Huffpost WorldPost
Kelly van der Kwast Headshot

Where Are the West Indies?

Posted: Updated:

Sunday is the big day.

The Netherlands Antilles are relatively unfamiliar. Be honest, have you ever heard of them?
Can you point them out on a map?

Now this little cluster of Caribbean rock is crumbling into individual pebbles.
Today both the new 'lands' of St. Maarten and Curacao were born into the Dutch Kingdom.
Curacao is no longer Curacao, the Netherlands Antilles, but has gone back to Curacao, The West Indies.

Once a group of six islands, the Netherlands Antilles was reduced to five, with Aruba removing it self as an extra special member. Curacao and Sint Maarten have become autonomous territories of the Netherlands. The smaller islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (the BES-islands) will be given city status within the Netherlands.

Running joke: their order of Dutch Clogs is on the way.
Ramonsito Booi, council member of Bonaire, said yesterday in the last meeting of Parliament that he was happy that the Netherlands would now be a part of Bonaire.

The changes follow referendums in which Curacao, Bonaire, Sint Maarten and Saba opted to break free from the federation and Sint Eustatius supported the status quo. None of the islands opted for independence.

Unity in the federation has waned in recent years, even though the nineties saw a strong movement to maintain the Antilles as a single entity. The smaller islands have complained of being overlooked by Curacao, where the government was seated, while Curacao complained about being neglected by The Hague, the proverbial mother of the clan. The disconnect grew despite the fact that the islands share strong bonds, such as common history, language and on some levels, culture.

The festivities planned for the weekend, most people flocked to the main square to see the new Prime Minister introduced, the Antillean flag lowered and the new -- actually already existing -- Curacao flag raised.

The celebrating crowd seemed to be confused. Both Antillean and Curacao flags waved in the warm night air. Officials, all strongly divided over political issues, sat politely next to each other celebrating -- or lamenting -- the changes, hoping for more or fearing for the worst.

The new Prime Minister, a young and dapper Mr. Gerrit Schotte, spoke to a people who certainly have a healthy skepticism concerning his skills. He is in his mid thirties and has limited political experience. People eagerly await his first move as rumors about him circulate widely (most of them were not in his favour).

After his speech, in which he managed to subtly insult the seated Prime Minister by thanking her for fighting so hard for her ideals -- read; not those of the people she represented (she was his main opponent) -- and finally mentioned what his agenda points would be, he took a seat near the Dutch Prince William Alexander and Princess Maxima van Oranje, who were here for this extraordinary occasion.

What will happen now remains unclear. What is evident is that the nation of Curacao will have to work hard to implement the changes. For now, after the dawn has come and gone the year of Pais Korsow, most are reflecting on the weekend, and waiting for the government to kick in.

The Dutch colonized the islands, alongside Aruba, in the 17th century. The territory -- meaning all six islands -- was once called the Dutch West Indies. It became self-governing in 1954. Aruba pulled out of the federation in 1986 to become an autonomous Dutch territory. Petroleum refining, tourism and offshore finance are the mainstays of the economy.