'Go On with the Struggle'
Arubans are proud of their autonomous standing within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Gilberto Francois "Betico" Croes is heralded as the hero behind the island's status aparte (separate status). His birthday, January 25, is an official Aruban holiday.
During the Dutch colonial expansion of the 17th century, Aruba and five other islands—Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba—became territories known as the Netherlands Antilles. After World War II these islands began to pressure Holland for autonomy, and in 1954 they became a collective self-governing entity under the umbrella of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
At that time, several political parties were in power on the island. Soon, however, Juancho Irausquin (who has a major thoroughfare named in his honor) formed a new party that maintained control for nearly two decades. Irausquin was considered the founder of Aruba's new economic order and the precursor of modern Aruban politics. After his death his party's power diminished.
In 1971 Croes, then a young, ambitious school administrator, became the leader of another political party. Bolstered by a thriving economy generated by Aruba's oil refinery, Croes spearheaded the island's cause to secede from the Netherlands Antilles and to gain status as an equal partner within the Dutch kingdom. Sadly, he didn't live to celebrate the realization of his dream. On December 31, 1985, the day before Aruba's new status became official, Croes was in a car accident that put him in a coma for 11 months. He died on November 26, 1986. Etched in the minds of Arubans are his prophetic words: "Si mi cai na cominda, gara e bandera y sigui cu e lucha" ("If I die along the way, seize the flag and go on with the struggle").
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