Saturday, January 17, 2015

Aruba

Aruba is an island 19.6 miles long by 6 miles wide, just 70 square miles in total size, about twice the size of Amsterdam, though it is located nowhere near Amsterdam, and this in spite of the fact that Amsterdam is its capital. It is in fact located some 600 miles west of the Lesser Antilles in the southern Caribbean Sea, a mere 11 miles north of the coast of Venezuela, which is a good deal less than the distance from the Falkland Islands (apologies, of course I meant Las Malvinas) from the coast of Argentina. 

How does somewhere so small get to be a country, when there are 1000 such islands all over the world, and most of them don't even get to be tax havens or military bases, let alone fully-fledged states?

The answer is complex. Aruba both is and is not a country. Join it up with its three neighbours, the nearby islands of Bonaire and Cura├žao and the slightly-more-distant, somewhat-larger land-mass known as the Netherlands, and you have the ABC islands (shouldn’t that be the ABCN islands?); then add the island of Sint Maarten and you have the Dutch islands in the Caribbean, also known as the Netherlands Antilles, or much more accurately, that relique of European imperialism “the Dutch Caribbean”. Yes, Aruba is an official part of Holland, or of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be precise. Their citizens are Dutch nationals; or their nationals are Dutch citizens – either way round works out the same. 


Aruba has in fact been trying to become independent since 1946, and in January 1986 it reached the point of becoming autonomous (the equivalent of an 18-year-old who leaves home, but whose parents are still paying the college fees), and a target date of 1996 was set for full independence. Note the use of the expression "target date", and note that 1996 has been and gone, without the target being hit. This is because, two years ahead of completion, both parties agreed to "defer indefinitely" the transition to independence. Why? Who can explain the mysterious nature of post-imperial politics, when there is so much as stake for both parties - in this case Aruba's inclusion in the 1996 US list of major drug-producing and transit countries, Aruba's inclusion in the year 2000 OECD list of the 35 "non-cooperative tax havens", and Aruba's inclusion in the 2001 Dutch census, which confirmed that 82% of the population of Aruba are of Dutch origin. 

And why, anyway, would Holland freely give up a beach resort in the Caribbean when it had one? Would you give up your yacht if you had one? Would you give up your second home in the country, or by the sea? Would you pay taxes at home if you could pay them at a much lower rate elsewhere? Would you stay in Amsterdam and use the marijuana coffee houses, when the weather is so much better in Aruba, and access to cocaine so easy (there are "free-zones" at the docks, where goods can be held and then re-shipped elsewhere without paying any import or export tax, and where the customs and police simply do not bother to go)

What, besides serving as a way-station for African slaves en route to the plantations, and now a holiday resort, has Aruba ever contributed to the world?





The Caquetio, a sub-tribe of the aboriginal Arawaks, whom the Dutch conquered when they took the island, had been painting the walls and ceilings of caves for thousands of years, and most of it is a great deal better than the garbage that gets puts up for the Turner Prize. You can see them, if you are minded to leave the beach and prepared to put up with nocturnal bats - Southern Long-Nosed and Long-Tongued Fruit Bats - at the Guadirikiri, Fontein and Huliba caves; much better than wasting a day at the casino.

But after this, other than tourism, not much has happened since the conquest, probably because most of the natives are stoned, or in meetings with their tax consultants. Aruba is only a rocket-missile away from Venezuela, so they are probably very wise to remain part of the Netherlands, which gives them NATO protection.



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