The Ecphorizer

Letter From Suriname IV
Katharine Mitchell

Issue #29 (January 1984)



The author, a Mensan from the San Francisco Bay Area, is a US Foreign Service Officer. In 1982 she was posted to Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), where life is never dull. Here is her latest report.

17 August 1983. We had a whizbang rain yesterday afternoon that overflowed the tracks of the sliding windows on one side on the building and poured in. There was not a terrific wind behind it, but the quantity in a short time was immense. This leads [quoteright'/>into a discussion of our crazy building. The landlord, a self-made man, is very proud of it, and I have a hunch he didn't involve an architect in its design. It is a long, narrow building with five stories above ground (no basements here). The central construction is sound: good, solid reinforced concrete that will hold any load we might be tempted to put on it. But the skin is worthless. The ground floor is OK, solid wails except on the street frontage. But above that, the lower parts of the wall are aluminum sheets attached to wooden supports, with panelboard inside, Above that are the sliding windows in aluminum frames. They are improperly mounted, have no flashing to direct water to the outside, and have warped so that there are big gaps. That, of course, means that we lose a lot of the effectiveness of the air conditioning. Water gets down between the panels of the lower wall, and eventually the wooden supports rot.

The landlord is really a dilly to work with; we can't get anything out of him. So we're stuck with interim solutions, like pinning and caulking the windows ourselves. That might keep some of the major flooding out, but the seepage will continue. The damp gets into the carpeting; the filing cabinets rust; the electrical sockets are constantly moist; etc. Not the best situation. The communications center and the telephone frame room are on the "rain side", as is the WANG equipment. Water pours down the stairways during a bad storm.

24 August 1983. Last night something interesting happened. USIS had planned to begin a film series for high school kids during their vacation.  They were going to start with How the West Was Won and go on with more specifically educational stuff. The showing was to have been yesterday at a hall operated by a nondenominational social services outfit which was going to be the co-sponsor. It had been advertised on the government TV station and in the newspaper. All seemed well until after business hours yesterday. The government requested that we cancel the showing, and the ambassador agreed to do so. Until we find out, which we may never really do, we can't tell if they were worried about the content of the program, or whether they were trying to head off possible unpleasant demonstrations. Several of the young people who came with tickets had well prepared flyers to hand out, characterizing Reagan as a cowboy who ignored international law, and claiming that USIS was a CIA front.

A program of "military exercises" began last night, too. The gunboat was on the river, firing through the night. One of our people in a hotel downtown, heard a lot of firing. There were announcements in the media that people can expect to be stopped and their vehicles checked not only during curfew. They are exhorting people to be alert for mercenaries (again). There is to be a meeting of all those opposed to military intervention.

21 November 1983. After we had invaded Grenada, Bouterse expelled a lot of Cubans from Paramaribo. What Time magazine didn't get straight was that he had decided to do so before he learned of the invasion. He made the public announcement on TV the evening of the day we went In. Maurice Bishop had been, in effect, his revolutionary big brother. He probably decided that if the Cubans were upset enough about Bishop's moderate leanings to kill him, perhaps they would come looking for another target. It doesn't mean it is any easier for us to deal with this government, but we are not unhappy to see the Cuban representation here reduced.

I heard, but have not had it verified, that they asked that all the Surinamers staying in Cuba to "study" be sent home. The Suriname Airways was not allowed to go to Havana, so a Cuban charter came in here. The kicker was that, unbeknownst to the Suriname authorities, some dozen Surinamers had been sent on to the USSR. I haven't heard any more about whether those have returned or not. 

Contributor Profile

Katherine Mitchell

In 1977 Katherine Mitchell spent three months trekking by land across the Middle East from Cairo to Delhi. This experience suited her quite well and as a result, she joined the Foreign Service.




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