Few countries have such a mix of the world's races as Suriname: a mix that is responsible for the intricate politics of this little-known country — and for the recent coup and attempted counter-coup.
But where is Suriname? What is Suriname?
Its beginnings go back to the 17th century, when Britain, France and Holland struggled with Spain for colonies in South America.
They set up only three outposts on that continent. These, perched on the shoulder of South America, were extensions of the Caribbean colonial sugar empires. They shared to a large degree the racial characteristics and economic structures of the West Indian islands. They were called the Guianas.
Suriname, as it was called in Dutch times was, in a curious fashion, a tropical Holland; its coastal alluvial plain has rich soil, but, being rarely more than ten feet above sea level and subject to flooding from numerous rivers, the only way to exploit it was with dykes and canals.
The plain, between 10 and 50 miles wide, proved a fine place to produce sugar. This industry has now declined, however, and employs barely 1,000 people. Rice is the chief agricultural product and nearly 100,000 tons are exported annually.
When the Dutch came they found only a few Amerindians, who mostly retreated into the forests. So they imported slaves from Africa and the cruelty of the Dutch as slave masters became legendary throughout the Caribbean. Their barbarous tortures brought shivers even to French and British planters.
When their slaves ran away, there was often little chance of their former masters getting them back, so impenetrable was the Surinam jungle. Thus were born the so-called Bush Negroes living in villages deep in the forested interior beyond the river rapids (Surinam is an Amerindian word meaning ‘rocky rapids’).
Another mainly African group, the Creoles, were for a long period the biggest of the seven racial groups. They were originally the slaves who did not get away and they assimilated many aspects of Dutch culture, including the language. But after slavery was abolished they refused to work in the sugar cane fields and the Dutch had to import indentured labourers from the Far East — Hindus, Javanese and a few Chinese.
This polyglot community had little sense of nationality when the Dutch began to consider what to do with their empire. Surinam was potentially rich, but most of its 63,250 square miles were uninhabited and unexploited.
The first Dutch solution was to abolish colonial status and to create in 1954 ‘The Tripartite Kingdom of the Netherlands’ which included Holland, Surinam and the six federated islands of the Netherlands Antilles.
But some Surinamers had full independence as their aim, and by the sixties this was inevitable. Independence came on November 25 1975 and Holland gave a generous golden handshake.
With this money, plus bauxite income, Suriname seemed in an enviable position. And its GNP today is $2,340 per person: close to that of such prosperous states as the Bahamas or Trinidad and Tobago.
But, with political parties based on racial and other divisions, and the Dutch tradition of coalitions, Suriname had in fact launched on a sea of political uncertainty.
This state of affairs triggered the overthrow of the elected government of Henck Arron in 1980 by a group of sergeants and junior officers and a National Military Council (NMC) was formed. Since then, however, there have been two unsuccessful coups against the NMC, in 1981 and 1982.
There had been plans for a return to elections and for a new constitution. But the NMC officers, impatient with the inefficiency of civilian government, have now been casting about for a different solution to Suriname’s problems. And some leading military figures are becoming increasingly sympathetic to the Cuban model.
Graham Norton, Gemini.
The worm’s turn
THE lowly earthworm is finding new prominence in this environment-conscious age. Earthworm raising is becoming a big business in many countries, and in the Philippines worm growers have recently formed their own association to encourage increased production.
There are good reasons for the interest in the wriggly creatures that no less an authority than Charles Darwin once claimed have played ‘so important a part in the history of the world’. Earthworms are prolific, relatively easy to raise (the proper term is vermiculture), and have many uses in agriculture, aquaculture. nutrition and even medicine.
The earthworm contains about 70 per cent crude protein, plus amino acids, and makes a good substitute for fishmeal or bonemeal in animal feeds. It consumes almost any kind of organic garbage, converting it to worm castings that are rich in nitrates, phosphates and potash and make excellent fertilizer.
Dried and powdered, earthworms could also be used in making everyday foods such as bread, cookies and noodles. Japan, one of the world’s biggest earthworm-consuming countries, reportedly uses them in a whole range of products that include antibiotics and aphrodisiacs!
SINCE US ex-Congressman Bradford Morse took over a nearly bankrupt UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 1976, his aggressive optimism has guided it from the brink of collapse to a position where it is the world’s main conduit of technical help to developing countries.
But now that position is threatened by reduced contributions from its donors and it has already been forced to cut its 1982 funding by 20 per cent. Further cuts for UNDP’s 1982-86 planning cycle may eliminate nearly one-third of 5,000 projects.
Governments’ reluctance to contribute more, even by pegging contributions to inflation rates, has put Morse’s optimism to a severe test. At the last pledging conference, promises were so disappointing Morse conceded: ‘the record challenges my convictions’.
As Morse pointed out to me, no government is obliged to contribute to UNDP and that results in ‘a certain amount of uncertainty’.
‘It’s not a new phenomenon,’ said Morse with an air of resignation as he inhaled deeply on one of his ever-present menthol cigarettes. ‘It just means I’ll have to work that much harder.’
He is a hard worker who does not confuse his idealism with reality. After a career as a law professor, he served 12 years in the US House of Representatives, resigning in 1972 to join the UN.
During his Congress years Morse was a founder of Members of Congress for Peace Through Law, a bi-partisan group of Congressmen concerned about the arms race and its impact on development efforts.
Morse spends little time in his expensive New York office. He travels to acquaint himself with all aspects of development, but much of his time lately has been spent searching for funds.
Rumours abound at UNDP New York headquarters of a high-level ‘resource strategy group’ that is seeking to stave off the demise of many UNDP-supported programmes. One potential donor, the Gulf Arab Fund, wants its aid tied to specific projects — something anathema to Morse and against the UNDP mandate.
UNDP planning has been thrown by the Reagan administration’s proposed 1983 cut of $21 million (16.5 per cent) on its 1982 funding. Washington, searching for more bilateral military aid, slashed multilateral aid and the UNDP was among the hardest hit.
But squabbling over the Reagan budget has only just begun. In spite of Washington’s antipathy towards the UN, anti-UN sentiment in Congress is not large or well-orchestrated. Congress actually increased last year’s funding to the UN over and above the Reagan budget request.
With a budget of nearly $500 million per year — one quarter from the US the UNDP is often referred to as a ‘switchboard’ for connecting developing countries to international development plans.
Yet UNDP not only connects. It also initiates. Morse terms the UNDP ‘a unique development service because it covers every part of the developing world and every aspect of the human adventure.’
James B. Slemmons, Gemini
EYESIGHT does deteriorate as a result of close work, according to a recent study. An investigation of remote Canadian native communities by opthalmologists. Richler and Bear, shows the effects on eyesight of the introduction of formal education. After long periods of reading and writing — often in poorly-lit conditions — they discovered that the rate of myopia increased far in excess of that sustainable by genetics alone.
Conventional medical opinion holds that myopia (short-sight) results not from environmental conditions but from genetic factors.
The challenge to this view from the Canadian study has important implications for Asia’s booming microchip industry. Women here are working seven or more hours a day bonding tiny wires under a microscope and many have been claiming that failing vision is a regular occupational hazard.
Local ophthalmologists have so far supported the contention of company personnel officers that this had nothing to do with the work.
But even before the Canadian study there were those who disagreed with this view. Chinese doctor Shu-qui Zhang has first-hand experience. ‘In clinical work in China; he says, ‘I found a number of patients whose myopia developed at ages over 30 years. They were people engaged in fine work under the microscope such as watch menders.'
What is needed now is a recognition of the danger — and action taken to avoid it. Shorter hours at the microscope, regular job rotation and frequent eye checks could help limit the loss of vision.
Crop prices fall
THE prices of 15 agricultural commodities were lower in real terms in 1981 than in 1960- according to the latest FAO Commodity Review. And that spells trouble for the developing countries who rely on such crops as major foreign exchange earners.
Tea, jute and rubber showed declines of 60 per cent and more, while the real prices of other basic commodities, including cocoa, bananas, wheat, maize and soybeans were 20 to 40 per cent lower than in 1960.
In the twelve months up to September 1981 as many as twenty member countries of the International Monetary Fund had to ask for money to compensate them for the shortfalls in export earnings.
The overall agricultural trade surplus of developing countries plunged to $6 billions in 1980 from $15 billions in 1978/79 and a further drop is expected when the 1981 figures are issued.
World trade as a whole is of course depressed at the moment. But the raw material producers in the poor countries are feeling the biggest impact. ‘With no growth in the volume of their agricultural exports,’ the Review says, ‘the developing countries' foreign exchange earnings from these products dropped in real terms against manufactured goods by over three per cent in 1980.’
Pending industrial recovery no upturn in prices is expected in the near future and such incomes as poor countries do have are going increasingly to service their mounting external debts - which swelled by $55 billions in 1981 to reach $425: about six times the value of the agricultural exports in 1980.
SUBSIDIARY companies of British multinational corporations are selling and distributing pesticides in Kenya which are banned or severely restricted in the Western world.
The Kenyan subsidiary of the giant tobacco firm, BAT Industries Ltd., supplies its 8,500 contract tobacco farmers with an insecticide called Aldrin 40% Wettable Powder, which is made by Shell. Aldrin has been suspended for use in the United States since 1974.
The US Centre for Disease Control says that Aldrin’s suspected health hazards include, ‘cancer, damage to foetus and nervous disorders’. Aldrin used on soybean was the suspected cause of the deaths of 13 people in Brazil in 1975.
Instructions for use on an 'Aldrin 40% W.P.’ leaflet suggest that the Kenya tobacco farmer would have to apply about 6 lbs., of the insecticide to his half hectare plot — the normal size tobacco plot — before planting.
The leaflet says that the insecticide is, ‘safe to use if precautions are followed’. Precautions say, '. . . keep away from children and avoid contaminating rivers and streams. Always wash with soap and water after use. Symptoms of poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea and shivering — consult a doctor immediately’.
Soap often runs out in rural Kenya and doctors are rare, let alone available for immediate consultation. And it is difficult to avoid contamination of rivers and streams.
As chemicals are washed off the fields they find their way into rivers, streams and village water wells. 'It is just not possible', believes Celestous Juma of the Nairobi-based Environmental Liaison Centre, 'to stop chemicals getting into the water supply'.
The London head office of BAT Industries has confirmed that tobacco farmers in Kenya are using Aldrin; they say it is legal for use in Kenya.
Twigga Industries, the Kenyan associate company of ICI, offer farmers a wide range of chemicals, a number of which are banned or restricted in the West. One pesticide called 'Alandrin' uses Shell’s Aldrin as its active ingredient.