Curacao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba.
In 1845 the Dutch Leeward islands united with Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba in a political unit. The abolition of slavery hurt the islands’ economy until the 20th century, when oil was discovered off the shores of Venezuela and a refinery was established on Curaçao. Also during that period an offshore financial sector was created to serve Dutch businesses.
Since 1945, the federation of the Netherlands Antilles–Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten–have been autonomous in internal affairs. Aruba also was a part of this federation until January 1, 1986, when it gained status apart within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
This all changed on October 10, 2010 when the Netherlands Antilles dismantled as an entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curacao and St. Maarten acquired a semi-autonomus status within the Kingdom and Bonaire, St. Eustatious, and Saba (BES-Islands) became municipalities of the Netherlands.
About 85% of Curacao’s population is of African derivation. The remaining 15% is made up of various races and nationalities, including Dutch, Portuguese, North Americans, natives from other Caribbean islands, Latin Americans, Sephardic Jews, Lebanese, and Asians. Roman Catholicism predominates, but several other churches are represented, which include Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon, and Baptist. The Jewish community is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1634.
Aruba’s first inhabitants were the Caquetios Indians from the Arawak tribe. Fragments of the earliest known Indian settlements date back to about 1000 A.D. Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda is regarded as the first European to arrive in about 1499. The Spanish garrison on Aruba dwindled following the Dutch capture of nearby Bonaire and Curacao in 1634. The Dutch occupied Aruba shortly thereafter, and retained control for nearly two centuries. In 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, the English briefly took control over the island, but it was returned to Dutch control in 1816. A 19th-century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening in 1924 of an oil refinery. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. In 1986 Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba’s prerogative in 1990. Aruba has a mixture of people from South America and Europe, the Far East, and other islands of the Caribbean.