Curacao

Curacao (pronounced "Cure-a-sow - the "C" of the ABC islands) is located in the southwestern Caribbean, between Aruba and Bonaire, just 35 miles north of Venezuela.

Curacao, the largest of the Netherlands Antilles, is 38 miles long and 2 to 7.5 miles wide (the Netherlands Antilles is made up of Curacao, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and St. Maarten).

The history of Curacao begins with Amerindian Arawaks. After the late-15th-century voyages of Christopher Columbus put the Caribbean, literally, on the maps, the area was wide open for European exploration. The Spanish soldier and explorer Alonso de Ojeda, joined by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, set out on a voyage (1499 - 1500) to chart much of the South American coast and, in turn, several offshore islands in the area. One was Curacao. As an aside, disputed claims are par for the course when it comes to Vespucci. One of many stories has it that during his voyage with de Ojeda, a number of sailors on his ship came down with scurvy, whereupon he dropped off the hapless souls on Curacao on his way to South America.

On his return, he found the sailors alive and happy- presumably cured by the abundance of Vitamin C- laden fruit on the island. He then is said to have named the island Curacao, after an archaic Portuguese word for "cure". A more convincing theory is that the Spaniards called the island Curazon, for "heart", and the mapmakers of the day converted the spelling to the Portuguese Curacao.

At any rate, soon after de Ojeda's voyage, the Spanish came in larger numbers. By the early 16th century they had pretty well determined that the island had little gold and not enough of a fresh water supply to establish large farms, and they abandoned it.

Finally, the Dutch West India Company, a quasi- private, government-backed company, laid claim in 1634. With its deep port and protected shores, and with the establishment of several large forts, Curacao soon became a safe place for the Dutch West India Company to conduct commerce. Chief among its endeavors was the trade of slaves from Africa, who then went on to the other islands of the Dutch West Indies and to the Spanish Main. It was during the slave trade days that the language Papiamentu began to form. The language, a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and African dialects, became the main form of communication between slaves and their captors.

In 1920, oil was discovered off the Venezuelan coast. This signaled a new era for Curacao, and for its sister island in the ABCs, Aruba. The two islands became centers for distilling crude oil imported from Venezuela, and Curacao's Royal Dutch Shell Refinery became the island's biggest business and employer. Immigrants headed for Curacao, many from other Caribbean nations, South America, and as far away as Asia. During WW II, the Allies judged Curacao and its refinery to be important enough, and strategic enough, to establish an American military base at Waterfort Arches, near Willemstad.

After WW II, Curacao joined the rest of the Caribbean in a loud clamor for independence. What it got instead was a measure of autonomy as an entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curacao, along with , Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten, became the Netherlands Antilles, with the administrative center in Willemstad, where it remains today. Aruba later separated from the other five islands.

Today, the kingdom has three partners: The Netherlands, the five islands of the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba and Curacao is home to 160,000 residents from 55 different cultures.

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Information provided courtesy of: Caribbean Association Midwest America