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Diplomacy in Action

Aruba (07/03)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.



Area: 180 sq. km. (112 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Oranjestad (pop. 60,000, 1995).
Terrain: Flat with a few hills; scant vegetation .
Climate: Subtropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Aruban(s).
Population (2002): 94,149.
Annual growth rate: 1.63%.
Ethnic groups: Mixed white/Caribbean Amerindian 80%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 81%, Protestant 3%, Hindu, Muslim, Methodist, Anglican, Adventist, Evangelist, Jehovah's Witness, Jewish. Language: Dutch (official); Papamiento, Spanish and English also are spoken.
Education: Literacy--97%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.2/1,000. Life expectancy--75 years for men, 81.9 years for women.
Work force (41,501): Most employment is in wholesale and retail trade and repair, followed by hotels and restaurants and oil refining. Unemployment--About .6%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Branches: Executive--Monarch represented by a governor (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), Cabinet. Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--Joint High Court of Justice appointed by the monarch.
Subdivisions: Aruba is divided into eight regions: Noord/Tank Leendert, Oranjestad (west), Oranjestad (east), Paradera, Santa Cruz, Savaneta, Sint Nicolaas (north), and Sint Nicolaas (south).
Political parties: Aruba Solidarity Movement (MAS), Aruban Democratic Alliancer (Aliansa), Aruban Democratic Party (PDA), Aruban Liberal Party (OLA), Aruban Patriotic Party (PPA), Aruban People's Party (AVP), Concentration for the Liberation of Aruba (CLA), People's Electoral Movement Party (MEP), For a Restructured Aruba Now (PARA), National Democratic Action (ADN).
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years.
Flag: Blue, with two narrow, horizontal, yellow stripes across the lower portion and a red, four-pointed star outlined in white in the upper hoist-side corner

GDP: $1.724 billion.
Growth rate (2002): -0.7%.
Per capita GDP (2002): $19,232.
Natural resources: Beaches. Tourism/services, and oil refinery dominant factors in GDP.
Trade: Exports--$3.48 billion f.o.b. (including oil re-exports) (2002): oil products, live animals and animal products, art and collectibles, machinery and electrical equipment, transport equipment. Major markets--U.S. (40.4%), Venezuela (19.9%) Netherlands (10.2%) Netherlands Antilles (14.8%). Imports--$1.5 billion: crude petroleum, food, manufactures. Major suppliers--U.S. (60.4%), Netherlands (12.7%), Netherlands Antilles (3.3%).

Aruba's first inhabitants were the Caquetios Indians from the Arawak tribe. Fragments of the earliest known Indian settlements date back to about 1,000 A.D. Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda is regarded as the first European to arrive in about 1499. In 1636 Aruba was acquired by the Dutch and remained under their control for nearly two centuries. In 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, the English briefly took control over the island, but it was returned to Dutch control in 1816. A 19th-century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening in 1924 of an oil refinery. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. In 1986 Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's prerogative in 1990. Aruba has a mixture of people from the South America and Europe, the Far East, and other islands of the Caribbean

Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba has full autonomy on all internal affairs with the exception of defense, foreign affairs, and the Supreme Court. The constitution was enacted in January 1986. Executive power rests with a governor while a prime minister heads an eight-member Cabinet. The governor general is appointed for a 6-year term by the monarch, and the prime minister and deputy prime minister are elected by the Staten for 4-year terms. The legislature or Staten is made up of 21 members elected by direct, popular vote to serve 4-year terms. Aruba's judicial system, which has mainly been derived from the Dutch system, operates independently of the legislature and the executive. Jurisdiction, including appeal, lies with the Common Court of Justice of Aruba and the Supreme Court of Justice in the Netherlands.

Principal Government Officials
Governor-General--Olindo Koolman
Prime Minister--Nelson Oduber

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 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 their small margin of majority status, the MEP has left open the possibility of a future coalition partner.

Through the 1990s and into the 21st century Aruba posted growth rates around 5%. However, in 2001 a decrease in demand and the terrorist attack on the United States led to the first economic contraction in 15 years. Deficit spending has been a staple in Aruba's history and modestly high inflation has been present as well, although recent efforts at tightening monetary policy may correct this. Oil processing is the dominant industry in Aruba, despite the expansion of the tourism sector. The size of the agriculture and manufacturing industries remain minimal.

The Netherlands Antilles conducts foreign affairs primarily through the Dutch government, however, Aruba has strong relations with other Caribbean governments. Aruba is an observer in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an associate member of the World Trade Organization through the Netherlands and is a full member of the Association of Caribbean States.

Principal U.S. Consulate Officials
Consul General--Deborah A. Bolton
General Service Officer--Amy Wendt

The U.S. Consulate for Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg #1, Willemstad, Curacao; tel. 599-9-461-3066, fax: 599-9-461-6489, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm. Email:

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.  

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