Aruba əro͞o´bə [key], island, autonomous part of the Netherlands (2015 est. pop. 104,000), 69 sq mi (179 sq km), in the Lesser Antilles off the coast of Venezuela. Oranjestad is the capital and main port. The population is largely of mixed European and indigenous Caribbean descent. Roman Catholics make up more than 80% of the island's population. Dutch is the official language, but many Arubans also speak Papiamento (a Spanish-based creole with Portuguese, Dutch, and English elements) and English. Tourism, oil refining, and offshore banking are the economic mainstays of the island, although Aruba's refinery has been closed for extended periods since the mid-1980s. The reigning monarch of the Netherlands, the titular head of state, is represented by a governor-general. Aruba's government is led by a prime minister; its unicameral 21-seat legislature is popularly elected. The Spanish claimed Aruba in 1499. It fell to the Dutch in 1636 and since then, with the exception of a few years during the Napoleonic Wars, it has belonged to the Netherlands. Aruba was part of the Netherlands Antilles until 1986 and is still linked with them economically.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Caribbean Political Geography