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Regions and territories: Curacao

Map of Curacao

Curacao - a small Caribbean island popular with tourists - became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in October 2010 in a change of constitutional status which dissolved the Netherlands Antilles.

The Dutch government remains responsible for defence and foreign policy, and has oversight over Curacao's finances under a debt relief agreement.

The constitutional changes were approved by a majority of voters in referendums held on the islands which made up the 56-year-old Netherlands Antilles territory.

Overview

While Curacao and Sint Maarten became autonomous countries, the less-populated islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba now have city status within the Netherlands.

Unity in the federation had been waning for some time. Smaller islands had complained of being overlooked; Curacao and Sint Maarten said that they were contributing a disproportionately large amount to the government. The bigger islands said they could stand alone economically.

Willemstad, capital of Curacao
Willemstad: Unmistakeably Dutch

The Dutch colonised the islands in the 17th century. The territory, once called the Dutch West Indies, became the semi-autonomous Netherlands Antilles in 1954. Petroleum refining, tourism and offshore finance were the mainstays of the islands' economies.

Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, is an oil refining and tourist centre, boasting white-sand beaches, crystalline waters and popular casinos.

Once the centre of the Caribbean slave trade, Curacao was hard hit by the abolition of slavery in 1863. Its prosperity was restored in the early 20th century with the construction of refineries to service the newly discovered Venezuelan oil fields.

Facts

  • Territory: Curacao
  • Status: Autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Population: 142,000
  • Capital: Willemstad
  • Area: 444 sq km (171 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Dutch, Papiamento, English
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: Netherlands Antillean guilder (NAf.) to be replaced by Caribbean guilder in January 2012
  • Main export: Petroleum products
  • GNI per capita: US $13,162 (UN, 2003)
  • Internet domain: .an
  • International dialling code: +599

Leaders

Head of state: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, represented by a governor

Prime Minister: Gerrit Schotte

Gerrit Schotte became prime minister of Curacao when it gained its new status as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in October 2010.

Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte
Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte

He heads a coalition made up by his Movementu Futuro Korsou (MFK) and partners Pueblo Soberano (PS) and Partido MAN.

The Governor of the Netherlands Antilles, as representative of the Queen, appointed Mr Schotte - as leader of the biggest party in the coalition - to form the government, according to Mr Schotte's website.

He says that he became the world's youngest serving prime minister when he took office at age 36.

First voted into parliament in 2007, Mr Schotte has a background as a businessman and hotel manager. He is an exponent of paintballing, the sport in which combatants shoot each other with capsules of paint, rather than real bullets.

He served on the executive council of the island in charge of tourism, economic affairs, agriculture and fisheries.

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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Dutch Antilles no longer exists
13 Oct 10 |  Latin America & Caribbean
Anger over Dutch expulsion plans
13 May 05 |  Europe

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