Saturday, February 14, 2015


Once upon a time the island of Curaçao was inhabited by Arawak Indians; then, in 1604, it became the habitation of Dutch colonists, who made it their centre for the slave trade, and left it bankrupt when slavery was abolished; but fortunately the Venezuelans discovered vast quantities of oil, which needs refining, so now Curaçao provides that service.

Who exactly "owns" Curaçao today is open to question. Venezuelan oil suggests a form of economic proprietorship, though politically there is no connection. Shell, of course, is a Dutch company, so there remains an economic proprietorship that way too. Officially though the Dutch gave up any authority in October 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles, founded in 1954 with Curaçao and several other Dutch possessions in the Caribbean, was dissolved. Nevertheless, following referenda in 2005 and 2009, though Curaçao is now self-governing, it is so within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There is also the possibility that Curacao is owned by HSBC bank; disclosures by a whistle-blower in February 2015 gave the details of money stashed in HSBC's Swiss branches, and other illegal activities. Details here.

Looking at the waterfront at Willemstad, the island's capital, you might well think you were in Amsterdam, both from the colours and the architecture. Any of the bars on that waterfront will be happy to sell you a glass of the island's eponymous cocktail, which is made by distilling the dried peel of the laraha, a citrus fruit that evolved out of the native Spanish oranges of Valencia which the original settlers tried to transplant. The base of curaçao is brandy, which is to say "fire wine", the meaning of "brandewijn" in the Dutch - it's basically the same as regular wine, but fortified, distilled to a higher proof. If they try to sell you blue or red curaçao, don't be fooled; it looks pretty but it tastes exactly the same, because all they've done is dye it with a tasteless dye, usually the flower of the Butterfly Pea. There are also genuine flavourings that get added, such as coffee, chocolate and even rum and raisin, though why anyone would want to treat an already flavoured brandy as though it were ice cream is beyond me. Proost!

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