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The Country Aruba

When the Status Aparte took effect on January 1st, 1986, the Island Territory of Aruba changed to the Country Aruba. Henny Eman, leader of the AVP, became the first Prime Minister of the new country. The MEP, headed by Betico Croes had emerged as the biggest party at the elections, but Eman took some of the small fractions in the new 'Staten' (Parliament) into his government coalition and thus succeeded in keeping the MEP out of power. This was a bitter disappointment for Betico Croes, who was not able to take office as the first Prime Minister at the moment of realization of his big ambition, the Status Aparte for Aruba. He was not even able to witness this moment, due to a tragic car accident on the eve of the day the Status Aparte took effect. He got into a coma and never regained consciousness.

Prime Minister Henny Eman

The Eman administration faced enormous challenges: in 1985, Exxon had announced their decision to shut down the Lago refinery. An enormous blow for the Aruban economy since more than a third of the public revenues came from the oil industry. When Lago closed, the gross national product declined with 18 percent and the unemployment grew at one go to 20 percent.
With financial help of the Netherlands and technical assistance of the IMF, the Eman administration began a program of adaptation to get the island's economy back on its feet. The focus was on expanding the tourist sector and attracting more hotels. The financing of some of the hotel projects was supported by government guarantees. These government measures have led to a real investment boom in tourism and related activities. This caused the economy to grow and the gross national product increased considerably in the period till 1990. About 10.000 new jobs were created so there was hardly any unemployment left. The number of hotel rooms increased drastically: in 1985, the island had 2040 rooms; at the end of 1990 there were 4500. In 1995, there were even 6500. Several well known hotel chains chose Aruba to build a luxury resort. In 2001 there were about 30 hotels on the island, with a total of 7060 rooms.

A new oil company was found too bring the empty Lago refinery back to life: Coastal Aruba Refinery Company. In 1990 production was resumed after which about 670 jobs were created in the course of the years, besides those at subcontractors. In the domain of the economy, a fabulous performance was achieved in the period between ’86 and ’89. Aruba got its own Central bank and its own currency, the florin. In the domain of justice, a separate Attorney General and a separate Prosecutor's Office were created for Aruba. The University of Aruba was founded, for the time being consisting of only a Law School. A Faculty of Business and Financial Management and an International Tourism and Management Faculty were to follow shortly.  

On the political field, things did not work out as well within the government coalition. Eman did not really enjoy the company of the smaller parties. The Partido Democratico Arubano (PDA) already left the coalition July of ’86, the Partido Patriotico Arubano (PPA) in January of ’87 and the Accion Democratico Nacional (ADN) in June of 1987. When the Accion Democratico ’86 also withheld its support in 1988, the first Eman cabinet resigned but went on governing as outgoing administration until the elections of 1989. At the elections in that year, the MEP turned out to be the biggest party and Nelson Orlando Oduber became the second Prime Minister of Aruba.

 Nelson Oduber

It turned out be two periods of government with the ADN of Charo Kelly and the PPA of Benny Nisbet. During the first year of the second period, Prime Minister Oduber and opposition leader Eman were summoned to The Hague by Dutch Prime Minister Lubbers for talks. Lubbers gave them to understand that the course (especially the financial one) had to change.
Oduber still got along with PPA and ADN till April/May of 1994, after which new elections were held at the end of July of that year. The AVP then became the biggest party with 10 seats against the MEP with 9. After the elections in that year, the AVP closed a coalition with the Organisashon Liberal Arubano (OLA), headed by Glenbert Croes, the son of Betico Croes. This party had two seats in Parliament. Henny Eman again became Prime Minister of a coalition government. It would try to achieve a radical clean-up of public finances, closely watched by the mixed Dutch-Aruban commission Aarts-Muyale, which had been created in the meantime. This commission accomplished a total of three reports before being dissolved again in the course of 1995. The AVP/OLA coalition did not finish its period of government: in 1997, it came to a rift between both parties and it was decided to move the elections, planned for 1998, forward. After the December 1997 elections, the relation between the two biggest parties remained the same (AVP 10 and MEP 9 seats). AVP then tried to come to a coalition with the other big party, the MEP. This party however did not feel like it and after more than six months of difficult talks, the AVP gave up and started to negotiate again with the old coalition partner, the OLA, which still had two seats. Indeed a coalition came out of it, it first appeared to be weak but it did stretch out for some years. The MEP remained in the opposition, a role in which party leader Oduber felt perfectly at home and out of which he could completely focus on the next elections. The third Eman cabinet did not complete its run either: snap elections were held again at the end of September of 2001.

It was in this last period of government – in September 1999 – that the cabinet Eman II came forward with an audacious project that would bring new life into San Nicolas, a district to which traditionally many promises were made in election time while seldom anything came out of it. The project amounted to the construction of a super-modern racetrack at Seroe Colorado at the north coast. Businessman Carlo Mansur had invited the American Ralph Sanchez, owner of a racetrack in Florida, to design a similar racetrack for Aruba. The government supported this project with – again – a government guarantee. The project would attract world class motor races and would bring thousands of race fans as tourists to Aruba.

Soon the project met resistance, especially from environmentalist organizations like ‘Aruba Dushi Tera’ and others. The project was alleged to cause environmental nuisance, air pollution and noise nuisance. It would be devastating for the nature at that spot and it would be dangerous because it was planned on unstable ground, just above the tunnels and excavations made by the former phosphate exploitation. The opposition against the project, stirred up by the opposition in Parliament, could count on broad support by the public. Physical resistance was announced against the first construction activities that were about to begin. Under the pressure of this movement – a general strike with power cuts was announced for October of 1999 – the government had to back down and the project was cancelled. Sanchez however did not leave it at that and in 2003; he sued the Aruban government in court in Miami. Sanchez accused Prime Minister Henny Eman and minister Tico Croes of wrecking the project. The Country Aruba was sentenced to pay $ 20.5 million in damages, which would be equal to the estimated profits out of the project during the first five years.
This case turned out to be fatal for the AVP at the next elections (in September of 2001): the MEP won the elections, getting 12 out of 21 seats and for the first time it could take office without a coalition with other parties. The AVP sustained a heavy loss and fell back to 6 seats. The OLA was decimated to just 1 seat. The PPA however, that had not succeeded in getting a single seat anymore during the two last elections, rebounded and now got two. Former minister Tico Croes drew his conclusions from the election results and retired as leader of the AVP. He was succeeded in that function by the youngest descendant from the AVP dynasty: Mike Eman, brother of Henny, who also became party leader for the green party at the next election. Like he had announced previously, Henny Eman retired completely from active politics. 

Nel Oduber after casting his vote 

Before the 2005 elections, Nelson Oduber announced not to be willing to go on as Prime Minister if a coalition had to be formed again. At the elections, the MEP lost one seat but just barely held on to an 11 seats absolute majority. The AVP rebounded somewhat and got 8 seats. Within the PPA a rift occurred right before the elections: Monica Arends-Kock seceded from the party and founded the Movimento Patriotico Arubano (MPA) which landed her in Parliament. The PPA, headed by Benny Nisbet, had been weakened so badly by internal strife, that it did not get a single seat. The same happened to the OLA of Glenbert Croes. Newcomer at the political firmament, former priest Rudy Lampe, did succeed in getting one seat with his party RED. Since 2005 cabinet Oduber (# IV) rules again.
A heavy burden for the public finances during the government period of this cabinet is the dept that has to be paid off as a consequence of the government guarantees given out by the Eman I cabinet at the time for the hotel projects that were never finished in the late eighties (see chapter Tourism). The companies that started developing these projects with government guarantees summoned the Country Aruba and its government in court in the States and Italy and won their claims. Many millions of dollars were at stake, guaranteed by the government. They had to comply and the financial obligations that resulted from this are a heavy burden for the state budget that is struggling with an increasing deficit on the state balance, which is also the consequence of a top-heavy Civil Service. 70 cents out of every florin the government receives is being spent for salaries of civil servants. Besides other government expenses, little or nothing is left over for the investments that are most needed. The public dept increased from 1,2 billion in 2001 to over 2 billion florins in the first quarter of 2007.

The island sustained major damage by the Natalee Holloway case. The American teenager vanished without a trace after a night on the town. Three local young men were suspected to have had a hand in her disappearance and were detained and interrogated for quite some time. The entire American press corps threw itself on the case and the mother of the disappeared girl did everything to put Aruba and specifically the justice system, in the wrong. Even a boycott of the island was called for. The negative publicity that came along with all of this has caused a considerable recession for the tourism; the consequences were still felt for years. The mystery regarding the disappearance of the girl has not yet been solved. The investigation has been going on till the end of 2007 but the case still surfaces now and then. The question remains if the case will ever be solved.

The Oduber IV administration has been rocked by some controversial cases like the refusal to recognize the same-sex marriage , concluded in the Netherlands, of two women, registered in Aruba, and the case of the bribery letter in the case Nadar: this jeweler and project developer was alleged to have offered a million guilders in slush money to the MEP for their reelection funds, in exchange for the right to develop the container area of the harbor to a luxury yacht harbor project with condominiums and shopping malls. This case too remains enveloped by unsolved mysteries.

Relations with the Netherlands remained strained all along the Oduber administration period. Justice minister Rudy Croes' shifty immigration policy raised eyebrows in The Hague and the quarrel between Oduber and the Dutch government about the right to proceeds of the selling of the Plant Hotel real estate (the current Marriott), keeps going on for years.


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