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Three European countries have territories in the Caribbean today: France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. If one measures things in terms of citizenship rights, then all of these three countries’ Caribbean territories are part of Europe. If one measures them instead in terms of full territorial integration with their European “mother countries,” then only the French territories can be said to be fully a part of Europe today.
The French territories include the overseas departments of French Guiana (well to the east of the Caribbean sea on the northern coast of South America, though often grouped with the Caribbean), Guadeloupe, and Martinique, as well as the smaller “overseas collectivities” of Saint Barthélemy (or Saint Barts) and Saint Martin.
Guadeloupe has three “offshore island” groups—the picture-perfect Les Saintes archipelago, with just two inhabited islands, Terre-de-Bas and Terre-de-Haut; the rural rum-producing island of Marie-Galante; and the small fishing isle of La Désirade.
The French territories are interesting for their complete integration into the French state, just as Hawaii and Alaska are integrated into the United States. Every citizen of these overseas territories is represented in Paris by an elected politician. The French territories consequently feel far more European than their Dutch and British counterparts.
Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles are the Dutch Caribbean territories. The latter is a federation of five islands, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. Aruba, the former, broke apart from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986. The Dutch territories are semi-autonomous parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands are not part of the European Union, though their citizens are all Dutch citizens, and by extension also EU citizens.
Incidentally, the Netherlands Antilles will cease to exist sometime in the next few years. The two larger islands in the current federation, Curaçao and St. Maarten, will run their own affairs, as Aruba has been doing for over two decades now, while Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius will become Dutch overseas municipalities. These three tiny islands—with a combined population of around 20,000—will be integrated by and large into the Netherlands’ legal framework. Once the switch takes place, the citizens of these three tiny islands will also vote in Dutch and EU elections.
The United Kingdom’s Caribbean territories consist of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The final of these, though not technically a part of the Caribbean at the southeastern flank of the Bahamas, is usually associated with the region. In 2002, these islands’ residents obtained British citizenship—and with it, EU citizenship.
The British territories are a real hodgepodge, and feel least tied to the mother country of the three. The variation in living standards and culture is great. It includes the massive per capita incomes of the Cayman Islands, the hardscrabble survivor spirit of Montserrat and the bucolic, backwater feel of many of the Caicos and British Virgin Islands.
Where are we?
Your Wandering Cheapo is currently holed up on one of the exquisite islands catalogued above. Which one, you wonder? Stay tuned–he’ll spill the beans and fill in the blanks on Friday.
Alex Robertson Textor is Editor-at-Large at EuroCheapo. He writes travel stories for the New York Post, New York Times, and Rough Guides, among other publications, and he also maintains Spendthrift Shoestring, a blog on budget travel and culture.