The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson



The man after whom the airport on Saba is named Juan Enrique Irausquin of Aruba.



BY: Will Johnson

Over the years many people have asked me; “Who is the man with that strange name after whom the airport on Saba is named?” Not only is the name strange but on the original bronze plaque it is spelled wrong as well. On the plaque it is spelled “Yrausquin” whereas the correct spelling is “Irausquin”.  Even the Encyclopedia of the Netherlands Antilles, of which I was one of the contributors has his name spelled with a Y so whoever made the mistake on Saba can be forgiven.

Juan Enrique Irausquin was born on December 3rd, 1904 on Aruba, then part of The Netherlands, under the rule of “Colony Curacao and Dependencies”.

Aruba at the time was sparsely populated with mostly Amerindians a few white landowners and a very small number of enslaved Africans. Aruba was too dry for sugar cane plantations and was more or less a breeding place for horses and mules for export. Sometimes the situation was so desperate that the Amerindians would take to their canoes and go back to Venezuela for their survival. There were even years when things were so bad that in 1911 there were some 83 cases of people dying from hunger. These years were desperate years and the situation did not change until 1925 when the ESSO oil company started the LAGO oil refinery on Aruba and a long period of prosperity came about. Juan better known as “Juancho” is reportedly descended from Venezuelan ancestors who were originally Basques from Spain.

After passing through primary school on Aruba he went to Curacao to continue his studies in commercial education and to improve himself in accounting, money and banking.

At the age of fourteen he was employed by the “Hollandsche Bank” and before long he rose through the ranks to be a managing clerk.

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On the 10th anniversary of his death the Postal Services of the Netherlands Antilles issued a stamp to honour Mr. Irausquin.

Actuated by a restless urge to surpass himself Juan Irausquin resigned from his post at the” Hollandsche Bank” and was engaged by the firm John Gerard Eman, which during some time carried on a limited banking business. In 1936 the firm John G. Eman in conjunction with the Maduro & Curiels Bank N.V. proceeded to establish the first bank in Aruba, the Aruba Bank N.V. and Juancho – as Mr. Irausquin was generally known – was appointed Bank Manager and occupied this post until 1951. Juancho was involved in many sided activities; he was President of the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourist Board and member of many committees in the field of financial-economic  affairs, co-founder of the Rotary Club and the Home Building Foundation in Aruba.

In 1947 he was elected Member of the House of Representatives (Staten), as the Netherlands Antilles parliament is called and after that he was reelected in all elections in which he participated.

As a Member of Parliament Juancho was several times voted to the Chair. From 1948 on he took part in all important conferences relative to the acquisition of autonomy by the Netherlands Antilles such as the Round Table Conferences of 1948 and 1952-1954, and the so called small committee (petit comite). From July 2nd, 1951 and for several years he was also a Member of the Island Council of Aruba. Until 1954 his party was in the opposition.

In November 1947 together with Porfirio “Fichi” Croes he founded the Partido Patriotico Arubano. The party wanted self-government for Aruba based on the Van Poelje report on the Interim Regulations. The P.P.A. was the favorite party of Windward islanders and other population groups around the town of San Nicolas. This was the refinery town and most of the population lived there back in the day. In 1955 when I went to spend Christmas with my brother Freddie, a teacher on Aruba, the refinery had some eight thousand employees.

Aruba government

The Government of Aruba, second from left Commissioner William Carl Anslyn of Saba .


From 1955 to 1967 the P.P.A. was the dominant political party in the Island and Executive Councils of Aruba. Some of the politicians from the Windward Islands active in the party were Diederick Mathew who at one time was a Commissioner, Leo Chance an island council member, Senator and Minister for the PPA, Carl Anslyn a Commissioner and Senator, Hugh Lopes a Senator, Joseph Lake was elected to the Island Council but could not serve as the opposition claimed since he was born in Santo Domingo he had not acquired his Dutch rights legally. There were many other Windward Islanders involved as field workers for the various candidates for the party. They would make sure that on the P.P.A. list at least two Windward Islanders would get elected. Years later when the nationalistic party the M.E.P. came to power anyone with an English sounding name with origins from the Windward Islands could forget about getting a job with the government. However many people looked at it as payback time as the P.P.A. had also favored Windward Islanders during their time in power. Before the refineries on Aruba and Curacao there was no such thing as a “Windward Islander”. You were either from Saba, Statia or St. Martin. It is in the ghettos of the oil refineries and in outlying regions of San Nicolas when people from these islands were thrown together that they started being referred to as Windward Islanders.

Leo Chance 2

Act. Prime Minister Leo Chance of Saba hosting a meeting with the Dutch Royal couple.

Benny Nisbeth of St. Martin extract who served as a Senator and a Minister in later years is widely credited with taking the grand old P.P.A. party to its final resting place. Aruba had changed and while the P.P.A. party was still liked, “Benny” should have put an Aruban as Leader of the Party. When Leo Chance served as President of the party some years after Juancho’s death he recognized the need to have a native Aruban as Leader of the party.

On April 1st 1956 Juan Enrique Irausquin was appointed Minister of Finance and Welfare, a prominent post which he occupied until his death on June 20, 1962.

Juancho was married to Maria Waitzberg. In recognition of his many merits in politics, economics, and welfare, H.M. Queen Juliana was pleased to Confer upon him the Order of Orange Nassau. He is accepted as a great fighter who took an active part in the economic development of the Netherlands Antilles. Aruba in particular and the Netherlands Antilles on the whole rendered homage to this illustrious Antillean by erecting a statue on the Juan Enrique square in Oranjestad, Aruba. Also in his memory the airport of Saba and a street in St. Maarten were named after him.

On June 20th, 1972 the Postal Service of the Netherlands Antilles commemorated the 10th anniversary of his death by issuing a special postal stamp in the value of 30 cents.

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Mrs. Maria Irausquin-Waitzberg officiating at the opening of Saba’s airport, September 18th, 1964. Looking on, Administrator L.M. Overberg, Senator Claude Wathey and Winair agent Daniel Johnson.

As leader of the P.P. A. party he had nearly all of the Windward Islanders in his camp. He gave them many opportunities and some of them became Commissioners (Carl Anslyn and Diederick Mathew), Senators (Leo Chance and Carl Anslyn), Island Council Members Diederick Mathew, Carl Anslyn, Leo Chance and so on.

S.S. Morris 1973 June

S.S. Morris June 1973 opening telecommunications Building on St. Maarten speaking to Lt. Governor Jossy Tromp on Aruba.

I remember once the late Sinclair S. Morris taking me around Aruba. At the time (1969) I was with the URA party opposing the Democrat Party in the Windward Islands. They were allied with the P.P.A. . I cannot even remember how he ended up taking me around the island. Mr. Morris took pleasure in introducing me to all and sundry along the road and telling them:” I don’t know why I am doing this, but this crook here is the man who wants to kill our party in the Windward Islands.” It was all in good fun of course. To his amazement when we went into a hotel on Palm Beach, and we entered the Casino I bet my last twenty five guilders on the machine like a Ferris wheel. He said “Man Johnson, that machine no one ever wins it.” Lo and behold my number played and if I remember well I was paid seven hundred and fifty dollars.  Morris would not even let me help him to buy gasoline, but starting with the casino till we reached back at the Seaman’s Club in San Nicolas he was telling everyone, look what he had done; taken this crook to the casino and made him a rich man and now he is going back home to kill our party in the Windward Islands.

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Many familiar faces among those who attended the opening of Saba’s airport, Dr. Hubert Petit, Mayor of French St. Martin, Commissioner Milton Peters, Lt. Governor and Mrs. J.J., Beaujon, Barbara Kassab Every, Remy de Haenen, Mayor of St. Barth’s and the man who made air transportation to Saba possible.

Mr. Morris also let me in on some of the secrets as to how the Windward Islanders used to operate on Election Day in order to make sure that their people were elected. He told me a story about Carl Anslyn. “Oh boy, I respected him a lot, but he was a crook like you.” And then he went on to tell me the following story. He was a big supporter of Diederick Mathew his fellow St. Martiner. The day before the election it was agreed that the school where the voting bureau was being monitored by Mr. Morris,  the Windward Islands voters would be instructed by him to vote for Mr. Mathew.

Juanch0 Irausquin

First day cover honouring Juancho Irausquin.

Just after the polls opened Mr. Anslyn came to him in a huff and a puff complaining:” I don’t know what these people are doing, now they have changed things around. You are to direct people at this polling station to vote for me and I am supposed to tell them at my station to vote for Diederick.” Well Mr. Morris being a party loyalist followed orders and the people were coming in droves to cast their votes in the early morning hours. Around 4 pm in the afternoon Mr. Mathew came to check with Mr. Morris to see how things were going; Mr. Morris told him the Anslyn version of things and Mr. Mathew started to bawl. There was no such agreement and Anslyn won with a landslide in that election.” Same crook like you that Anslyn but I still admire him. No other man ever pull a fast one on me like that Anslyn.” And believe it or not he, Morris, admired me till  the day he died. He later came to St. Maarten and ran with the Democrat Party in the 1971 elections while I had his son-in-law Clifton Berkel (later Commissioner) on the WIPM list on St. Eustatius.

The reason why Juancho was given credit for the Saba airport is the following. He, Wim Lampe the Minister Plenipotentiary and Lampe’s daughter Sheila had been visiting Saba and were returning to St. Martin on the sloop the “Gloria” of Capt. Mathew Levenston then also Commissioner. They struck up in a storm and were all nearly lost. In his book “Buiten de schaduw van de Gouverneurs”, Lampe describes the whole happening.  People claim that Juancho then made a promise that if his life was spared that he would make sure and get the necessary funds to build an airport for Saba. He was Minister of Finance then and entered a project to Holland and the airport on Saba was the first project financed by Holland to these islands (1960). Up to that time the islands were dependent on money generated mostly on Aruba and Curacao. The cost of the airport was around six hundred thousand guilders and was money well spent.

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A number of prominent Sabans gathered with PPA stalwarts Prime Minister Ernesto Petronia, and Diederick Mathew. Among them Commissioners Matthew Levenston and Max Nicholson and his wife Jermaine as well as the parents of Leo Chance and others.

The airport on Saba had started just a few months before Juancho passed away. He became ill and was diagnosed as having a heart attack while attending a Meeting of the Council of Ministers on Curacao and was rushed to the hospital where he died. On September 18th, 1963 the airport was officially opened and long before that the decision had been made by the Council of Ministers in consultation with the local government to name it after him. His widow Maria Irausquin was given the honour to officiate at the opening and many dignitaries from the other islands were on hand to witness this historic day for Saba.

Juancho did not have any children of his own but his wife had two children by her previous marriage to the well-known San Nicolas businessman Pinkus.

So those of you who wonder why our famous airport was named after a man with, for English speaking speakers, a strange sounding name, now you know the rest of the story!

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