During the Napoleonic Wars the British Empire took control of the island, occupying it between 1806 and 1816, before handing it back to the Dutch as per the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. Aruba subsequently became part of the Colony of Curaçao and Dependencies along with Bonaire. During the 19th century an economy based on gold mining, phosphate production and aloe vera plantations developed, however the island remained a relatively poor backwater.
20th and 21st Centuries:
The first oil refinery in Aruba was built in 1928 by Royal Dutch Shell. The facility was built just to the west of the capital city Oranjestad and was commonly called the Eagle. Immediately following this, another refinery was built by Lago Oil and Transport Company in an area now known as San Nicolas on the east end of Aruba. These refineries processed crude oil from the vast Venezuelan oil fields, bringing greater prosperity to the island. The refinery on Aruba grew to become one of the largest in the world.
During World War II, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. In 1940, the oil facilities in Aruba came under the administration of the Dutch government-in-exile in London, causing them to be attacked by the German navy in 1942.
In August 1947, Aruba presented its first Staatsreglement (constitution) for Aruba’s status aparte as an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, prompted by the efforts of Henny Eman, a noted Aruban politician. By 1954, the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established, providing a framework for relations between Aruba and the rest of the Kingdom. This created the Netherlands Antilles, which united all of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean into one administrative structure. Many Arubans were unhappy at the arrangement, however, as the new polity was perceived as being dominated by Curaçao.
In 1972, at a conference in Dutch Guiana, Betico Croes, a politician from Aruba, proposed the creation of a Dutch Commonwealth of four states: Aruba, the Netherlands, Suriname, and the Netherlands Antilles, each to have its own nationality. Backed by his newly created party (the Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo), Croes sought greater autonomy for Aruba, with the long-term goal of independence, adopting the trappings of an independent state in 1976 with the creation of a flag and national anthem. In March 1977, a referendum was held with the support of the United Nations; 82% of the participants voted for complete independence from the Netherlands. Tensions mounted as Croes stepped up the pressure on the Dutch government by organising a general strike in 1977. Croes later met with Dutch Prime Minister Joop den Uyl, with the two sides agreeing to assign the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague to prepare a study for independence, entitled Aruba en Onafhankelijkheid, achtergronden, modaliteiten, en mogelijkheden; een rapport in eerste aanleg (Aruba and independence, backgrounds, modalities, and opportunities; a preliminary report).
In March 1983, Aruba reached an official agreement within the Kingdom for its independence, to be developed in a series of steps as the Crown granted increasing autonomy. In August 1985, Aruba drafted a constitution that was unanimously approved. On 1 January 1986, after elections were held for its first parliament, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, officially becoming a country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with full independence planned for 1996. However, Croes was seriously injured in a traffic accident in 1985, slipping into a coma; he died in 1986, never seeing the enaction of status aparte for Aruba for which he had worked over many years. After his death in 1986, Croes was proclaimed Libertador di Aruba. Thus Henny Eman of the Aruban People’s Party (AVP) became the first Prime Minister of Aruba. Meanwhile, Aruba’s oil refinery shut, negatively impacting the economy. As a result, Aruba pushed for a dramatic increase in tourism, with this sector growing to become the island’s largest industry.