The five, far-flung Caribbean islands that make up the Netherlands Antilles, a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are set to go it alone as individual territories. Under a new political structure, agreed between the islands' leaders and the Dutch government in late 2005, the federation will be dissolved in December 2008.
Curacao and Sint Maarten will become autonomous territories of the Netherlands. The less-populated islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba will be given city status within the Netherlands.
Netherlands Antilles Tourist Attractions
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.
Smaller islands have complained of being overlooked; Curacao and Sint Maarten, a major tourist centre, say they contribute a disproportionately large amount to the government. The main islands say they can stand alone economically.
Netherlands Antilles attractions
The Dutch colonised the islands, alongside Aruba, in the 17th century. The territory, once called the Dutch West Indies, 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. Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, is an oil refining and tourist centre. Tourism is low key on nearby Bonaire, where saltpans are home to flamingo breeding grounds.
Netherlands Antilles travel
More than 800 km to the north, Sint Maarten, which shares an island with the French territory of Saint Martin, has resorts and casinos. Sint Eustatius is uncrowded and peaceful. The smallest island, Saba, has a rugged landscape. Florence
High unemployment has fuelled emigration, mostly to the Netherlands. A US government report has described the Netherlands Antilles as a key transshipment point for South American drugs bound for Europe.
netherlands antilles flag
Territories: Netherlands Antilles
Status: Semi-autonomous part of Netherlands. Status of member islands to change at the end of 2008.
Saint Martin shared with France.
Population: 183,000 (via UN, 2006)
Capital: Willemstad, on Curacao
Area: 800 sq km (309 sq miles)
Major languages: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish
Major religion: Christianity
(Netherlands antilles map) Please mouse click on the thumbnail photos below to see an enlargement
Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: Antillean guilder
Main export: Petroleum products
GNI per capita: US $13,162 (UN, 2003)
Internet domain: .an
International dialling code: +599