Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Letter from Brokopono

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Letter from Brokopono

Article excerpt

The Organization of American States was invited last January by the Government of Suriname to observe the electoral process in that country in the framework of the elections held on May 25. With the inauguration of Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan as the new president of Suriname on September 16, the eight-month-long electoral observation mission came to a close. David Swaney, one of forty OAS observers, shares some of his personal impressions:

The road leads to Brokopondo, Suriname--a small town in a country that most Americans don't even know exists. Suriname is one of the three countries wedged in between Venezuela and Brazil along the top of South America. Older generations and colonial historians might remember it as Dutch Guyana. It became independent in 1975 when the Dutch left it to fend for itself with a 1.8 billion dollar golden handshake over ten years. Today, the handful of people from the United States who know about Suriname probably work for Alcoa Aluminum of Pittsburgh, the miners of the bauxite which makes our aluminum foil, Suriname's largest contribution to the world economy.

In 1980 the military, under the strong hand of Commander Desi Bouterse, toppled the civilian government and was in control until 1987, when civilian rule was restored. On Christmas Eve of 1990, Bouterse took over again. Subsequently, an interim government scheduled new elections for May 25, 1991.

This being my first OAS mission, I was sent to the District of Brokopondo with two partners: a St. Vincentian and a veteran Argentine coordinator who has been through the recent tubulent elections in Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Argentine coordinator had arrived in Suriname the week before and he welcomed me in tiny Brokopondo with detailed maps of our electoral district and all of the equipment we would need for three weeks in the jungle--mosquito nets, raingear, the works. He had turned an abandoned house with broken windows and no electricity or running water into a functional office and a ... well, sort of a comfortable home for the three of us.

Our road, which the jungle will surely overtake in another month as the rains get heavier, is lined with abandoned houses, left to rot over the last five years because of the war. Yes, there is a war being fought here that began in 1986, when a Bosneger (Dutch/Creole ethnic term for Bush Negro) in Bouterse's army named Ronnie Brunswijk broke off and formed the "Jungle Commando". …

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