Curacao

Island

Curaçao is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast. The Country of Curaçao, which includes the main island plus the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao ("Little Curaçao"), is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its capital is Willemstad.

Curaçao is the largest and most populous of the three ABC islands (for Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) of the Lesser Antilles, specifically the Leeward Antilles. It has a land area of 444 square kilometres (171 square miles). As of 1 January 2009, it had a population of 141,766.

Prior to 10 October 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved, Curaçao was administered as the Island Territory of Curaçao, one of five island territories of the former Netherlands Antilles. The ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 country code CUW and the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code CW has been assigned to Curaçao.

Origin of the name

The origin of the name Curaçao is debated. The explanation gathering more consensus among the Portuguese and the Spanish is that the word derives from the Portuguese word for the state of becoming cured (curação). The reason for this is that sailors travelling for months in the sea would often contract scurvy. It appears that in one of such long travels, a group of Portuguese sailors landed for the first time in Curação and were cured from scurvy, probably after eating fruit with vitamin C. The island was known from then on as Ilha da Curação (Island of Healing). Another explanation is that it is derived from the Portuguese word for heart (coração), referring to the island as a centre in trade. Spanish traders took the name over as Curaçao, which was followed by the Dutch. Another explanation is that Curaçao was the name the indigenous peoples of Curaçao had used to label themselves (Joubert and Van Buurt, 1994). This theory is supported by early Spanish accounts, which refer to the indigenous peoples as "Indios Curaçaos" which means "Healing Indians" as the aboriginals were likely already aware of the disease called scurvy and its cure from past experience as in North American natives.

After 1525 the island appeared on Spanish maps as "Curaçote", "Curasaote", and "Curasaore". By the 17th century the island was known on maps as "Curaçao" or "Curazao".

On a map created by Hieronymus Cock in 1562 in Antwerp, the island was referred to as Quracao.

The name "Curaçao" has become associated with a shade of blue, because of the deep-blue version of the liqueur named Curaçao (also known as Blue Curaçao). Today, locally, the island is known as "Dushi Korsou" (Sweet Curaçao).

History of Curaçao

The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak Amerindians. The first Europeans to see the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards enslaved most of the indigenous population and forcibly relocated the survivors to other colonies where workers were needed. The island was occupied by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the 'Schottegat'. Curaçao had been ignored by colonists because it lacked many things that colonists were interested in, such as gold deposits. However, the natural harbour of Willemstad proved quickly to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping — and piracy—became Curaçao's most important economic activities. In addition, the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a centre for the Atlantic slave trade in 1662. In the French Dutch War following his successes at Cayenne and Tobago, the comte Jean d'Estrées planned to attack Curaçao. His fleet—12 men of war, 3 fireships, 2 transports, a hospital ship and 12 privateers—met with disaster, losing 7 of the men of war and 2 other ships when they struck reefs off the Las Aves archipelago due to a navigational error on 11 May 1678, a week after setting sail from Saint Kitts.On Curaçao, a Day of Thanksgiving was observed until far into the 18th century to commemorate the island's fortunate escape from being ravaged by the French.

Dutch merchants brought slaves from Africa under a contract with Spain called Asiento. Under this agreement, large numbers of slaves were sold and shipped to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean.

When in 1914 oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin town of Mene Grande, the fortunes of the island were dramatically altered. Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch Government had built an extensive oil refinery installation on the former site of the slave-trade market at Asiento, thereby establishing an abundant source of employment for the local population and fuelling a wave of immigration from surrounding nations. Curaçao was an ideal site for the refinery as it was away from the social and civil unrest of the South American mainland, but near enough to the Maracaibo Basin oil fields. It had an excellent natural harbor that could accommodate large oil tankers. The company brought affluence to the island. Large scale housing was provided and Willemstad developed an extensive infrastructure. However, discrepancies appeared among the social groups of Curaçao. The discontent and the antagonisms between Curaçao social groups culminated in rioting and protest on May 30, 1969. The civil unrest fuelled a social movement that resulted in the local Afro-Caribbean population attaining more influence over the political process (Anderson and Dynes 1975). The island developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage many companies to set up holdings in order to avoid rigorous schemes elsewhere. In the mid 1980s Royal Dutch Shell sold the refinery for a symbolic amount to a local government consortium. The ageing refinery has been the subject of lawsuits in recent years, which charge that its emissions, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, far exceed safety standards. The government consortium currently leases the refinery to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

In recent years, the island had attempted to capitalize on its peculiar history and heritage to expand its tourism industry. In 1984 the Island Council of Curaçao inaugurated the National Flag and the official anthem of the island. This was done on July 2, which was the date when in 1954 the first elected island council was instituted. Since then, the movement to separate the island from the Antillean federation has steadily become stronger.

Like Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is a transcontinental island that is geographically part of South America but is also considered to be part of West Indies and one of the Leeward Antilles. Curaçao and the other ABC Islands are in terms of climate, geology, flora and fauna more akin to nearby Paraguaná Peninsula, Guajira Peninsula, Isla Margarita, Araya and the nearby Venezuelan areas of the Coro region and Falcón State. The flora of Curaçao differs from the typical tropical island vegetation. Xeric scrublands are common, with various forms of cacti, thorny shrubs, evergreens, and the island's national tree, divi-divis. Curaçao's highest point is the Sint Christoffelberg 375 m (1,230 ft). Ten kilometers off the coast of Curaçao, to the south-east, lies the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao ("Little Curaçao").

Beaches

Curaçao is known for its coral reefs, used for scuba diving. The beaches on the south side contain many popular diving spots. An unusual feature of Curaçao diving is that the sea floor drops steeply within a few hundred feet of the shore, and the reef can easily be reached without a boat. This drop-off is known as the "blue edge." Strong currents and lack of beaches make the rocky northern coast dangerous for swimming and diving, but experienced divers sometimes dive there from boats when conditions permit. The southern coast is very different and offers remarkably calm waters. The coastline of Curaçao features many bays and inlets, many of them suitable for mooring.

Some of the coral reefs are affected by tourism. Porto Marie Beach is experimenting with artificial coral reefs in order to improve the reef's condition. Hundreds of artificial coral blocks that have been placed are now home to a large array of tropical fish.

Climate

Curaçao has a semiarid climate with a dry season from January to September and a wet season from October to December. The temperatures are relatively constant with small differences throughout the year. The trade winds bring cooling during the day and the same trade winds bring warming during the night. The coldest month is January with an average temperature of 26.5 °C (80 °F) and the warmest month is September with an average temperature of 28.9 °C (84 °F). The year's average maximum temperature is 31.2 °C (88 °F). The year's average minimum temperature is 25.3 °C (78 °F).

Curaçao lies outside the hurricane belt, but is still occasionally affected by hurricanes, as for example Omar in 2008. A landfall of a hurricane in Curaçao has not occurred since the National Hurricane Center started tracking hurricanes. Curaçao has, however, been directly affected by pre-hurricane tropical storms several times; the latest which did so were Cesar in 1996, Joan-Miriam in 1988, and Tomas in 2010. The latter brushed Curaçao as a tropical storm in early November, dropping as much as 265 mm (10.4 in) of precipitation on the territory. This made Tomas one of the wettest events in the island's history, as well as one of the most devastating; its flooding killed two people and caused over NAƒ60 million (US$28 million) in damage.

source: wikipedia.com (june 8, 2012), edited by Curacao Nature.