According to reports on the BBC Monday, the Netherlands Antilles Dutch dependency has ceased to exist following constitutional status changes which make the islands, including Curacao and St Maarten in the Caribbean, autonomous countries, joining Aruba, which attained autonomy in 1986.
The islands have become prolific issuers of online gambling licences over the past decade. There are five islands in the cluster, Curacao, St Maarten, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. All are now autonomous special municipalities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which retains responsibility for matters of defence and foreign policy.
The Dutch government will also have initial oversight over Curacao's finances under a debt-relief arrangement.
The BBC report notes that collectively, the islands have amassed a debt of around Euros 2 billion euros, most of it owed to the Netherlands.
The smaller islands of St Maarten, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba said the debt was mostly run up by Curacao, the largest island and de facto capital of the former Netherlands Antilles, and the centre for internet gambling licensing.
Curacao has in the past complained that it was carrying too much of the financial burden for the federation, especially for Saba, St Eustatius and and Bonaire.
In addition to online gambling licensing, tourism, petroleum refining and offshore finance are the mainstays of the islands' economies.
The Dutch colonised the islands, alongside Aruba, in the 17th century. The territory, once called the Dutch West Indies, became the semi-autonomous Netherlands Antilles in 1954.
The new status, which came into effect on Sunday, followed referendums over the past few years in which four of the five islands opted to leave the federation while St Eustatius supported the status quo. None of the islands voted for independence.
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