Aruba's first inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians from the Arawak tribe, who migrated there from Venezuela to escape attacks by the Caribs. Fragments of the earliest known Indian settlements date back to about 1000. Due to Aruba's mostly distant location from other Caribbean islands and strong currents in the sea which made canoe travel to the other islands difficult, the Caquetios remained more tied to South America than the Caribbean.
Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda is regarded as the first European to arrive in about 1499. Although he established a colony there, it was limited in scope. Unlike many other Caribbean islands, no plantation society evolved on Aruba. Instead, the Spanish sent many Caquetios to Hispaniola, where they were enslaved in the mines.
In 1636, Aruba was acquired by the Netherlands and remained under their control for nearly two centuries.
In 1796, the town that was later named Oranjestad, was founded and became the island's capital.
During the Napoleonic wars, the British Empire took control over the island, between 1799 and 1802, and between 1804 and 1816, before handing it back to the Dutch.
A 19th-century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by first the opening of a crude oil transshipment facility in 1924 and then in 1928 with the opening of an oil refinery. This was the Lago Oil and Transport Company a 100% owned subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. The Lago refinery was located on the east end of the island and on the west end Royal Dutch Shell had a small refinery, the Eagle Refinery which closed soon after World War II. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry, which became Aruba's primary industry when the refinery closed in 1985. Because of the focus on tourism and the number of resorts on the island, Arubans enjoy a very low unemployment rate. Aruba has earned a reputation as the "Las Vegas of the Caribbean."
In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, under the Dutch crown. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's prerogative in 1990. Aruba has a mixture of people from South America, Europe, the Far East, and other islands of the Caribbean.
After a break in the coalition between the ruling Arubaanse Volkspartij (AVP) and the Organisashon Liberal Arubano (OLA), the election of July 1998 was pushed forward to December 1997. The results were unclear, with votes equally divided between the People's Electoral Movement Party (MEP), the AVP, and the OLA. After negotiations failed to unite the MEP and AVP, a new coalition between the AVP and OLA formed, which forced the MEP to be the opposition. Four years later in September 2001, the opposition MEP won a decisive victory in a free election, taking 12 of 21 seats to form Aruba's first one-party government. Due to its small margin of majority status, the MEP has left open the possibility of a future coalition partner.