Remembering Gilberto François (Betico) Croes
January 25, 1938 – November 26, 1986
“Si mi cai na caminda, gara e bandera y sigui cu e lucha.”
“If I fall down along the way, grab the flag and continue the battle.”
~ Betico Croes
Aruba was called ‘The Island of Giants’ by Amerigo Vespucci because the original inhabitants – the Caquetio Indians – were so much taller than the European explorers that ‘discovered’ Aruba. Upon discovery, the island was swept up in the Colonial tide that came roaring out of Europe in the late 1400’s. After that, the island was passed around the world powers, attaining varying degrees of usefulness, until it finally fell under Dutch rule in 1816. By the time the 20th century rolled around, Aruba had found a little niche in the world – hosting a refinery for recently discovered crude oil in Venezuela
At that time, life on the island was vastly different from life in Holland and it no longer made sense for Aruba to have the same laws and regulations as the rest of the Dutch Antilles which were regulated by the powers that be in Curacao and didn’t benefit the people of Aruba. That’s when the locals started dreaming about gaining status aparte. However, it wasn’t until Betico Croes threw his hat into the political ring that that fragile dream grew wings.
In the year leading to the referendum, Betico Croes – then leader of the MEP (Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo – the People’s Electoral Movement) was preparing for victory. In that year, Padu Lampe and Rufo Wever along with Hubert Booi, penned Aruba’s national anthem ‘Aruba Dushi Tera’ while Betico Croes arranged a committee that designed the Aruban Flag. He was getting his constituents ready to be an independent nation – but the battle was not yet won. He had to make Aruba’s case for independence in Holland.
In late March of 1977 a crowd of Arubans gathered at the airport, waiting for a gentleman they had recently began calling their Liberator. Betico Croes stepped out of the airport into a throng of cheering people. The news had traveled faster than their leader and the people of Aruba were thrilled at that news that during an independence referendum – by an 83% approval – Aruba was granted autonomy from the Netherlands Antilles.
It was a slow process and the details changed over the years, but eventually it was decided that Aruba would have partial sovereignty starting on January 1, 1986. In the early 80’s Betico Croes began making plans for Aruba’s future – including expanding the tourism industry in Aruba so the island wouldn’t have to be economically dependent on the Oil refinery in Aruba.
In a tragic turn of events, Betico Croes – the man who’d worked so passionately for Aruba – never got a chance to see his dream realized, which was to see the island he loved gain the independence he’d fought for so valiantly. On December 31,1985, just one day before Aruba attained status aparte, Betico was in a terrible car accident and slipped into a coma until his death in November of the following year.
Every January 25th, on his birthday, Aruba raises the flag and honors the legacy of a truly great man with island-wide events and celebrations.
Feliz dia di Betico!