Is Bonaire Sint Eustatius and Saba a Country?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba are not independent countries but special municipalities of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean Sea.
  • Together they form the Caribbean Netherlands, which has a unique status and governance within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • The islands have their own governments but remain under the sovereignty of the Netherlands, similar to provinces.
  • Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are separate countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • The complicated relationship stems from the islands’ colonial history under Dutch rule.

What is the political status of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba??

Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, collectively referred to as the BES islands or Caribbean Netherlands, are special municipalities of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean Sea. They are not independent countries but public bodies and integral parts of the Netherlands.

The BES islands have a unique status and governance structure within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Together they form a single Caribbean public body that operates akin to a municipality in the European Netherlands. However, the islands are not part of any province. This gives them more autonomy than regular Dutch municipalities while remaining under the sovereignty of the Netherlands.

Why are Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba not considered countries?

There are several reasons why the BES islands are not considered sovereign countries:

  • They lack independence: The islands remain under the full sovereignty of the Netherlands and are considered special municipalities. They do not have the right to self-determination or the ability to conduct independent foreign relations.
  • They are constitutionally part of the Netherlands: Under the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the BES islands are constitutionally equal to municipalities in the European Netherlands.
  • They do not have full self-governance: While the islands have a degree of autonomy, ultimate authority lies with the government of the Netherlands. Laws and governance are a joint responsibility.
  • The Netherlands controls defense and foreign policy: The Netherlands handles all matters of defense and foreign policy for the islands as they would for any Dutch municipality. Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba cannot join international organizations separately from the Netherlands.
  • They use the Euro currency: The islands use the Euro as their official currency, regulated by the European Central Bank. This is tied to their status as part of the Netherlands and the EU. Independent countries control their own currency.
  • They are excluded from UN membership: The UN recognizes Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba as integral parts of the Netherlands, not sovereign nations eligible for membership.

What is the relationship between the BES islands and the Kingdom of the Netherlands?

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy made up of four autonomous countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. The BES islands are not considered a fifth country, but have a special status:

  • The islands are part of the territory of the Netherlands but excluded from the country definition within the Kingdom.
  • The Netherlands is responsible for defense and foreign affairs of the BES islands under the Kingdom Charter.
  • The BES islands are directly governed by the Government of the Netherlands, while Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have larger autonomy.
  • Residents of the BES islands are Dutch citizens and EU citizens, can freely live and work in the Netherlands, and vote in Dutch parliamentary elections.
  • The Netherlands provides financial support and oversight to the BES governments through a minister plenipotentiary representative.

So in essence, the BES islands are like municipalities of the Netherlands within the broader Kingdom. The complicated relationship stems from the islands’ history as part of the colonial Dutch West Indies.

How are the BES islands governed?

The BES islands have a unique governance structure that provides local autonomy under the Dutch central government:

  • Each island has its own government called the Island Council, similar to a municipal council.
  • Additionally, there is a shared Joint Court of Justice for the three islands.
  • A governor represents the Dutch government on each island. The governor’s role is similar to the King’s commissioner in a Dutch province.
  • Residents directly elect the members of their Island Council every 4 years.
  • The Island Councils handle local affairs like infrastructure, education, and economic development.
  • Dutch ministers ultimately oversee the islands’ governance and finances. Laws are made jointly between the islands and Netherlands.

So while the BES islands have democratically elected local governments, the Netherlands maintains ultimate authority over the islands as special municipalities.

Were Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba ever independent countries?

No, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba have never been independent countries. The islands were continually under Dutch colonization since the 17th century up until becoming special municipalities in 2010.

Here is an overview of the islands’ political history:

  • Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba were part of the Dutch colony of the Netherlands Antilles established in 1815.
  • The larger islands of the Netherlands Antilles like Curaçao and Aruba pushed for autonomy in 1954.
  • In 1986, Aruba became a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Curaçao and Sint Maarten also attained country status within the Kingdom in 2010.
  • Simultaneously, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba were dissolved from the Netherlands Antilles and became special Dutch municipalities.
  • Throughout these changes, the BES islands continued to be governed from the Netherlands and never achieved independence.

How does the status of the BES islands differ from Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten?

Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten have a very different status from the BES islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands:

  • They are autonomous countries and recognized as equal partners under the Kingdom Charter.
  • Each country governs itself with a parliament, prime minister, and cabinet. They have greater self-determination over laws and policies.
  • They have delegated independence for matters like foreign affairs and citizenship. People born there do not automatically get Dutch citizenship.
  • The monarch of the Netherlands acts independently as the head of state for these three countries.
  • They have more financial independence and reduced Dutch oversight compared to the BES islands.

So while the BES islands have local autonomy in governance, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten function more akin to fully independent sovereign countries that voluntarily form the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

What are some key facts about the political status of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba?

  • Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba are public bodies and special municipalities of the Netherlands, not sovereign nations.
  • Together they have a unique status as the Caribbean Netherlands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • As per the UN, the islands are non-self-governing territories under the administration of the Netherlands.
  • Each island has its own locally elected Island Council but ultimately falls under Dutch sovereignty.
  • Dutch law, currency, foreign policy, and EU membership applies to the islands.
  • Residents are Dutch citizens who vote in Dutch elections even though the islands are geographically outside Europe.
  • The complex relationship stems from the gradual dissolution of the former colonial structure of the Dutch West Indies.

Should the BES islands consider seeking complete independence from the Netherlands?

There are arguments on both sides of this issue:


  • Independence could give the islands greater self-determination and more control over local laws, finances, and economic policies tailored to their unique situation.
  • The islands would gain the full right to conduct foreign relations and join regional Caribbean organizations.
  • Independence may lead to greater development of a unique cultural identity and strengthened local governance capacity.


  • As relatively small islands, independence brings risks of financial instability, inadequate governance, and isolation.
  • Being part of the Netherlands and EU provides economic security, freedom of movement, and educational opportunities for citizens.
  • The islands likely lack the capabilities and institutional maturity needed for good governance as independent states.
  • Regional cooperation and anti-corruption oversight from the Netherlands are beneficial given the islands’ history.
  • Separatist sentiment is not widespread among the majority of island residents.

Could Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba join together as one independent nation?

Theoretically it is possible for the BES islands to unite and seek independence together as one nation. However, there are some significant challenges:

  • Historically the islands were governed separately with little joint collaboration. Creating a shared national identity and political institutions would be difficult.
  • The variability in population size between the islands could lead to inequality. Bonaire has nearly 20,000 residents compared to just 3,000 in Saba.
  • Geographical separation between the islands also impedes the ability to effectively integrate governance and infrastructure.
  • As tiny isolated islands, they would face issues of vulnerability, lack of resources and economies of scale as one independent microstate.
  • The secession process itself would likely be long and complex given the interdependencies with the Netherlands.

Becoming one nation could amplify a common voice in any independence negotiation. But achieving deep integration between such diverse islands may prove infeasible for functional governance.

What are the economic implications of the BES islands’ status?

The special status of the BES islands has notable economic implications:

  • Use of the Euro provides monetary stability and ease of trade with Europe but reduces control over currency valuation.
  • Access to EU funding, investment, and shared programs bolsters infrastructure development and social services.
  • Heavier dependence on tourism leaves the islands vulnerable, as seen by the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on unemployment.
  • Tax laws and regulations are designed for the Netherlands, sometimes ill-fitted to the Caribbean context. This can stifle entrepreneurship.
  • The islands may end up economically neglected by the Netherlands but lack the policy autonomy to address local needs and opportunities.

Overall, the economic situation is a mix of stability and constraint for the islands under Dutch rule. Greater autonomy or independence could enable a more localized, resilient economic model.

What is the local perspective in the BES islands on their current status?

Among citizens of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, views on their political status are fairly nuanced:

  • In general, most islanders seem content with the current arrangement with the Netherlands. Calls for full independence are limited.
  • Some see benefits in maintaining ties with the Netherlands, like funding public services and facilitated migration to Europe.
  • However, others feel the islands are neglected by Europe and should have greater self-determination.
  • Locals often point to bureaucracy and mismatched policies as an impediment under Dutch rule.
  • Island identity and culture is valued, but from a pragmatic perspective Dutch nationality also enables opportunities overseas.
  • Perspectives can vary based on socioeconomic status, age group, and individual islands.

So while islanders have critiques, there appears to be no major consensus for a dramatic shift like independence. But increased autonomy is desired by many within the existing framework.

What is the future outlook for the political status of the BES islands?

It is likely that Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba will retain their current status as special municipalities within the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the foreseeable future.

  • No major separatist movement or pressure for independence exists on the islands. Constitutional change would require local initiative and Dutch approval.
  • Culturally and economically the islands are fairly well integrated with Europe. Dramatic change seems unlikely barring unforeseen events.
  • However, calls for more autonomy and local control may gradually lead to an expanded devolution of powers to the island governments over time.
  • There is also the possibility that collaborations like the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development will better integrate the BES islands within the broader Caribbean community.

Ultimately, the complex relationship between Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba and the Netherlands will continue to evolve incrementally, shaped by history and pragmatic considerations. But full independence appears distant, if not wholly implausible.


In summary, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba do not constitute a sovereign country but have a unique status as special municipalities within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands have local autonomy under democratically elected councils, while remaining under Dutch sovereignty similar to a province. This stems from their history as part of the Dutch West Indies prior to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. While islanders value their identity, most seem to accept the current political arrangement, despite a desire for more self-determination in certain policy areas. The future likely holds gradual change rather than a push for full independence.

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