Status: “Special Municipalities” of the Netherlands
Population: 25,019 (2016 estimate)
Area: 124 square miles
Currency: U.S. Dollar
In the early 17th century, Dutch seafaring traders joined the British and French in challenging Spanish control of the Caribbean. By 1640, the Netherlands had trading settlements on six Caribbean islands, all controlled by the Dutch West Indies Company until 1791 when they were transferred to the Crown. Islands frequently changed hands with the shifting fortunes of European wars. St. Eustatius for example is said to have had 20 changes of sovereignty in 150 years. Dutch rule was uninterrupted after 1815.
The Dutch administered Caribbean possessions from Curaçao, the largest and most developed of the islands. Stamps that arrived in 1871 were inscribed “Curaçao.” The post-World War II global independence movement prompted the Netherlands to reexamine relations with its Caribbean possessions. The islands got a new constitution in 1948, which renamed the territory the Netherlands Antilles, a name change reflected on the stamps in 1949.
After years of discussion and at least one indecisive referendum, the Dutch abolished the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010, referred to locally as “10-10-10.” The prosperous islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten became separate countries under the Dutch monarch, legally equivalent to the Netherlands itself. (Aruba had acquired this status in 1986). The three smaller islands of Bonaire (pop. 19,000), St. Eustatius or Statia (pop. 3,900) and Saba (pop. 1,900) were collectively called the Caribbean Netherlands.
Each island is considered “a special municipality,” although they hold unique powers unlike any other Dutch municipality. Each has a governor appointed by the King upon recommendation of the local Council. Decisions affecting all three islands — such as the adoption of the U.S. dollar January 1, 2011 — are taken at periodic, rotating meetings of the three governors.
Although the islands are politically equal, many administrative governmental functions are performed in Bonaire. For example, the post office in Saba has one office manager and one man who delivers the mail. Postage stamp production and distribution are handled in Bonaire. Since 10-10-10, the islands have had stamps inscribed “Caribisch Nederland.” Since 2012, stamps have been issued with common designs bearing the names of individual islands. All stamps are valid in all three islands. Administrative personnel in Bonaire decide which stamps are sent to the post offices. The clerk in Saba said she receives mostly Bonaire stamps for postal use, has on occasion received Saba stamps for sale, but cannot recall receiving any Statia stamps. She does get a few philatelic year packs for the three islands. Most incoming mail on Saba is from big shippers like Amazon.