History of Curacao
Map of Curaçao in 1836.
Dutch architecture along Willemstad's harbor.The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak Amerindians. The first Europeans to see the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards exported most of the indigenous population to other colonies where workers were needed. The island was occupied by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the 'Schottegat'. Curaçao had been ignored by colonists because it lacked many things that colonists were interested in, such as gold deposits. However, the natural harbour of Willemstad proved quickly to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping — and piracy—became Curaçao's most important economic activities. In addition, the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a center for the Atlantic slave trade in 1662. Dutch merchants brought slaves from Africa under a contract with Spain called Asiento. Under this agreement, large numbers of slaves were sold and shipped to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean.
The slave trade made the island affluent, and led to the construction of impressive colonial buildings. Curaçao features architecture that blends Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. The wide range of historic buildings in and around Willemstad earned the capital a place on UNESCO's world heritage list. Landhouses (former plantation estates) and West African style "kas di pal'i maishi" (former slave dwellings) are scattered all over the island and some of them have been restored and can be visited.
Curaçao's proximity to South America translated into a long-standing influence from the nearby Latin American coast. This is reflected in the architectural similarities between the 19th century parts of Willemstad and the nearby Venezuelan city of Coro in Falcón State, the latter also being a UNESCO world heritage site. In the 19th century, Curaçaoans such as Manuel Piar and Luis Brión were prominently engaged in the wars of independence of Venezuela and Colombia. Political refugees from the mainland (like Bolivar himself) regrouped in Curaçao and children from affluent Venezuelan families were educated in the island.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island changed hands among the British, the French, and the Dutch several times. Stable Dutch rule returned in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863. The end of slavery caused economic hardship, prompting many inhabitants of Curaçao to emigrate to other islands, such as to Cuba to work in sugarcane plantations.
When in 1914 oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin town of Mene Grande, the fortunes of the island were dramatically altered. Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch Government had built an extensive oil refinery installation on the former site of the slave-trade market at Asiento, thereby establishing an abundant source of employment for the local population and fueling a wave of immigration from surrounding nations. Curaçao was an ideal site for the refinery as it was away from the social and civil unrest of the South American mainland, but near enough to the Maracaibo Basin oil fields. It had an excellent natural harbor that could accommodate large oil tankers. The company brought affluence to the island. Large housing was provided and Willemstad developed an extensive infrastructure. However, discrepancies appeared among the social groups of Curaçao. The discontent and the antagonisms between Curaçao social groups culminated in rioting and protest on May 30, 1969. The civil unrest fueled a social movement that resulted in the local Afro-Caribbean population attaining more influence over the political process (Anderson and Dynes 1975). The island developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage many companies to set up holdings in order to avoid rigorous schemes elsewhere. In the mid 1980s Royal Dutch Shell sold the refinery for a symbolic amount to a local government consortium. The aging refinery has been the subject of lawsuits in recent years, which charge that its emissions, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, far exceed safety standards. The government consortium currently leases the refinery to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
In recent years, the island had attempted to capitalize on its peculiar history and heritage to expand its tourism industry. In 1984 the Island Council of Curaçao inaugurated the National Flag and the official anthem of the island. This was done on July 2, which was the date when in 1954 the first elected island council was instituted. Since then, the movement to separate the island from the Antillean federation has steadily become stronger.
Due to an economic slump in recent years, emigration to the Netherlands has been high. Attempts by Dutch politicians to stem this flow of emigration have exacerbated already tense Dutch-Curaçao relations. Immigration from surrounding Caribbean islands, Latin American countries and the Netherlands has taken place