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Practical information on St. Martin can be found in the section Traveller Information
Since the early 1980s, the population of St. Martin has increased dramatically. The population of the French side of the island rose from 8,000 in 1982 to around 35,000 in 2007. More than 38,959 inhabitants live on the Dutch side.
In all, over 120 nationalities can be found on St. Martin, with significant numbers of French, Haitians, Dominicans, Americans and people from other European countries. There are also communities originating from other Caribbean islands, South America, Asia and Africa.
The most widely spoken languages are English, French, Haitian, Guadeloupe and Martinique Creole, Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
The island is divided into two geographical zones.
At the signing of the Treaty of Concordia in 1648 the island was split into two parts: the southern part (Sint Maarten) was granted to the Netherlands and the northern part was given to France (Saint Martin). Never have two neighbouring countries lived in greater harmony.
Were it not for the “welcome” signs as you cross the border there are no obvious indications that you are entering another country, except for a few features that are special to each side.
All of the provisions of the 1648 treaty are still in force today.
When Guadeloupe became a French "département" by law in 1946, Saint Martin became a commune of the "Département de la Guadeloupe". This was a unilateral decision made by France, taken without prior consultation with the Netherlands, and it violated the Treaty of Concordia of 1648.
The island’s tax exemption status was legally recognised in the decrees of 1948, which established a framework for the creation of "départements" in the former overseas colonies.
1957: France includes the Northern Islands (St Martin and St Barths) as part of Europe in the Treaty of Rome, which establishes the European Economic Community (EEC).
1963: A "sous-préfecture" is created for the two Northern Islands.
Saint Martin : overseas "Collectivité"
The constitutional reform of March 28th 2003 on the decentralisation of the French Republic brought about a complete change in the constitutional status of the overseas territories. The new law laid down a framework for developments in the status and administration of overseas "Collectivités".
On December 7th 2003, at the request of the municipal council, a referendum was held on Saint Martin on the evolution of the island’s constitutional status under the framework of Article 74 of the Constitution (creation of a "Collectivité" with a special status). A total of 76.17% voted in support of the reform.
From December 11th 2007, St. Martin has been a leader of the French decentralisation process under the new Article 74 of the French Constitution.
The overseas "Collectiviteé of St. Martin has an original administrative set-up which is unique in Metropolitan France but similar to that of other French overseas territories which have also adopted special structures based on the new Article 74 of the French Constitution.
The uniqueness of St. Martin in the French Republic was recognised by leading politicians and translated into the major statutory reform of 2007 on the basis of two pillars :
• promoting political debate in the framework of reformed local democracy,
• enabling the search for solutions tailored to island-specific issues by granting extended porfolios in areas related to identity and development.
And so the overseas territory of St. Martin was very much at the forefront of the “Decentralised French Republic”, not only by way of its increased responsibilities but also through its streamlined organisation and increased resources, including its tax status.
Today St. Martin has more – and better structured – resources at its disposal to define and implement a more appropriate and sustainable development. Once a tough political conundrum, the island’s administrative set-up is now better perceived because it appears in accordance with the local democratic model and allows St. Martin to keep in tune with the local trends in the Caribbean.
The law of February 21st 2007, concerning statutory and institutional provisions relating to overseas territories, changed the status of the island from "commune of Saint Martin" to an Overseas "Collectivité" under Article 74 of the Constitution.
The "collectivité" was officially implemented on July 15th 2007.
The new "collectivité" of Saint-Martin (www.com-saint-martin.fr) consists of a 23-member territorial council and a 7-member executive council led by the President of the "collectivité". The council members are elected by popular vote for a 5-year term.
The Economic, Social and Cultural Council (www.cesc-saintmartin.org) is the consultative body of the Territorial Collectivité of Saint Martin, with 23 members divided over 3 committees. Each member is elected for a 5-year term.
At the first territorial elections in 2007, Louis Constant Fleming was elected president of the Territorial Council of St. Martin. On August 12th 2008 he was replaced by Frantz Gumbs.
The territorial council now has the responsibilities that was previously devolved to the commune, département and region.
It establishes policies in the following areas:
• Laws and taxes.
• Town planning, housing (from January 1st 2012).
• Roads and collective transportation, transportation by sea of territorial interest, vessels registration, creation, development and operation of harbours, except for working conditions.
• Waste managemen, state-owned laws and assets belonging to the collectivité.
• Foreign workers' rights.
• Energy (from January 1st 2012).
• Creation and organisation of services within the Collectivité and public institutions.
The territorial council is consulted regarding draft laws, orders and decrees introducing, modifying or removing dispositions specific to the Collectivité.
Laws and rulings are applicable by right on St. Martin, except for those concerning matters relating to the authority of the Collectivité when it comes to creating laws or concerning regulations for the arrival and stay of foreign nationals and the right to asylum.
St. Martin will not have a member of parliament in the French National Assembly at least until the next legislative elections, which are anticipated for 2012. Until then, the island will continue to be represented at the Palais Bourbon by Victorin Lurel, who was elected from the 4th "cironscription"* on Guadeloupe.
Since the elections of September 2008, St. Martin has had a representative in the French Senate, Louis Constant Fleming.
In 1954, the Netherlands granted the Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, Statia and the Dutch part of St. Martin) a status giving them internal autonomy within the Dutch Kingdom on a large scale. Only Defence and Foreign Affairs remained under Dutch control.
In 1957, at the signing of the Treaty of Rome creating the European Economic Community (EEC), the Netherlands excluded the Netherlands Antilles from the European territory. The Dutch part of the island became an overseas territory and country.
On October 10th , 2010, Sint Maarten became a country within the Dutch Kingdom giving it an equal status to Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands. The government of "Country of St. Maarten" is a parliamentary democracy, the new Prime Minister is Mrs. Sarah Wescott-Williams..
St. Martin’s architecture has many influences.
The island features beautiful slave masters’ houses, dating back to the days of slavery. Some of these houses are now museums.
On the French side, traditional Creole buildingsprevail. These typical, elaborately-decorated and brightly-coloured homes with their chiselled wood decorations stand proudly in the streets of Marigot and Grand Case. With 2 or 3 rooms rarely larger than 3m by 6m, traditional Creole wooden houses were built to withstand hurricanes.
When they arrived on the island, the Europeans built Marigot on a grid plan, with the houses all aligned. Many of Marigot’s buildings are therefore two- or three-storey wood and stone buildings, often painted in bright colours with rust-coloured rooves.
St. Martin is also renowned for the 'Aliturian', ” influence of the architect Ali Tur, who brought his architectural style to the Antilles in the 1930s, blending tradition (effective ventilation and protection from the sun) and innovation (using concrete).
On the Dutch side, half-timbered Dutch houses have something of the American architecture about them. Everywhere you go, the bright colours of the houses – which are the pride of the inhabitants – dominate the landscape, radiating a sense of "joie de vivre", friendliness and hospitality at every turn.
Whether they be English-speaking, Spanish-speaking or Francophone, all the Caribbean islands have one thing in common : rhythm, dance and song.
Saint Martin moves to the beat of tropical music, and visitors will find a mixture of musical styles here : soca, salsa, samba, steel band, beguine, reggae, zouk and even rock.
Music can be heard all over the island, in beach restaurants, roadside bars and in cars, adding to the island’s warmth, "joie de vivre" and its welcoming hospitality.
On St. Martin every day is an excuse for a celebration, fun and dancing.
From the upbeat tunes of carnival to the more restrained "Chante Nwel", and the very latest musical trends, the mambo, the cha cha cha, salsa, calypso, beguine, Gwo Ka, Zouk, Kompa, Steel pans, Dub, merengue and reggae, the heart of St. Martin beats to the rhythm of tropical music.
The island’s renowned steel bands, like The Gunslingers, can also be heard at local events.
The peaceful game of dominoes is a favourite Caribbean pastime. The people of St. Martin are crazy about this game, which is all the more popular since card games are not much favoured. Players share out all of the 28 tiles. At the start of the game, the challenge is to arrange and balance all seven wooden tiles in a single hand. With a slap, the dominoes are laid on the table
Bingo is popular among the Haitian community. At the end of a busy working week, the Haitians love to sit and play together. The price of relaxation and recreation? A dollar a game. The rules are simple: each player has three cards with twenty-five squares. The first to get a full row, column or diagonal with five corn seeds wins.
A cruel form of entertainment for some; a profitable industry for others, this programmed slaughter of an animal is an island tradition. Each week, spectators flock to the pit hoping for the victory of the animal on which they have placed their bet.
The dazzling light that washes over the landscape, the clear water in myriad shades of blue and green, the shimmering colours and the way that the culture, the people and the island itself grow on the visitor: many aspects have drawn strings of artists, painters, sculptors and potters to St. Martin, many of whom are world-renowned.
Some artists hail from the island; others have chosen to create their art on St. Martin. Caribbean influences fuse with those of other continents. And new genres are born.
St. Martin is dotted with art galleries and exhibition spaces and many exhibitions are held all year round.
Each month, Soualig'Art Magazine, which is freely distributed across the island, lists upcoming exhibitions. Don’t forget the foyer in the "Hôtel de la Collectivité" (formerly the town hall), with its dedicated “Artists’ Corner”. Every month, a local artist displays their work there. Once a month, the garden at the "Hôtel de la Collectivité" becomes the “Poets’ Garden” for the evening, with prose and poetry reading, jazz interludes and tastings of local dishes.
With Adventist, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities on the island, religion plays an important role in the life of the Saint Martiners.
There are around fifty religious communities rooted in Christianity alone.
Due to widespread immigration and the multiethnic culture of the island, many religious communities live side by side on St. Martin. The co-existence of multiple nationalities has brought about many religious influences.
The largest religious communities are Catholic, Anglican, Adventist, Protestant, Voodoo, Methodist, Muslim, Rastafarian and Hindu.
An authentic St. Martin tradition, this magical music can be heard at nightfall or on Sunday mornings coming from modest temples to the grandest of churches. Surrender to its charm !
département = former colony under French Law
* circonscription = subdivions of a “département” or Collectivité