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Curacao (04/15/11)


April 15, 2011

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Note to our readers: Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They are being replaced with Fact Sheets focusing on U.S. relations with countries and providing links to additional resources. For archived versions of Background Notes, see http://www.state.gov/outofdate/bgn/.

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 444 sq. km. (171 sq. mi.); close to three times the size of Washington, DC.
Cities: Capital--Willemstad (metropolitan).
Terrain: Hilly.
Climate: Curacao has a semi-arid climate. Although precipitation is very slight, it is sufficient for growth of short and sparse vegetation. The annual average temperature is 81°F (27°C) with a constant trade wind from the east. The rainy season is from late October to late January. The annual rainfall averages 570 mm (22 inches). Curacao lies outside the hurricane belt.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dutch.
Population (2010): 142,180.
Annual population growth rate (2010): 0.29%.
Ethnic groups: Mixed black 85%, other 15% (mixed Latin American, white, East Asian).
Religions: Roman Catholic (72%), Pentecostal (4.9%), Protestant (3.5%), Seventh-Day Adventist (3.1%), Jehovah’s Witness (1.7%), other Christian (4.2%), Jewish (1.3%), other (1.2%), none (5.2%).
Languages: Dutch (official), Papiamento predominates, English is widely spoken, Spanish.
Education: Literacy (2003)--96.3%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births; 62.6 live births per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old. Life expectancy--female, 79.9 yrs.; male, 72.8 yrs.
Work force (62,627; 2009): Agriculture--1%; industry--15%; services--84%.

Government
Type: Parliamentary.
Independence: Semi-autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Constitution: December 1954, Statute of the Realm of the Netherlands, as amended.
Branches: Executive--monarch (head of state) represented by a governor, prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--Joint High Court of Justice appointed by the monarch.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Political parties: Real Alternative Party or PAR; Movement for the Future of Curacao or MFK; Pueblo Soberano or Sovereign Party; MAN (not an abbreviation, refers to the Socialist Party); People's National Party or PNP; Workers' Liberation Front or FOL; Democratic Party of Curacao or DP.

Economy
GDP (2009, market prices): U.S. $2.887 billion.
Real growth rate (2009): -0.2%.
GDP per capita: Data not available for the relatively new political entity of Curacao.
Natural resources: Beaches and offshore diving sites.
Tourism, financial sector, and other services: 84% of GDP.
Industry (15% of GDP): Types--petroleum refining, petroleum transshipment facilities, and light manufacturing.
Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--aloe, sorghum, peanuts, vegetables, tropical fruit.
Trade (2009): Exports ($117 million)--machine and transport equipment 52%; food and live animals 13%; manufactured goods 11%; petroleum products not included. Major markets--Data not available. Imports ($1.282 billion)--machinery and transport equipment 32%; manufactured goods 16%; food and live animals 16%; crude oil (for refining and re-export) not included. Major suppliers--Data not available.
Exchange rate: U.S. $1=1.78 ANG (fixed).

PEOPLE AND HISTORY
The Arawaks are recognized as the first human civilization to inhabit the island of Curacao. A Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda claimed Curacao for Spain in 1499, and it remained under Spanish rule until the Dutch took control in 1634. Curacao was a strategically important point for Dutch military advances against the Spanish and as the center of the Dutch Caribbean slave trade.

In 1845 the Dutch Windward islands united with Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba in a political unit. The islands' economy remained weak until the early part of the 20th century when oil was discovered in Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo and a refinery was established on Curacao. During the same period, an offshore financial sector was created to serve Dutch business interests.

Curacao became the seat of the Netherlands Antilles Government in 1954. The federation of the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba) was a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and was semi-autonomous in most internal affairs. The Kingdom retained authority over foreign affairs, defense, final judicial review, and "Kingdom matters", including human rights and good governance. Aruba was part of this federation until January 1, 1986, when it gained a separate status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist on October 10, 2010. The islands that formed the Netherlands Antilles assumed new positions within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curacao and Sint Maarten gained semi-autonomous status similar to Aruba, and the remaining BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba) became special overseas public entities, much like municipalities, within 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 religions are represented, including Anglican, Jewish, Protestant, Mormon, Baptist, Muslim, and Hindu. The Jewish community is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1634.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Current political relations among the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba stem from 1954. They are based on the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a voluntary arrangement among the Netherlands, Suriname, and the Netherlands Antilles. At the time, the Charter represented an end to colonial relations and the acceptance of a new legal system in which each of the three would look after its own interests independently, as well as provide mutual assistance and promote common interests on the basis of equality. Suriname left the Kingdom's political alliance and became independent in 1975. Aruba has had a separate status within the Kingdom since 1986 when it left the Netherlands Antilles.

The Netherlands Antilles dissolved on October 10, 2010, and its successor political entities remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curacao and Sint Maarten now have a status similar to Aruba, and the remaining BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba) are special overseas municipalities within the Netherlands. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten enjoy autonomy on most internal matters and defer to the Kingdom of the Netherlands in matters of defense, foreign policy, final judicial review, human rights, and good governance.

Curacao is governed by a popularly elected unicameral "Staten" (parliament) of 21 members. It chooses a Prime Minister and a Council of Ministers, consisting of six to eight other ministers. A governor, who serves a 6-year term, represents the monarch of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Following August 27, 2010 elections, an 11-seat coalition government was formed consisting of the Movement for the Future of Curacao (MFK), the Sovereign Party (PS), and the MAN party. The MFK, led by Gerrit Schotte, and the PS, led by Helmin Wiels, won 5 and 4 seats respectively, and the MAN party won 2 seats. The Real Alternative Party (PAR) won 8 seats, and the Workers' Liberation Front (FOL) and People's National Party (PNP) won 1 seat each.

Drug smuggling and trafficking in persons continue to be issues for Curacao. Drug smuggling has been significantly reduced through intensive cooperation among U.S., Dutch, Curacao, and international law enforcement authorities.

Principal Government Officials
Governor--Frits Goedgedrag
Prime Minister and General Affairs--Gerrit Schotte (MFK)
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation--Charles Cooper (MAN)
Minister of Finance--George Jamaloodin (MFK)
Minister of Economic Development--Nasser Hakim (MFK)
Minister of Public Health, Environment and Nature--Jacinta Constancia (MFK)
Minister of Justice--Elmer Wilsoe (Sovereign Party)
Minister of Management, Planning and Service--Lia Willems (Sovereign Party)
Minister of Education, Culture and Sports--Lionel Jansen (Sovereign Party)
Minister of Social Development and Welfare--Hensley Koeiman (MAN)
Chairman of Parliament--Ivar Asjes (Sovereign Party)
Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague--Sheldry Osepa (MFK)
Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington, DC--vacant
Director, Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten--Emsley D. Tromp
Attorney General--Dick A. Piar

ECONOMY
Curacao enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean and a well-developed infrastructure. Since 1918, oil refining has been a key part of the island’s economy, at one time representing as much as 90% of exports. Since the 1970s, tourism and financial services have become mainstays of Curacao’s economy.

Upon dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao and Sint Maarten formed a monetary union with a common currency. The Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten is in charge of monetary and financial supervision of the two islands. Policy coordination and the legislative harmonization of monetary policy, the financial sector, and financial integrity supervision will be needed for a successful monetary union.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Curacao conducts foreign affairs primarily through the Dutch Government. Curacao continues to strengthen its relations with other Caribbean governments.

U.S.-CURACAO RELATIONS
The United States maintains positive relations with Curacao and works cooperatively to combat narco-trafficking and trafficking in persons, as well as to ensure the safety and security of the many thousands of American citizens who reside in or visit the island every year.

Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General--Valerie Belon
Vice Consul--Winifred L. Hofstetter
Management Officer--Eric J. Kramp

The U.S. Consulate General for Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg #1, Willemstad, Curacao; tel. 599-9-461-3066, fax: 599-9-461-6489; Monday-Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm. Email: acscuracao@state.gov

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE



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