On the 25th of January, Aruba commemorates the life and merits of statesman Gilberto F. Croes (1938-1986), popularly known as Betico. He became and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of Aruba, the ‘libertator’ who managed to bring about the ‘Status Aparte’ for the country, independence of the then Netherlands Antilles.
Since 1987, a year after his death, his life and political achievements are commemorated every year on this day. The Aruba Tourist Channel dedicates this year a special attention to the different facets of the man Betico: the father, the teacher, the musician and the go-getter, who made his dream and the dream of the Aruban people reality.
Gilberto Francois ‘Betico’ Croes, was born in Santa Cruz and grew up in a large family. His father Pancho was a widower when he married his mother Mimi, a widow. There were already three children when they came into the marriage, Chichia, Adison and Natalia. The marriage brought eight additional children, Ada, Aiky, Fijn, Henrik, Betico, Mary, Rudi and Tommy.
On the island, education at that time was mainly in the hands of Dutch “frere’s” and “zusters” of the Catholic Church. After primary school, he attended the hbs at St. Dominicus College for three years.
In 1959, he travelled to the Netherlands to study in Hilversum where he obtained a master’s Teacher’s degree. Later he obtained his specialization in Spanish and Commercial Knowledge.
As a teacher, Betico always paid a lot of attention to youth. He helped students with tutorials, and for students who went to study in the Netherlands, he always had wise words. This is how Manolo Giel remembers to this day that Betico visited his parental home in 1975, when Manolo as a young lad was preparing for his departure to the Netherlands: Betico said to him: “I wish you common sense, and wisdom and return to Aruba”. He also gave students always a copy of a history book by Dr. Hartog.”
Sports and Music
His activities in the community Santa Cruz included sports, cultural and social activities. He was a member of the Aruba Table tennis club, Aruba Sport Unie, Sportvereniging Estrella, member of Estrella Musical, but he was also a member of the Parish of Santa Cruz and choir director of the Maria Immaculata Church in Santa Cruz. He excelled as a table tennis player. As a musician, he was mainly interested in Aruban folk music. At the end of the sixties, Betico formed a band with family members: ‘Betico and his Group’. Every end of the year they went and passed at the houses of friends and relatives singing Christmas Carols (Aguinaldos) and they also participated in Dande’s paranda.
Passion for politics
Betico’s preparation to become a political leader has its roots in various social activities. Wherever he went, he listened and learned more and more about the needs of his people, but also how proud the Aruban people were.
In 1967, the Aruban People’s Party (AVP) took an interest in Betico. He decided to join the oldest political party on the island, and that’s how his political career comes in.
From mid-1967 to 1986 he was a member of the Island Council of Aruba. In 1973, he launched his own political party, the Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo (Member of the European Parliament). Throughout his political career, he held positions occupied in Aruba and the Antilles. He was one-time even chairman of the States of the Netherlands Antilles, for a short period of time. Croes became a member of the Parliament of Aruba just a few months before the serious car accident on November 26, 1986, which he survived but the consequences of which he would die months later. Harry Croes, a good friend of Betico, who often accompanied him, remembers that Betico had a listening ear for everyone. He was interested in what was going on and lived among the people.
In November 1971, Betico Croes was elected to be part of the Kingdom Commission. It was during one of these meetings that politicians from Curaçao on February 2, 1972, suggested the idea of an Antillean Federation to be formed according to a proposal for a new voting system: ‘one man, one vote’. But that meant that an island gained more influence as it had more inhabitants. This idea did not go down well with Betico, because Curaçao had almost twice as many inhabitants as Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius together. And also the appointment of a chairman of such a federation would always be from the largest island, Curaçao.
At the suggestion of Betico Croes, who was forming part of the opposition, a motion was submitted that was unanimously adopted, to travel to the Netherlands in 1972.
A delegation was established consisting of all the leaders of the fractions in the Island Council of Aruba, with a specific purpose: to convince the Netherlands that the Aruban people wanted to have a special bond with the motherland through the Status Aparte. But the Netherlands totally rejected this idea and wanted a federation of six islands. In 1977, a referendum was held, in which 83 percent of voters voted for independence. In 1983 the round table was held at which by the Dutch delegation, the delegations from Curaçao, Bonaire, Saint. Eustatius, Saba, Sint Maarten and Aruba it was decided that no later than 1st of January 1986, Aruba would leave the Antillean constellation and obtain a full position of a separate status in the Kingdom. In 1996 Aruba must become completely independent. Betico spoke to his people at the end of the roundtable very emotionally.
Repeatedly we were allowed to see him in the Tweede Kamer, witnessing his charismatic personality and his ability to clearly convey his message. Last was the case on 3 June 1985, during the examination of the proposals of Kingdom Act amending the Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, detaching the state association from the Netherlands Antilles. He made history by working tirelessly for the self-employed position of his island within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We commemorate him as a true man, with a great commitment to the realization of his political ideals. Betico Croes certainly has a place in the history of the relationship between the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and the Netherlands.”
Betico was constantly busy with the people, and his immediate family knew this too. “I am not a father of a family with father, mother and four children. I am the father of a larger family, the Arubans,” he said. His four children are also active in political life nowadays.
The charismatic leader
A special, charismatic leader, often also called a demagogue but in the positive sentence: with his charisma and verbal abilities, he knew how to convince people of his political ideals. The majority of Arubans believed in his ability to realize the Status Aparte. The results of the referendum were a people’s mandate to obtain the Status Aparte. Betico is still the record holder of the number of preferential votes: 10,000, out of a population of 60,000.
The younger generation of Arubans can hardly imagine where it is ‘Beticoism’ stood for exactly. Beticoism became a political movement of supporters of Betico Croes, who were not only convinced of his ideals but also admiration for his way of acting.
Ella Tromp Yarzagaray, twice the Minister Plenipotentiary of Aruba in Den The Hague, former Minister of Finance and former acting governor, says that Betico Croes was a real people expert and could communicate well. She explains how he prepared for important actions and meetings.
He brought people with knowledge together to study possibilities to be able to give him advice.
For example, he gathered a group of lawyers, economists and other professionals around him, to help him understand what the consequences would bring upon making a certain decision or measure taken.
He prepared himself well, listened to others, asked for advice and asked for calculations, before he could make a decision. He had a good knowledge of the language and had an excellent command of Dutch. An aspect that is essential in communicating with people and the conveying ideas. Betico Croes was able to unite his people behind the idea of a Status Aparte.
He made history by making the common dream of a people come true. Not only because he was enthusiastic and determined and knew how to convince people, but also because he gathered intelligent people around him and felt prepared for the obstacles he would find in his path. He saw in the Aruban people a potential that had hardly been touched upon.