The unfortunate relationship between Aruba and Peru that no one wishes to speak about in Aruba

A ccording to Marisol López Tromp president of the Aruban Parliament, councilors and other high ranked members of the Aruban Government really like to visit Peru on international political trips. On a recent trip to Aruba I met the charming and friendly Ms. Marisol thanks to my brother who gives private swimming classes to her daughter Marie-Louise. The current president of the Aruban Parliament took part in one of five mini documentaries we filmed while on the island. Aruba is beautiful but its small size is its biggest problem; everyone knows everyone and secrets aren’t secrets for long, unless your name is Joran van der Sloot.

During my visit to Aruba I interviewed some Peruvians and was surprised when Adolfo Bonarriva told me that there were at least 7,000 Peruvians living on the tiny island of Aruba. That many? Looking up the stats at Census Central Bureau of Statistics of Aruba, confirmed he was right. Additionally, more than 33% of the island’s habitants are foreign-born; the knowledge and ability to speak multiple languages definitely being a plus in terms of providing services for foreign visitors. Talking to Adolfo was great because he shared something really important for Peruvian youngsters. He came to Aruba over 20 years ago and started at the bottom of the ladder in a famous hotel, working his way up to the position of manager of the food and beverages department.  He said he hoped to be an example for other young fellow countrymen by explaining that you can start with very little but if you are dedicated and work hard you can advance in your career. Nowadays, recently graduated students believe they have the qualifications to become an owner, manager or director straight away and won’t settle for less regardless of their lack of experience.

Left to right: brother Roy, president of the Aruban Parliament Marisol López Tromp, Rex Broekman and cameraman Aaron Croes

Left to right: brother Roy, President of the Aruban Parliament Marisol López Tromp, Rex Broekman and cameraman Aaron Croes

Another interesting interview I did was with Betty Farje. Originally from Huancayo, she is the proud owner of the family restaurant El Chalán, which serves delicious Peruvian dishes. Betty was a bit surprised by our visit and at first didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to interview her for a small local TV station in Peru but this all changed when Aaron Croes our cameraman walked in. Betty said that Arubans weren’t used to spicy food but that was slowly changing. Her customers are both locals and Peruvians who enjoy traditional dishes like ceviche, arroz con pato or pollo, anticuchos, lomo saltado or pachamanca de la olla. This restaurant provides a great opportunity for people who have never tried Peruvian gastronomy or are not planning a visit to the land of the Incas either to experience real Peruvian fare. I ate a delicious ceviche mixto and my brother enjoyed his first lomo saltado a lo pobre.

I had been in Aruba a week and still no one had mentioned Joran van der Sloot; even when I said I was living in Peru, whereas people in Peru always remind me of him. Had people forgotten about him or could they just not care less? I have always been interested in his case, although I still don’t know why. Maybe it’s the psychological aspect that intrigues me. After he was convicted of murder in Peru, Joran again got my attention and I’ve seen almost every documentary and interview on either YouTube or television. However, it wasn’t until my brother mentioned Joran’s old house that I started thinking about this weird connection between Peru and Aruba. A connection that at least one of the two countries didn’t want to be reminded of; although at that time this wasn’t yet clear to me

‘This is where Joran’s mother lives, or maybe used to live, not sure if she’s still living there,’ said my brother out of the blue while we drove back from the beach towards home. Indeed, I’d almost forgotten about him. How many times had people in Peru made a joke about the fact that I was Dutchman with very short hair, comments that are so obviously linked to van der Sloot. Telling people in Peru you’re from the Netherlands doesn’t make them think of windmills, clogs or the Dutch ‘La Naranja Mecánica‘ football team; instead it reminds Peruvians of the cases of Holloway and Stefany Flores. The cases are bad publicity for the Dutch in general but what can you do? Personally it has never bothered me, not even when a shop owner in the central market of Huaraz came running towards me brandishing the front page of the latest edition of nationwide newspaper Diario Correo with a big smile on his old face, just to make sure I wasn’t Joran.

Joran was born in the Netherlands but his parents moved to Aruba when he was three years old. Most of his life was spent on the island and different Internet sources suggest he wasn’t a popular figure at the International School he attended and where his mother Anita worked as a teacher. When Joran left home he moved into a small apartment that had been built in his parents’ garden. Joran, like many teenagers living on the island, had become a young adult and was leaning towards a life of girls, the beach, drinks and drugs, and gambling.  Joran stated on different occasions that he had shown signs of being a psychopath. I thought it would be very interesting to interview Anita van der Sloot, and although I found someone who said they were a very close friend of hers, I decided not to go ahead. She would probably have rejected the interview anyway – understandably. I did wonder what her life was like now that she is the mother of the most hated Macamba on the island. Her husband died of a heart attack while playing tennis and she lost her job. I feel sorry for her and her other son, Joran’s only brother, who apparently hates him.

Speaking to more Arubans working in tourism it became clearer and clearer why everyone wanted to avoid this delicate topic. The reason no one mentioned Joran during my two-week stay is that Joran has ruined the good reputation of ‘One Happy Island’ among many Americans and Arubans, and Aruba depends on the US, as we will see later on. Interestingly, another thing I heard is that many question why the young Natalee Holloway went off with three men in the middle of the night while being intoxicated. Many Arubans question whether Holloway was really dumped in the open sea or is buried underneath the new building of the Marriott Hotel, the foundation of which was under construction at the time of her disappearance, and whether  the deceased father of Joran had more to do with her disappearance than was initially thought. There are many conspiracy theories and it seems like in Aruba people are doing their very best to avoid the topic altogether, whereas in Peru every movement made by Joran is widely publicised in newspapers and on TV. It’s impossible to measure how much his case has cost the local tourism industry but I am sure that it has done much damage in terms of empty hotel rooms and cancelled reservations by Americans. And as Holloway’s body has never been found, those conspiracies will probably continue. Not least because every American is truly convinced Joran alone is responsible for the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, even though after 147 days in custody he never admitted the crime and investigators are no closer to solving the case.

In terms of tourism, I believe that in Peru we can still learn a lot from Aruba. Aruba is using a very aggressive marketing strategy to attract foreign tourists and they need to because without tourism Aruba would be lost. According to some stats, around 70% of Aruba’s BNP is coming straight from tourism or tourist related activities and three quarters of the annual visitors are from the US, which explains why there are so many McDonalds, Burger Kings, Wendy’s and KFCs around. In the past, most of Aruba’s income was related to oil production but the tourism boom that started in the 1990s created many new jobs in construction, services, restaurants, malls and even the production of beer.

The longer I kept thinking about Joran and the longer I stayed in Aruba the more I started to understand the people from Aruba. For them he’s gone; they got rid of him, now it’s something unfortunate that happened on their island, but life goes on. He is personally held responsible for the downfall of tourism, due to an initial lack of American tourists during the first years of the case. Furthermore, he’s Dutch and not Aruban, particularly after being declared as persona non grata by former minister Rudy Croes, he isn’t welcome anymore with the exception made for case related visits to Aruba. Not all Arubans are anti-Joran; some opinions have changed over the years. For instance, there are Arubans who state that those ‘damn Americans’ have received every possible help by police, local and foreign (Dutch) authorities and many people who came to the island to contribute to the case even stayed for free in the most luxurious hotels during their search. When searchers failed to find Holloway’s body the Americans used propaganda to destroy Aruba’s tourism market. For many Americans, Holloway was an innocent teenager girl whose life was cut short while on holiday. What they seem to forget was American teenagers who holiday in Aruba are mostly there for the sex, drugs and drinking, three things they cannot do at home. A wealthy Aruban man in his sixties claimed that on a yearly basis in the US, over 300,000 American women disappear. Aruba has had one such case and everybody has paid the price. He added that he feels very sorry for Joran’s mom and that she had most likely broken contact with her son. And we should not forget about Beth, Natalee’s mother. I wonder if both mothers have ever met. The story of Joran’s life clearly keeps intriguing me and maybe I should pay him a visit someday if I can get close to his cell in Challapalca in Southern Peru. After all, I’ve got some experience visiting Peruvian prisons now.

Flag_of_Aruba

I almost forgot. If you get the chance, definitely consider visiting Aruba because it has great seafood, beautiful beaches, many outdoor activities like diving and off-road quad driving and great weather. Food in general is great in Aruba and there is absolutely no reason to even try the American fast food chains because there are many typical Colombian, Cuban, Surinamese and Aruban restaurants, although the best food I ate was made by Indonesian Alice Dorff. She was my landlady for two weeks and prepared us some delicious, typical Indonesian dishes.

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