The Ecphorizer

Letter From Suriname III
Katharine Mitchell

Issue #26 (October 1983)

Running a revolution is often hard work

The author, a Mensan from the San Francisco bay area, is a US Foreign Service officer. Last year she was posted to Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), where the politics is sometimes lively. Here is her latest report.

22 February 1983. I

...lots of revolutionary films, stirring inspirational messages...

hear that the Surinamese have closed their embassy and consulates in the Netherlands. The probable next step is for the Dutch to do the same here, or for the Surinamese to ask them to do so. That's a major step, and I wonder what it will mean for us.

[quoteright]23 February 1983. It seems the closing of the Surinamese posts in Holland was a "misunderstanding" and we are told they have no intention of breaking relations. That's good to hear. There are about 4,000 Dutch nationals here and some 160,000 Surthamese there. Practically everyone here has a relative or friend in Holland. It would be a real mess if things broke down completely.

The government is having trouble putting together any kind of enthusiastic celebration of the third anniversary of the revolution, due the 25th. They wanted to organize a children's parade; in a lot of the schools, no one showed up to work on it. It's been canceled. There's been a lot of rhetoric on radio and TV, lots of revolutionary films, stirring inspirational messages at intervals, exalted music, etc. I think you call that whistling in the dark.

12 March 1983. Last night a man from the Embassy and I went to the airport to pick up two returning colleagues. The plane was delayed more than two hours, which meant we were going back into town after curfew. We were in fact stopped by a patrol and had to try to explain, supporting our story with the airline tickets. It was not a pleasant experience. The soldiers who stopped us piled out of a little bus and gathered around the passenger side where Carl was (assuming he was in charge, of course). None of them really looked like they knew what to do with their weapons. The guy in charge was all hyped up and speaking Sranang Tongo. Another fellow was a little calmer. We finally got it across to them what we were doing and why (I don't think they'd ever seen airline tickets before), but it was a nervous ride home.

23 March 1983. The big topic of conversation around here these days is the shortage of eating chicken. I guess they used to fly in shipments of chicks from Miami and raise them to frying size. I gather the government is enforcing import restrictions to the extent of letting one shipment of chicks die in the sun at the airport in Caracas. This is all supposed to encourage self-reliance.

13 April 1983. Last night at the Thalia (the one live theater in town) there was a performance of a show they're sending to Cuba. I copped out of attending, and it sounds like I should be glad I missed it. They gathered groups from each of the ethnic varieties to perform something "typical," starting with Amerindians, working through bush-negroes, "hindustanis," Indonesians, etc. No Dutch that I heard of. As each number care to a conclusion, the sound of gunfire resounded and the performers fell to the floor. I guess they never said in so many words that the dirty capitalist imperialists were killing them, but that was the message. Then they were exhorted not to concentrate on their differences but to develop a new unified song as Surinamers. Rousing conclusion with raised clenched fists and all. Phew!

12 May 1983. Last Saturday the curfew was lifted and I think people went out even if they didn't feel like it. The town was jammed. It was very fortuitous timing for an American here with a shrimp company. He was celebrating his 45th birthday in grand fashion. There were easily 200 people there in the very nice, big apartment, on the specially reinforced veranda (they were afraid the dancing would bring it down) and down below in a yard full of rented tables and chairs. There was a live band, a (Canadian?) bellydancer, a drawing for door prizes, the works. I left shortly after 1 am, but I hear it went on until 5.

23 June 1983. There was a recent decree further reducing personal liberty here. Now they will arrest and fine, if not imprison, people for possession of certain types of literature. I haven't seen the details, but I presume the intention is to prevent exposure to antirevolutionary thought. What a pity. It seems so often that those who say, and may truly believe, they want the best for people can't trust them to reach their own conclusions.

27 June 1983. Because Colonel Bouterse has so little luck encouraging people to attend his rallies voluntarily, he has decided to make big doings on June 30th. People are told they will go to the rally from their government jobs and the teachers will escort their students. This time they plan to start with a demonstration in front of our embassy, with effigy burning (what figures I don't know) and presentation of a petition. It's supposed to be well controlled, with monitors, etc., but I'm not looking forward to it.

30 June 1983. The demonstration just finished. Our estimates of the crowd range from 200 to 300, all black and young. There were several police officers and as many police cadets in front of the embassy. The crowd had stayed in the shade across the street until 9 am, then they came and gathered around with their banners and placards facing us. They chanted a little, but not enthusiastically. A young man came with a few others to present the petition, which he then read aloud through a bullhorn, to a few orchestrated cheers and chants. It had mostly to do with their outrage at the idea of CIA plots. There was a light breeze and the flags fluttered nicely. Our political officer stayed out front as they shifted their attention to an effigy arranged on a gibbet that was brought into the street. It was the figure of a man hanging; I couldn't read the lettering on it, but it was something about the CIA. It took them a while to get it to burn, and then they chanted (in Dutch) "Reagan, murderer." After the effigy finished burning, everyone walked away fairly quietly and headed for the Dutch embassy. 

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illustration by Burt Schmitz

Katharine Mitchell, a Mensan from the Bay Area, decided to join the US Foreign Service after backpacking from Shiraz to Delhi by way of Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass.

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