, on October 10th, 2010, the Netherlands Antilles will cease to exist. On that day, each of the five tiny islands on the fringe of the Caribbean Sea, one with a permanent population of less than two thousand people, will become independent countries and rival the likes of Monaco and the Vatican as the smallest states in the World.
Meanwhile, Guadalupe, Martinique and French Guiana, which are oversea departments of France, are scheduled to have a referendum in January on whether to join the northern half of St. Martin and the tiny island of St. Barth's in getting full "collectivity" status, which means that they too can get aid from the Motherland and not have to give anything back in the way of taxes.
Elsewhere in the Archipelago, the British colony of Turks & Caicos is fuming as what used to be known as the colonial office has fired the government and suspended the Parliament and begun ruling directly. Then there's the government of Anguilla waiting for permission to borrow a few million bucks so it can stave off bankruptcy, something that it needs badly and may not get.
For this they're going to complain to the UN this week.
The simple fact is that the Lesser Antilles, these tiny islands that mark the boundary of the Caribbean Sea are in a state of political flux. The islands that are not independent want more autonomy, but don't have the populations and resources to make it work. In recent years the Mother countries have considered them burdens more than cash cows, and the question of "getting rid of them" without doing much damage to the local economies is one that has been vexing the colonial powers for decades.
The Netherlands Antilles is going bust because the people of the islands hate each other. They resent that much of the taxes goes to Aruba, and Aruba resents that. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, near Venezuela, are to some extent economically viable during the high season, as is the southern half of St. Martin hundreds of miles to the north. Saba, with the worst beaches of any inhabited island in all the Antilles and a permanent population on the order of the Vatican, doesn't even have that. The question that is vexing the NA membership is how to divvy up the remaining resources and aid from the Netherlands, which had to pony up approximately half a million dollars earlier this month because someone had forgotten pay the local bureaucrats for six years.
All this begs the question: What's going to happen when the mother countries pull out? Aruba wants to have its own currency. The French islands have the Euro, the former and current British colonies have the East Caribbean dollar and everyone uses the US dollar, the favorite of tourists. With three or four currencies in circulation on most of the islands, bookkeeping can be a pain in the butt, and the pan-Caribbean organization, CARICOM, doesn't do all that much, and the success of the recent autonomy movements is diametrically opposed to the CARICOM agenda.
So what is to be done? Can the microstates that make up Paradise get their collective acts together and go it alone? Or will they decide to keep on leeching off of the European teat?
Only time will tell.