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Curaçao (kyo͝oˈrəsō, ko͞oräsouˈ), island (2015 est. pop. 158,000), 178 sq mi (461 sq km), an autonomous country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located in the Lesser Antilles off the coast of Venezuela. Curaçao is semiarid; most of the plant life is of desert character. Oil refining is the principal industry, and the island has one of the world's largest refineries, receiving oil from the enormous reserves at nearby Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. There are also phosphate deposits. Other major industries include tourism (Curaçao is a free port and has a number of resorts and casinos) and ship repairing. Curaçao's ship-repair dry dock is one of the largest in the Americas. The head of state is the monarch of the Netherlands, represented by a governor-general. The head of government is the prime minister, who is elected by the unicameral parliament (Staten). The parliament's 21 members are popularly elected to four-year terms.


Visited by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci in 1499, Curaçao was colonized by the Spanish in 1527. The Dutch captured it in 1634 and remained in possession except for a brief period of British rule during the Napoleonic Wars. In the 18th cent. Curaçao was a base for a flourishing Dutch entrepôt trade. Economic prosperity declined after the abolition of slavery in 1863 but revived with the introduction of the petroleum industry in the early 20th cent., and the island was the largest and most populous in the former Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao was the scene of severe racial strife and rioting in 1969. Prior to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Curaçao voted to become an autonomous country within the Netherlands.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an island of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, off the northern coast of South America. Curaçao belongs to the Netherlands. Area, 472 sq km. Population, 150,000 (1972), mostly Negroes. Willemstad is the main city and also the capital of the Netherlands Antilles.

The island’s topography is hilly (elevations to 372 m). The shores in the west and south are surrounded by coral reefs and have convenient harbors. The climate is subequatorial, with up to 500 mm of precipitation per year. Vegetation is xerophilous shrubs. There are large oil refineries based on Venezuelan oil; petroleum products are exported. Curaçao was discovered in 1499 by the Spanish navigator A. de Ojeda.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.