A national holiday with great historical significance for Aruba is Betico Croes Day. On January 25, the birth of the charismatic Aruban political leader, the late Gilberto Francois (Betico) Croes, is commemorated.
Gilbert de Windto François “Betico” Croes was born in Santa Cruz on January 25, 1938. After secondary education in Aruba, he went to the Netherlands to study at the Pedagogical Academy in Hilversum. In 1959 he obtained his master’s degree as a teacher. Back in Aruba he started teaching at the Sint Jozef School and the Sint Antonius College in Santa Cruz.
Betico Croes’ political career began in 1967, initially as a member of the Aruban People’s Party (AVP). He was part of the first Aruban Executive Council as deputy of Education. In 1971 he founded (together with Watty Vos, Daniel Leo and Efrain de Kort) the Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo (MEP). Since the foundation of that party, he has been chairman and party leader until his death. However, he never served as a deputy in the Aruban Executive Council for the MEP, nor was he ever a minister in the Cabinet of the Netherlands Antilles. He was, however, ‘consehero general’ (general adviser) of the Aruban coalitions of which the MEP was a part.
As a politician, Betico Croes has mainly devoted herself to the right of self-determination of the Aruban people. In 1976, an Aruban flag and its own national anthem were adopted at his suggestion. Croes and the MEP campaigned for a separate status for Aruba within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, separate from the Netherlands Antilles. On March 25, 1977, a referendum was held on his initiative (turnout 82%), in which the Aruban population voted in favor of independence with a majority of 57%. Later this will become the Status Aparte.
In 1977, when the MEP, as the largest party in Aruba, was kept outside the National Government, Betico Croes called on the Aruban people to turn against the Curaçaoan rule. The situation escalated and Curaçao sent riot troops to Aruba. The Dutch government then began to see that Aruba’s demands should be taken very seriously and invited a delegation to come and talk in The Hague. There, Betico Croes successfully advocated the Status Aparte for Aruba.
Betico Croes led the Aruban delegation during the decisive “Round Table Conferences” in February 1981 and March 1983, in which he managed to obtain the Status Aparte as of January 1, 1986. A condition from the Dutch side was that Aruba ten years later, on January 1 1996, would become fully independent. This clause was deleted in 1990.
On December 31, 1985, on the eve of the Status Aparte, Betico Croes was tragically involved in a serious traffic accident. He ended up in a coma, from which he would not wake up. Nearly eleven months later, on November 26, 1986, he died.
Betico Croes is considered Libertador di Aruba (Liberator of Aruba).
As mentioned earlier, Betico Croes championed the Aruban flag and the national anthem “Aruba Dushi Tera”, both of which were instituted in 1976. On March 18, the ‘Dia di Himno y Bandera’ (Flag and National Anthem Day) is celebrated as a public holiday. Betico’s birthday, January 25, is also an official holiday, ‘Dia di Betico’ (Betico Day). After his death, Nassaustraat, the main street in the center of Oranjestad, was renamed ‘Caya Gilberto François (Betico) Croes’, or Caya Betico Croes for short.
The square behind the Cas di Cultura (Cultural Center) on the Vondellaan is named after him: ‘Plasa Libertador Betico Croes’. There is also a statue of him, as well as in the square dedicated to him next to his birthplace at the central crossroads of Santa Cruz. This square now bears the name ‘Plasa Status Aparte Betico Croes’.
Betico Croes’ most famous quote is undoubtedly: “Si mi cay na caminda, gara e bandera y sigui cu e lucha” (If I succumb on the way, seize the flag and continue the fight).