A DIVERSE, FRIENDLY POPULATION by Gerald Zarr
ARUBA TOURISM BOARD
A R U B A
20Th-CenTurY BLaCK GoLD rush Oil gave Aruba its next economic boom. In 1929, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now Exxon) built what was then the world’s largest oil refinery in San Nicolas, on the southeastern coast. This refinery employed over 8,000 people — 16 percent of Aruba’s population — making San Nicolas the island’s second-largest city. Exxon closed the refinery in 1985 during a global oversupply, but the Coastal Oil
Aruba is home to a mixture of people from South America and Europe, the Far East and other islands of the Caribbean, though most are descended from Arawak, Dutch and Spanish ancestors. No full-blooded Indians remain.
Company of Houston, Texas, reopened it in 1991.
MoDern PoLITICs anD TourIsM In the 1940s, Aruba began to resent playing second fiddle to Curaçao in the federation known as the Netherlands Antilles (then composed of Aruba,
Bonaire, Curaçao and Suriname). By 1986, Aruba’s people are keen linguists,
Bonaire and Curaçao. Once again, Aruba
Aruba had had enough and became an
using Dutch, English, Spanish and
was saved from the slave trade and a
autonomous state within the Kingdom of
Papiamento with ease, often all in the
plantation economy because of its poor
the Netherlands, with its own constitution
soil and aridity. Instead, the Dutch left the
and a high degree of self-government.
Arawaks to graze livestock on the parched
For a while, Aruba toyed with the idea
landscape, using the island to produce
of proceeding to full independence but then decided to stay Dutch.
BeGInnInGs Two thousand years ago, the Arawak
meat for other Dutch possessions in the
people settled Aruba and were still there,
Caribbean. With the exception of a short
In the capital of Oranjestad, or “orange
in 1499, when the Spanish conquistador
period during the Napoleonic Wars, when
city,” honoring Holland’s reigning House
Alonso de Ojeda came to claim the island
the island fell to the British, Aruba has
of Orange, a 21-member legislative
for Queen Isabella of Spain. The Spanish
remained Dutch ever since.
assembly elected by popular vote meets
didn’t think highly of Aruba, which they found too arid for cultivation — a bad
19Th-CenTurY GoLD rush
an eight-member council of ministers.
judgment call, because they missed the
In 1824, Aruba experienced its
The Netherlands is still responsible for
gold that was right under their noses and
first economic boom when gold was
defense and foreign affairs. Despite
didn’t foresee the economic boom in oil
discovered on its northern coast. A flood
its separate status, Aruba still retains
and high-rise hotels that the island would
of gold-hungry immigrants arrived from
strong economic, cultural and political
experience. This was a lucky break for
Europe and Venezuela, and the gold
ties with the mother country and her
the Arawaks, though, who were left alone
rush was on. A smeltery at Bushiribana
by the Spanish for more than a century.
processed over three million tons of raw
Before the first luxury hotel was
Thus the Arawak heritage is stronger on
material until 1916, when the mines were
opened in 1959, cruise ships provided
Aruba than on most Caribbean islands,
the main source of visitors to the island.
thanks to that laissez-faire approach.
The DuTCh CoMe To sTaY
regularly, and a prime minister heads
After gold petered out, Aruba became
Since then, both ship- and land-based
the world’s leading producer of aloe, just
tourism have grown phenomenally.
as the sunbathing craze was taking off in
Aruba now boasts more than 6,000 hotel
With their lukewarm attitude toward
the States. One can still visit the Aruba
rooms and over a million visitors each
Aruba, the Spanish didn’t resist too fiercely
Aloe Balm Factory and see the production
year. Having supplanted oil as a revenue
when the Dutch came calling in 1636 to
process first-hand — from aloe leaf to
earner, tourism is now the mainstay of
seize Aruba and the sister islands of
finished lotions and creams.
the island economy.
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