Friends last fall took a romantic trip to sunny, peaceful Aruba. They went to the same crime-free paradise that is suddenly horrified by the disappearance of the 18-year-old high school student Natalee Holloway. The island whose Prime Minister is personally involved in searching for the Alabama girl. The destination resort who reports only one homicide for 2004. The place with baking tourists on the beach eager to cluck-cluck and say they’re concerned for Natalee but feel so safe themselves.
Except in real life Aruba is a dangerous, crime infested place. They have done great with their PR machine, and precious little with their social and criminal justice systems.
My friends — two healthy, reasonable-size manly MEN — went to a beach on the tourist map to watch the sunset. They walked a bit from their car to blankets near the shore. After a while they saw two locals drive up to their parked rental car and start ransacking it.
My friends ran back toward their vehicle to scare the thieves away.
Most burglars in the United States would have run. Not these peaceful islanders. They came at Ken with a machete — he got back into the car before getting hurt. Joe was stabbed with a screwdriver — his rib saved him from serious injury — before reaching the safety of the rental vehicle. After locking themselves into the car and driving away, my friends were chased by the robbers who kept trying to overtake them until they all reached a main highway.
Ken and Joe then encountered unsurprised locals including lackluster police and a hotel clerk that demanded a $100 replacement fee for the key that was stolen in the attack. The desk person said that the fee couldn’t be waived because if he waived it for them he’d have to waive it for everyone. How many people are robbed and stabbed and have their keys taken from them, anyway?
No surprise, really. Aruba is a poor country with lots of tourists showing off relative riches. A hungry man is an angry man. Violent, too. Crime, bored police, and official corruption breed easily in such a hothouse.
Natalee and her family are in our thoughts. We also should think about the social conditions in Aruba and strike it off our list of relaxing places to visit. And, shame on the news media for propagating the Aruba Chamber of Commerce hogwash about the safety of the island. Even in the face of crime and blood the media’s sunglasses remain rosy.