Aruba is an island in the Caribbean Sea, just a short distance north of the Venezuelan Paraguaná Peninsula, and it forms a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is very dry, with little of the tropical vegetation that many expect in the Caribbean.
Discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, Aruba was acquired by the Dutch in 1636. The island's economy has been dominated by three main industries. 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.
Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles on January 1, 1986 and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's request in 1990.
Head of state is the ruling monarch of the Netherlands, who is represented in Aruba by a governor, appointed for a six-year term. The head of government is the prime minister who forms, together with the Council of Ministers, the executive branch of the government.
They are elected by the parliament, the unicameral Legislature or Staten, which holds 21 seats. Members are elected by direct, popular vote to serve four-year terms.
Aruba is a flat, riverless island renowned for its white sand beaches. Its tropical climate is moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Temperature is almost constant at about 27 degrees Celsius. The highest point in Aruba is Mount Jamanota, at 188 m above sea level.
As a separate part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the island has no administrative subdivisions. On the east are Curaçao and Bonaire, which form the southwest part of the Netherlands Antilles; the three islands are known collectively as the ABC islands.
The local climate is a pleasant tropical marine clime. Little seasonal temperature variation exists, which helps Aruba to be able to attract tourists all year round.
About half of the Aruban Gross National Product is earned with tourism or related activities. Most of the tourists are from the Americas, notably the United States which is the country's largest trading partner. 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.
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. Aruba receives some development aid from the Dutch government each year. The Aruban guilder has a fixed exchange rate with the United States dollar of 1.78:1.
A large percentage of Arubans are descendants of the African slaves that were brought and traded here from the 17th to the 19th century, although this group often mixed with the native Indian population.
Although the official language is Dutch, Papiamento is predominant. This creole language is formed from elements of Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese. Spanish and English are also spoken.
The majority of the population are followers of Christianity, and are mostly Roman Catholic.
Religions: Roman Catholic 82%, Protestant 8%, Hindu, Muslim, Confucian, Jewish
Languages: Dutch (official), Papiamento (a Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English dialect), English (widely spoken), Spanish
The origins of the population and location of the island give Aruba a mixed culture. Dutch influence is can still be seen, even though not much of the population is of Dutch origin. Tourism from the United States has recently also increased the visibility of American culture on the island. Queen Beatrix International Airport, located near Oranjestad, Aruba, currently serves the whole island of Aruba. This airport has access to various cities across the eastern U.S., from Miami, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta to New York. It also connects Aruba with Europe through the Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands.
The holiday of Carnival is an important one in Aruba, as it is in many Caribbean and Latin American countries. Carnival is usually held from the beginning of January until the end of February, with a large parade on the final Sunday of the festivities.
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