When the Spanish arrived in the 16th cent., the region was inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs. The islands were captured by the Dutch in the 17th cent. and were worked by the many African slaves who were brought to their shores. Slavery was abolished in 1863 and the economy faltered until the oil industry began to flourish in the 20th cent. The Netherlands Antilles became autonomous in 1954. In 2004 a government commission recommended splitting up the Netherlands Antilles, giving St. Martin and Curaçao autonomy and establishing direct Dutch rule over the other islands. In a series of referendums islanders largely seconded this proposal, which took effect in 2010.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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