Aruba’s first inhabitants were the Caquetios Indians from the Arawak tribe, who migrated there from Venezuela to escape attacks by the Caribs. Fragments of the earliest known Indian settlements date back to about 1,000 AD. Due to Aruba’s mostly distant location from other Caribbean islands and strong currents in the sea which made canoe travel to the other islands difficult, the Caquetios remained more tied to South America than the Caribbean.
The Spanish Period
Europeans first learned of Aruba when Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda happened upon it in August 1499. Vespucci, in one of his four letters to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, described his voyage to the islands along the coast of Venezuela. He wrote about an island where most trees are of Brazil wood and, from this island, he went to one ten leagues away, where they had houses built as in Venice. In another letter he described a small island inhabited by very large people, which the expedition thought was not inhabited.
Aruba was colonised by Spain for over a century. The Cacique or Indian Chief in Aruba, Simas, welcomed the first priests in Aruba and received from them a wooden cross as a gift. In 1508, Alonso de Ojeda was appointed as Spain’s first Governor of Aruba, as part of “Nueva Andalucía”.
Another governor appointed by Spain was Juan Martinez de Ampíes. A “Cédula Real” decreed in November 1525 gave Ampíes, factor of Española, the right to repopulate the depopulated islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire.
In 1528, Ampíes was replaced by a representative of the “House of Welser”.
With the arrival of the Spanish many of the Indian population were enslaved and relocated to Hispanola to work in mines. Despite this their fate was merciful when compared to Indian populations on other Caribbean Islands who were exterminated. In fact, the Island was spared the usual horrors of Spanish colonial policies.
By 1642, the 80-year war between Spain and Holland was drawing to a close, and it was in this year that the Dutch took possession of Aruba. Dutch military personnel were sent to maintain Aruba, but contrary to their living conditions under their previous masters, the Indians were allowed to remain free. Under the Dutch WIC administration, as “New Netherland and Curaçao” from 1648 to 1664 and the Dutch government regulations of 1629, also applied in Aruba. The Dutch administration appointed an Irishman as “Commandeur” in Aruba in 1667.
During the Napoleonic wars, the British Empire took control over the island, between 1799 and 1802, and between 1804 and 1816, before handing it back to the Dutch. A 19th-century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by first the opening of a crude oil transshipment facility in 1924 and then in 1928 with the opening of an oil refinery. This was the Lago Oil & Transport Co Ltd a 100% owned subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. The Lago refinery was located on the east end of the island and on the west end. The refinery employed well over 8,000 people, 16% of Aruba’s population, and up until the 70’s was one of the largest in the world.
Royal Dutch Shell had a small refinery, the Eagle Refinery which ceased its operations in 1953, after serving as a depot for both refineries during the World War II.
World War II
During World War II, together with Curaçao the then world-class exporting oil refineries were the main suppliers of refined products to the Allies. Aruba became a British protectorate from 1940 to 1942 and a US protectorate from 1942 to 1945. On February 16, 1942, its oil processing refinery was attacked by a German submarine (U-156) under the command of Werner Hartenstein, but the mission failed. U-156 was later destroyed by a US plane as the crew was sunbathing; only one survived. In March 1944, Eleanor Roosevelt briefly visited American troops stationed in Aruba. In attendance were: His Excellency, Dr. P. Kasteel, the Governor of Curaçao, and his aide, Lieutenant Ivan Lansberg; Rear Admiral T. E. Chandler and his Aide, Lieutenant W. L. Edgington; Captain Jhr. W. Boreel and his aide, Lieutenant E. O. Holmberg; and the Netherlands aide to Mrs. Roosevelt, Lieutenant Commander v.d. Schatte Olivier.
Late 20th Century
The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry, which became Aruba’s primary industry when the refinery closed in 1985. Because of the focus on tourism and the number of resorts on the island, Arubans enjoy a very low unemployment rate. Aruba has earned a reputation as the “Las Vegas of the Caribbean”.
In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, under the Dutch crown. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba’s prerogative in 1990. Aruba has a mixture of people from South America, Europe, the Far East, and other islands of the Caribbean.
After a break in the coalition between the ruling Arubaanse Volkspartij (AVP) and the Organisashon Liberal Arubano (OLA), the election of July 1998 was pushed forward to December 1997. Unfortunately, the results were unclear, with votes equally divided between the People’s Electoral Movement Party (MEP), the AVP, and the OLA. After negotiations failed to unite the MEP and AVP, a new coalition between the AVP and OLA formed, which forced the MEP to be the opposition.
Four years later in September 2001, the opposition MEP won a decisive victory in a free election, taking 12 of 21 seats to form Aruba’s first one-party government. Due to its small margin of majority status, the MEP has left open the possibility of a future coalition partner.