The Netherlands Antilles, an autonomous Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was dissolved on 10 October 2010. It was created originally of communities from various islands in the Caribbean that formed a single autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
After dissolution, the islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius became special municipalities of the Netherlands proper, while Curaçao and Sint Maarten became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along the lines of Aruba, which had separated from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986.
The idea of the Netherlands Antilles as a country within the Kingdom never enjoyed the full support of all islands and political relations between islands were often strained. Geographically, the Leeward Islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, and the Windward Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten lie almost 1,000 kilometres apart. Culturally, the Leeward islands have deep connections with the South American mainland, especially Venezuela, and its population speaks a Spanish-Portuguese creole language called Papiamento. The Windward islands, on the other hand, are part of the English-speaking Caribbean.
When the new constitutional relationship between the Netherlands and its former West Indian colonies was enshrined in the Kingdom Charter of 1954, the colonial administrative division of the Netherlands Antilles, which was derived from the colony of Curaçao and Dependencies and grouped all six Caribbean islands together under one administration, was taken for granted. Despite the fact that Aruban calls for secession from the Netherlands Antilles originated in the 1930s, the governments of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles did everything in their power to keep the six islands together. The Netherlands did this so as to make sure that the Netherlands Antilles could become independent as soon as possible; a call which became increasingly louder in the Netherlands after the Willemstad riots of 1969 in Curaçao. The government of the Netherlands Antilles feared that the whole Netherlands Antilles would disintegrate if one of the islands seceded; Antillean Prime Minister Juancho Evertsz once famously remarked that "six minus one equals zero".
Increasing unrest on Aruba, however, especially after a consultative referendum on secession was organized by the island government in 1977, meant that the issue of Aruban secession had to be taken into consideration. After long negotiations, it was agreed that Aruba could become a separate country within Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986, but only on the condition that it would become fully independent in 1996. The People's Electoral Movement, which led the Aruban island government in the years leading up to 1986, reluctantly agreed to this, but the Aruban People's Party, which came to power after 1986, refused all cooperation with the Netherlands on the issue of independence.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, became more and more aware that the ties with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom would probably endure for a longer period of time. Suriname, the other partner of the Kingdom which attained independence in 1975, had gone through a period of dictatorship and civil war, which weakened the pro-independence ideology of the Dutch government. Aruba and the Netherlands agreed in July 1990 to delete Article 62, which foresaw Aruban independence in 1996, from the Charter. This was finalized in 1994, on some conditions about cooperation in the field of justice, good governance, and finances.
Meanwhile, the permanent position of Aruba as a separate country within the Kingdom led to calls for a similar arrangement on the other islands, especially on Sint Maarten. In the early 1990s, the five remaining islands of the Netherlands Antilles entered into a period of reflection about whether or not to remain part of the Netherlands Antilles. In March 1990, Dutch Minister of Aruban and Antillean Affairs Ernst Hirsch Ballin came up with a draft for a new Kingdom Charter, in which the leeward islands Curaçao and Bonaire, and the windwards islands Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten would form two new countries within the Kingdom. This proposal met with mixed responses on the islands.
After a committee was installed investigating the future of the Netherlands Antilles, a Conference on the Future—Toekomstconferentie in Dutch, the Dutch government resisted using the more loaded term "Round Table Conference"—was held in 1993. The Netherlands proposed to take over the federal tasks of the Netherlands Antilles, with each of the islands thus remaining autonomous to the extent granted by the Islands Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao would be exempted and would attain country status like Aruba. Bonaire and Sint Maarten would be supported to help attain country status in the future. Saba and Sint Eustatius would not have this perspective and would remain what was called "Kingdom islands". The fact that the Kingdom affairs would also be broadened to include law enforcement to reduce international crime (thus reducing the autonomy of Aruba and Curaçao), and the fact that Sint Maarten would not attain country status right away, meant that the Conference on the Future could only result in a failure.
It was decided to postpone the next meeting of the conference until after a status referendum was held on Curaçao. The referendum's result, however, was in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, in spite of the island government and the Netherlands Antillean government campaigning for country status. The other islands voted for maintaining the Netherlands Antilles as well. The Party for the Restructured Antilles, composed of campaigners in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, came to power.
In the end, restructuring the Netherlands Antilles did not get very far. Probably the most symbolic change was the adoption of an anthem of the Netherlands Antilles in 2000. In the same year, however, another status vote was held on Sint Maarten, this time in favour of becoming a country of its own within the Kingdom. This sparked a new referendum cycle across the Netherlands Antilles. At the same time, a commission composed of representatives from the Netherlands and all the islands of the Netherlands Antilles investigated the future of the Netherlands Antilles. In its 2004 report, the commission advised a revision of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles, with Curaçao and Sint Maarten becoming countries of their own within the Kingdom, and with Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba becoming "Kingdom islands".
The referendum held on Curaçao in 2005 came out in favour of country status as well. All other islands, except for Sint Eustatius, voted for closer ties with the Netherlands. Only Sint Eustatius wanted to retain the Netherlands Antilles.