COLONIES: Looser Reins

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Queen Juliana of The Netherlands last week reminded the world that the Dutch are still a colonial power in the Western Hemisphere—by graciously relinquishing part of that power. The Queen proclaimed a new Statute of the Kingdom, giving Surinam (Dutch Guiana) and The Netherlands Antilles complete internal self-government and requiring consultation with the motherland only on such affairs as defense and foreign relations.

Surinam and the six Antilles islands (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and half of St. Martin) have been Dutch colonies since the 17th century. Dutchmen gained possession of the islands by driving out the Spaniards, who didn't even put up a fight. When the Dutch also tried to push the British out of the part of Guiana now called Surinam, the British countered by seizing New Amsterdam (Manhattan). Later, in the 1667 Peace of Breda, the Dutch traded off New Amsterdam (bought from the Indians for $24) for 55,000 square miles in Guiana.

For almost a century the Dutch prospered in sugar and the slave trade. But when they turned their attention to Java and Sumatra in the East Indies in the 19th century, the western colonies languished. The long-term investment in the west did not pay off until 40 years ago, when vast bauxite deposits were found in Surinam, and Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo oilfields were opened. During World War II, Surinam provided 60% of the U.S.'s bauxite needs for aluminum. Huge oil refineries on Curaçao and Aruba processed 72% of the crude produced in Venezuela. With this new prosperity, the Negroes, East Indians, Hindus and expatriate Netherlanders in the colonies (230,000 in Surinam, 174,000 on the islands) developed political ambitions. Political parties sprang up at war's end to demand more autonomy for the territories. In 1948 their leaders began to shuttle across the ocean for conferences at The Hague. But none demanded full independence; the territories were well satisfied with last week's statute that kept them an integral part of Queen Juliana's realm.