Aruba is the westernmost of the Lesser Antilles, and of all the islands just off the coast of Venezuela. The three westernmost are associated states federated with the Netherlands, and had been Dutch possessions since the 1600s. Aruba was part of the six-island country called Netherlands Antilles until 1 June 1986, when it became a separate country with the same status (partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands) as the remaining five-member Antilles. It was planned to achieve full independence in ten years but this was subsequently dropped.

The capital is Oranjestad on the west coast, population about 17 000, and another town of the same size is St Nicolaas at the southern tip. Aruba is a longish strip running around 30 km from the north-western promontory Kudarebe to the south-eastern Punt Basora. It is a short distance north of Cap San Román, the tip of the Peninsula de Paraguana that sticks out of Venezuela.

Aruba's separation might have been influenced by the desire of the Mafia to set up a country of their own: there were strong allegations of Mafia control there. A noticeably high fraction of the world's Scotch whisky exports are to Aruba (and neighbouring Venezuela gets a lot too).

A Dutch colony since 1634, apart from British rule 1805-1816, it was attached to Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) from 1828 till 1848 as the Dutch West Indies colony; then in 1848 the Netherlands Antilles were separated from Guiana.

Prime ministers since the recent separation have been Henny Eman 1986-1989 and 1994-2001, and Nelson Oduber 1989-1994 and since October 2001.

It is an arid little island discovered by Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. Subsequently this area became a Spanish colony with center of operations in Curacao. Upon landing on the island he is said to have called it "an island of giants" because of bodily remains found there being larger than those of the "average European".

In 1636, Spain relinquished control over Aruba (and presumably other Antilles Islands?) following the Netherlands seceding from Spain in the Dutch Revolt. It has been a part of the Netherlands ever since, except during 1805-1816, when Britain occupied the island when they fought the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1824, gold was discovered and soon mining began which lasted until 1916, when the first world war started and materials needed to extract gold became unavailable. Today, old and abondened gold mines serve as tourist attractions. In 1924, oil was found, and few years later three oil refineries had been built. For the better part of the last century, Aruba was a large supplier of oil. The economic oil boom came to a quick halt in 1985 when a worldwide oversupply of oil forced one of the refineries to close down, causing mass unemployment. Things picked up again in the nineties but by now Aruba´s economy and society had come to be dominated by trading and tourism, primarily with the United States. For reasons unclear to me Aruba has the world’s second largest desalination facility.

Official currency is the Aruban guilder which has a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar of 1.79 / 1. Arubans graciously accept tips at 10-15%. Governments adds tourism taxes on hotels (per room) and services attached to them.

Local tourism theme propogates glamorous weekends in high quality hotels with casinos. Incredible honeymoon trips (brochure translation: “marry on a beautiful tropical island where the sun always shines”) and variations are popular. The insinuations of mafia control may not necessarily be wrong.

Large portion of locals is descended from African slaves that were imported in numbers in the “colonial period”. In 1954 The Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was drawn up, therein binding the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. Aruba received full autonomy within The Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986. Gilberto François Croes, fondly referred to as “Betico Croes”, is hailed as a national hero of liberation. Since then, Aruba has had full control over internal affairs via a democratically elected 21 Member unicameral parliament, serving four year terms. The ruling monarch (Queen Beatrix) is represented by an appointed governor, serving six year terms.

The official language is Dutch but English and more notably Papiamento, which is a creole language formed from elements of Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese, are widely spoken. Many cultural aspects are heavily influenced by the Dutch.

When you first arrive in Aruba you are greeted by many happy people who want to help you. This small island of 77 square miles has over 93,242 people in it. This country is small yet has many things to offer in many different ways. Most of the food in Aruba is imported except for some fruits. Aruba has many languages, the official Dutch, but English and Spanish are also widely spoken on the island. The Native language is Papiamento, which was spoken by the first natives on the island. The life expectancy in Aruba for a man is 71 years and for women is 76 years. The death rate (6.0 per 1000 people) is a lot lower than the birth rate (substantially lower than the rest of the Caribbean) so the population slowly rises each year. This small country only gets approximately 20” of rain per year. The climate is usually around 81F and sunny. Because of the constant weather there isn’t usually even a weather section in the newspaper! The city has no drainage so when it rains a lot the water builds up and there are many mudslides and overflowed roads. Most of the roads downtown are old but still in good condition. Aruba is a very happy country where many people come for vacation and to relax. There are many types of lizards and crabs that live on and around the island. There are many places to see such as: Giant Dorite Boulder Formation, Perching Pelicans, Or the Natural Bridge, these places are all famous on the small island. Aruba is a fun, exciting place to visit for anyone.

Written Jan, 2000.

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