Just 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela lies the former Dutch colony of Aruba.The state of Aruba could not be more different from Venezuela.
While Venezuela is facing its worst economic crisis with hyper inflation and three million people have fled the country mainly to Colombia and Brazil, Aruba is in the middle of a tourist boom.
The distance from Aruba to Venezuela is less than that between Dover and Calais so it is not surprising, though it is unreported, that Venezuelans have also sought refuge here. Officially they are deported back to Venezuela if found but unofficially with the current labour shortages many may not be. And unlike the phobia by some in the UK of immigrants flooding the country this small island of 118000 people seems to welcome them.
Aruba is a curious mixture of American high rise resort hotels,holiday apartments and casinos and Dutch social welfarism shown by affordable state housing schemes and a national contributory health service.
Most Arubians are trilingual – they learn Dutch,English and Spanish in school – though Dutch is the official language. They are mainly Roman Catholic rather than Protestant due to the legacy of the original Spanish conquerors of Aruba and their local currency still is the guilder long abolished in favour of the Euro in Holland. Nearly all the supermarkets are owned by the Chinese.
Arubians who want to study medicine or engineering go to Dutch universities and Arubians are proud they have freedom of movement as EU as well Dutch citizens. From March 29 they will have more freedom of movement than the British.
The biggest deal for Arubians is tourism. An estimated 1.8 million people visit the island every year from cruise ships and direct flights from the US and South America.As a result most people are employed by the tourism industry.There is a also a flourishing aloe vera industry as it has a dry desert like climate – it doesn’t rain for 8 months a year.
Intriguingly the country used to refine Venezuela oil but the big refinery was closed. It still imports a lot of its fruit and vegetables from Venezuela – which given the shortages in Venezuela is remarkable.
The main tourist attraction are the beaches – the hinterland when not developed is mainly desert scrub and grazed by goats- goat is staple diet. Wild creatures include iguanas, rattlesnakes which are protected and boa constrictors which were irresponsibly released into the wild.
When the local pest control are called out it is often to remove a boa that has got into someone’s yard.
But what is the most extraordinary is the parallel universe between Aruba and Venezuela – so close together but so far apart.