Sunday, April 26, 2009
There is a 33-kilometre long island in the southern Caribbean Sea. Caiquetios had been living on this most southwestern island of the Caribbean archipelago for 1,000 years or more, then came ships from Spain. The Conquistadors aboard those ships were seeking gold and other precious metals. They searched and found none, so the Spaniards declared Aruba one of the Islas Inutiles (Useless Islands).
But they put it to some use before long. They set about sending captured islanders to another larger Caribbean island they'd conquered. They sent the Caiquetios first as slaves to labour in their copper mines, then later they sent the Caiquetios to work on their cattle and horse farms.
In April 1624, Pieter Schouten, sailing with three ships for the WIC, had sighted Aruba off the Venezuelan coast. Also sighting men and horses on the shore, Schouten did not disembark. Three years later a WIC expedition under Dirck van Uytgeest sailed off the Aruban coast. They too spied men on the shore and stuck to the safety of their ships.
Then in 1633 Spain conquered the nearby island of Sualouiga (which Colombus had called Isla de San Martín). It was situated strategically between two of the colonies of the Netherlands -- Brazil and Nieuw-Nederland (on the northeastern coast of North America). The Dutch and the WIC couldn't tolerate this situation. They needed a stronghold in the Caribbean to ensure Dutch supremacy in the New World, so from Nieuw Amsterdam WIC ships sailed south and conquered the island called Curaçao (now part of the Nederlandse Antillen), using it as a base of operations during the Eighty Years' War to attack the Spanish armada.
After suffering the hardness and inhuman conditions of the trip from the other side of the Atlantic, the hundreds of thousands African slaves arriving to Curacao, were "refreshed" in the fields around Willemstad. After this they were taken to the slave market and sold like cattle.
Soon after the Dutch landed on Aruba, taking control of it to prevent attacks being launched from here upon Curaçao, which became both the administrative centre for the WIC and central in the Caribbean slave trade. On Aruba the WIC began engaging the locals in breeding horses and particularly goats on the island, so many that Aruba was also called the "goat island". For some years the main export of Aruba were these horses, worth about 300 guilders each, and goats. They were exported to Jamaica and Cuba. The WIC also had islanders cut down so-called Brasilwood, which was shipped to Amsterdam where it was rasped by convicts at the Rasphouse, the prison.
After acquiring land on Aruba from the WIC in 1773, Moses Salomo Levy Maduro sailed to Aruba and settled there with his wife and half dozen children. They were the first Europeans allowed by the WIC to settle on the island. Maduro came from a Portuguese Shepherdic Jewish family that was prominent in Curaçao where Jewish merchants were buying to on-sell sizeable numbers of slaves from the WIC depot.
Except for a short period when the island fell to the British during the Napoleonic Wars, Aruba has remained under Dutch control. Clearly, the Dutch have seen some usefulness in this so-called 'useless island'. And they've not been the only Westerners to do so.
With the discovery of gold on Aruba in 1800, mining became the island's foremost industry and its economy boomed. By 1916 the gold supply had mostly been tapped out, and as the gold mining industry waned, so did the economy.
In the 1920s an American-owned oil terminal was set up on the island to tranship and refine oil from the nearby Maracaibo basin. By the time when the world was at war for the second time, this terminal had become one of the largest Exxon oil refineries, producing 440,000 barrels of refined oil products per day. During World War II, the Curaçao and Aruban oil refineries were the main suppliers of refined products to the Allies.
For more than 50 years, the huge oil refinery was the island’s major income source, andit employed a a large part of the population. The Aruban economy, and thus the society, was transformed. The presence of the refinery financed schools, doctors, and houses. There was even a golf course built for employees. Aruba saw a wave of immigration as laborers came from around the Caribbean to work in the refinery. Then suddenly it closed. Unemployment increased dramatically.
Aruba then gambled on tourism as a possible solution to the economic situation. These days three quarters of Aruban GNP is earned through tourism and related activities. The cactus-strewn island, particularly popular with American tourists, is now known as the Las Vegas of the Caribbean.
Wikimedia Atlas of Aruba