Aruba, island in the West Indies, in the Caribbean Sea, near the Paraguana Peninsula of Venezuela. An integral part of the Netherlands, Aruba was a member of the Netherlands Antilles until 1986. Aruba is 30 km (19 mi) long and 8 km (5 mi) wide, and has an area of 190 sq km (73 sq mi). The population of Aruba in 2002 was 70,441, giving the island an overall population density of 363 persons per sq km (939 per sq mi). Oranjestad (1990 population, 20,000) is the capital and main town. Sint Nicolaas, the site of an oil refinery, has a population of 17,000.
Until the mid-1980s the refining of Venezuelan oil was the main source of employment in Aruba. In 1984, the petroleum refining industry accounted for 25 percent of the island's gross national product. When the refinery closed in 1985, many Arubans lost their jobs and experienced a drastic reduction in their standard of living. Rehabilitation of the refining industry began in 1989 and in 1993 the refinery's daily output was 140,000 barrels. The island economy now depends mostly on tourism, and service industries related to tourism. Aruba cooperates with the Netherlands Antilles to attract 721,000 visitors annually. Some light industry produces tobacco, beverages, and consumer goods. Aruba's principal port is Oranjestad and the island's international airport is located nearby. The island's unit of currency is the Aruban guilder or gulden (1.79 guilders equal U.S.$1; 2000).
In 1986 Aruba became an autonomous and self-governing entity. The official head of government is the Dutch monarch, represented by an appointed governor. The governor is responsible for all external affairs. The prime minister nominates a council of ministers and together they are responsible for the island's internal executive functions. The 21 seats of the legislature, called the Staten, are filled by popularly elected officials. Aruba's judiciary is comprised by the Court of First Instance and a court of appeal. Defense is the responsibility of the Netherlands. The University of Aruba (1970) is located in Oranjestad.
Aruba was inhabited by the Arawak peoples before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Claimed by Spain in 1499, the islands were colonized by the Dutch in 1636. Under the Dutch, the island became a base for the Dutch West India Company. In 1954 Aruba became part of the Netherlands Antilles and beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Aruba began to push for independence. In 1983 it was decided that beginning in 1986, Aruba would receive a separate status from the Netherlands Antilles and that it would be fully independent in 1996. In 1994 Aruba and the Netherlands agreed that Aruba would retain its autonomous status as a part of the Netherlands rather than seek full independence. The advantages of this arrangement outweighed the benefits of full independence and secured for Aruba a separate status from that of the Netherlands Antilles.
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