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.