The Dutch Caribbean, otherwise referred to as the Dutch West Indies in the past, refers to the islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the former Dutch Empire that are geographically located in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea. This includes the six islands of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba. Out of the six, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The other three are special municipalities of Netherlands, which is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Netherlands. The title Caribbean Netherlands is occasionally used to identify the three municipalities.
The islands of the Dutch Caribbean were part of the Curaçao and Dependencies in the years between 1815-1828. They were later amalgamated with the colony of Suriname, which is not considered part of the Dutch Caribbean. They were administrated by Paramaribo up to the year 1845 when all the islands became one colony under the name Curaçao and Dependencies.
In 1954, the island became Netherlands Antilles, a status that was upheld until the year 2010. The Netherland Antilles were autonomous powers as provided for in the Islands Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. Initially, when the Netherlands Antilles was formed, it was made up of four island regions, which were the Windward Islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. In 1983 the Windward Islands divided into the Island Lands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.
Of the islands, Aruba gained its independence the earliest. Aruba seceded in the year 1986 to become a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This secession left five islands as part of the Netherland Antilles. The five territories remained in this state until the year 2010 when the Netherland Antilles was dissolved in a very long and complex process from being a single political unit. The dissolution led to Curaçao and Sint Maarten gaining its autonomy as constituent countries while the Islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba changed their status to municipalities of the country, Netherlands.
There exist two partitions in the Dutch Caribbean; countries that are constituents of The Kingdom of the Netherlands, and municipalities to the country of the Netherlands itself, which is also a constituent country of the Kingdom.
In this regard, the islands that gained autonomy and became countries of the greater Kingdom of the Netherlands include Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten.
There are three islands that form special municipalities of the Netherlands country. These are Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba. Together they are referred to as BES Islands or the Caribbean Netherlands.
As of 2010, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was made up of four countries, namely Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten.
Curaçao is the largest island at 444 sq. km and with a population of 158,986 people. The smallest island is Saba which has a population of 1,991 people and measures 13 sq. km.