334. Telegram From the Embassy in Suriname to the Department of State1
87. Subj: Visit of Prime Minister Arron to Washington.2
Summary: As Prime Minister Arron prepares to attend OAS Special Session to admit Surinam February 22, Surinam continues to combine economic promise with spotty performance and awaits the coming later this year of the first national elections since independence. Politics are the only topic of conversation as the prognosticators try to ascertain whether Arron’s Creole-dominated coalition can hold on to power in spite of accusations of corruption and a record of only modest accomplishments or whether the opposition Hindustani-dominated VHP3 will attract enough votes from the discontented to emerge on top. With Surinamers thus preoccupied internally, we can expect continued cautiousness in the conduct of Surinam’s foreign relations regardless of the closer ties with its hemispheric neighbors which might be inferred from its new OAS membership.
1. Although Special Session of the OAS General Assembly was apparently originally suggested by Panama without consultation with Surinam, the latter seized upon the idea and lobbied successfully, with US support, with the result that the Special Session for the admission of Surinam will take place on February 22 in Washington. As Minister for General and foreign affairs, Henck Arron will spend the period Feb 19 to 24 in Washington for attendance at the Special Session and other affairs in connection therewith, but the fact that he is also Prime Minister (and Minister of Finance too) as well as the fact that this will be his first visit to Washington since Surinam became independent on Nov 24, 1975, give this visit an importance in Surinam eyes beyond the OAS aspect.
2. The first fifteen months of independence have not brought any dramatic political or economic changes in Surinam. The country had [Page 816] had self-government for more than 20 years in all areas except defense and Foreign Affairs; the question of defense has been approached gradually, in the absence of any real threat to Surinam’s security, and Surinam’s entry into the field of foreign affairs has also been gradual and cautious. In the absence of any pressing foreign relations problems, the attention of the government and the people has been focussed more on internal political and economic affairs. For the former, the general elections for a new Parliament, the first elections since independence, which will be held in the late summer or early fall of this year, are already the determining factor in what is being said and done in Paramaribo. In economic affairs, the progress of utilization of the massive Dutch aid program, the development of projects, and the ups and downs of the bauxite-aluminum industry are the main matters of concern.
3. After a previous Hindustani-Creole alliance which lasted until the elections of 1973, the Creole-dominated “combination” took over, led by Arron and his National Party of Surinam (NPS) and including prominently the left-leaning black nationalist Progressive Nationalistic Party (PNR) of Economics Minister Eddy Bruma, the (Catholic-Christian Democratic) Progressive Surinam People’s Party (PSV) of Parliament Chairman Emile Wijntuin, and the Indonesian Farmers’ Party (KTPI) of Agriculture Minister Willy Soemita. Recent weeks have seen separate meetings of these party organizations, dealing with the question of whether to go into the elections with the same combination grouping. So far it appears that all parties will want to remain in the combination. Some members of the NPS and the PSV, however, would like to see the PNR dropped. Allegations of corruption against Soemita have also raised doubts about his usefulness to the combination. The consensus, nevertheless, is that the combination will remain intact although the relative bargaining power of Arron and the NPS vis-a-vis the other parties may be greater than it was in 1973, when he needed all possible assistance to come into power.
4. After a long history of association with the government and of supplying a number of Ministers to the Cabinet, the Hindustanis have found the role of opposition less than satisfying in the past four years. The Progressive Reform Party (VHP), which used to be called the United Hindustani Party (using the same initials in Dutch), under elder statesman Jaggernath Lachmon appears to be making an all-out attempt to end the Creole ascendancy. Lachmon says that he does not want to rule alone, and does not think that the VHP could do so, but at the same time he does not think that the Creoles should rule alone either. His stated aim is to show sufficient strength to prevent the combination from continuing in power, and to force the NPS to resume its former coalition with the VHP to the exclusion of the PNR. In trying to broaden [Page 817] his base Lachmon has given his blessing to a new Indonesian party under an Indonesian Member of Parliament, Somohardjo, who got in in 1973 as a member of the NPS but later broke with that party. The consensus among observers, including the press, is that as of now the combination would win an election, but there are too many fluid factors which could affect the situation over the next six months to permit a decisive view of what will happen when the elections actually occur.
5. On the economic side, 1976 saw a three-year agreement between the GOS and Alcoa setting a minimum bauxite production rate and a bauxite levy rate for the next three years. Although the bauxite production level remains disappointingly low, the agreements guarantee the government a minimum base on which the levy is calculated, while the rising price of aluminum on the world market results in an increase in the levy itself, thus providing the GOS with a sizeable and steady income from this source. Progress on utilization of the generous Netherlands aid settlement (about $1.5 billion over a period of 1–15 years) has been more spotty, with some friction developing over the planning and evaluation of projects and the distribution of funds between infrastructure, production and social projects. Nevertheless, the availability of this massive aid program for a long period ahead gives Surinam an economic advantage of great importance compared with other developing countries. Inflation took a jump in the last quarter of 1976, and will probably get worse as the aid program pumps money into the economy and takes out labor and materials for longe range infrastructure projects which add nothing to the economy in the short run but an increased demand for imported products.
6. On the international scene, Surinam has entered into diplomatic relations with a wide variety of countries and has real problems with none of them, with the sole exception of neighboring Guyana.4 While the border problem with Guyana will remain an emotional issue with Surinam until it is finally solved, there is currently no particular attention being paid to this matter, nor is it an internally divisive question. With entry into the OAS, Surinam will be taking its place among the Central and South American (we can’t say Latin American because Surinam is not Latin) nations in their security relationship with the US, a factor that may bring more bilateral Surinam-US contact as well. While Surinam maintains a modest army of under a thousand men, and its army commander has talked desultorily about getting some military equipment from the US, there is little likelihood in the near [Page 818] term of either an expansion in size or in capability of the army or of a significant request to the US for military sales or cooperation.
7. In this context, the task of Arron and his government is less to achieve some kind of startling success than to minimize the chances of some kind of a significant failure. If things can be kept going as they are, with a continuation of the modest successes of the GOS in its relations with other countries and an avoidance of any internal economic or political crisis, then the Arron government’s chances of winning the elections and remaining in power will be enhanced. The dangers lie in the possibility of public resentment of higher prices, unemployment, wildcat strikes aimed at public services, and of the rather inept government performance in the economic field, which has resulted in scarcities of commodities such as potatoes and onions and in the import of sugar for domestic needs while defaulting on sugar export commitments. A further possible source of public discontent could be the allegations of personal corruption which have recently been made. Minister of Public Works Karamat Ali has just won a court case against a journalist who charged him and his Ministry (without naming names) with having received bribes to grant constructions permits; an official of the Ministry of Justice has also just won a suit against a journalist who alleged that he was “crooked”, widespread allegations have been made about corruption on the part of Agricultural Minister Soemita, but no official action has occurred. The possibility of some or all of these factors having an adverse effect on the elections is why Arron wants to keep the boat steady even if it is not traveling along very fast, while the opposition will seek every opportunity to rock the boat and scare the passengers, while at the same time criticizing the fact that it seems not to be going anywhere fast.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770045–0122. Confidential. Repeated for information to Georgetown, The Hague, Port of Spain, and USCINCSO in Quarry Heights.↩
- While in Washington for the OAS meeting, Arron met with Secretary Vance. See Document 335.↩
- The VHP (Vooruitstrevende Hervormings Partij) was the Progressive Reform Party.↩
- Guyana and Suriname have a long-standing dispute over 6,000 square miles of land. Soldiers from the two nations skirmished over the territory in 1969. The dispute remains unresolved.↩