Or Sint Maarten, to restore its original Dutch spelling and pronunciation. In fact, it was Spanish first, having been sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed for Spain, but it was the Dutch who first settled the island and exploited its salt deposits. The Spanish then retook it in 1633, fought with the French and Dutch over it, and gave it up in 1648. As with all Caribbean islands, its history for the next two hundred years was one of cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations worked by African slaves; Napoleon abolished slavery on the French side of the island; the Dutch finally did the same on their half in 1863. After the Second World War, and now a free port, Sint Maarten joined with several other Dutch Caribbean possessions to become the Netherlands Antilles. Following a referendum in 2000, it then became a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the change not formalised until October 2010, when the Dutch parliament dissolved the Netherlands Antilles.
The island's official website describes itself as "the capital of duty-free shopping", and offers watersports, beaches and calypso nightlife as its contribution to the improvement of human existence. What, no race-riots to selfie, no shanty towns to blog, no ethnic tensions to postcard, no religious rivalries to crusade for or against? It claims to be Paradise on Earth, and of course it isn't; but apparently it may be as close as we will get.
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