340. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting with Suriname Prime Minister Henck A.E. Arron

PARTICIPANTS

  • United States

    • The Deputy Secretary
    • Ambassador Viron P. Vaky, Assistant Secretary (ARA)
    • Stephen Oxman, Executive Assistant to the Deputy Secretary
    • Ashley C. Hewitt, Director, Office of Caribbean Affairs (ARA/CAR)
  • Suriname

    • Henck A.E. Arron, Prime Minister
    • Deryck Heinemann, Director of Foreign Affairs
    • Roel Karamat, Suriname Ambassador to the U.S.

The Deputy Secretary began by expressing appreciation for Suriname’s support in a number of difficult situations recently in the UN and the OAS, particularly in the recent debate in the OAS on Nicara[Page 835]gua.2 He also complimented the Prime Minister on his recent speech in the UN.3 He said that we valued our close relations with Suriname and considered the relationship to be one of warm friendship. He asked how much longer the Prime Minister planned to be in the United States. The Prime Minister replied that he planned to stay to hear Prime Minister Manley of Jamaica speak in the UN next week, and also indicated that he had an appointment next week with UN Secretary General Waldheim. Mr. Christopher commented that Manley is a spellbinding speaker, and recalled his presentation at the occasion of the signing of the Panama Canal Treaties which had so much impressed President Carter. He said that we didn’t always agree with Prime Minister Manley, but we were always interested in hearing his views.

Prime Minister Arron asked what the nature of the problems between the United States and Jamaica had been. Was it ideological and connected with Manley’s relationship with Castro, or were there other reasons? Mr. Christopher responded that the main area of difference lay in the North-South dialogue where Jamaica played an important role and was inclined to take advanced positions with regard to the New International Economic Order (NIEO) which the U.S. could not always support.4 However, he said our relationship was improving and that we might be moving towards the Jamaican position on some issues over the next twelve months. Ambassador Vaky confirmed that view saying that Prime Minister Manley has been concerned with respect to Cuba, but we enjoy broad areas of bilateral cooperation with Jamaica, particularly in the economic field.

Prime Minister Arron said that his country was undergoing a process of integration with Latin America, and indicated that they were approaching a decision point on whether or not to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. He recalled a conversation with the Secretary a year ago during which the Secretary had reviewed the state of our [Page 836] relations with Cuba at that time.5 Arron asked if there had been any significant changes since then. Mr. Christopher said that there had been no fundamental change in our relations with Cuba. He said there had been some recent improvements, and noted the decision of the Castro government to release some political prisoners, and also to allow some people to leave Cuba in order to reunite broken families.6 He said that Castro had come to realize the importance of the Cuban community in the United States and their potential influence. He said he viewed our relations with Cuba as being on an upward trend over the next five to ten years. However, he said that we continue to be concerned about Cuba’s African adventures and its possible aspirations for revolutionary leadership in the Third World. He repeated that there had been no fundamental change in our relations with Cuba but noted that we did have improved contacts with the Cubans through our Interests Section in Havana and by other means. Ambassador Vaky confirmed this view noting once again that Cuba’s role in Africa and what it might portend for areas in other parts of the Third World was the area of our greatest apprehension.

Mr. Christopher asked the Prime Minister about the economic situation in Suriname and what problems he was encountering. Arron replied that the most critical problem was the absence of skilled labor. He explained that this was due to the virtual exodus of skilled manpower to the Netherlands on the eve of independence in 1975. He said that Suriname had proved its stability and moderation as an independent nation and he hoped to attract some of these Surinamers to return.

The Prime Minister went on to say that, while the Dutch had entered into a generous program of development assistance over the next five to ten years, the mere existence of this assistance program and its conditions turned out to be a problem in itself. The Dutch program put severe limits on the amounts that could be spent on infrastructure, although infrastructure was what Suriname needed as a base for industrialization. Because of the sizable Dutch assistance program, other lenders did not regard Suriname as a poor nation and would lend it money only at commercial rates. The result was a difficult dilemma for Suriname. Mr. Christopher said ruefully that this was a familiar problem and one we ourselves had to face in dealing with our own Congress which wished to confine U.S. development assistance to the provision of basic human needs.

Prime Minister Arron said that this problem was particularly acute with respect to the development of western Suriname to which his [Page 837] government gave a high priority. This project required extensive hydroelectric facilities as a base for bauxite, alumina, and ultimately aluminum operations as well as extensive rice growing.

Mr. Christopher said that he didn’t want to appear to be offering a menu from which the Prime Minister could select a meal, but he did want to know how we could be helpful? What specific things could we do? Mr. Arron did not respond directly to these questions, but reiterated the problems his government was facing in financing the western development project, and noted specifically that the World Bank required them to pay the common world interest rate on proposed loans for western development. Mr. Christopher asked Ambassador Vaky if the Bank had discretion on rates. The Ambassador replied that it did on loans that qualify for IDA terms, but otherwise the answer is no.

In closing, Prime Minister Arron said it was the view of his government that one shouldn’t wait for a time of troubles to seek friends. When there is trouble the best you could hope for is to keep the friends you have. He indicated that he considered the United States and Suriname to be very close friends. He asked us not to forget the importance of our influence. In this connection, he noted that Suriname had Guyana right next door which meant in effect that it had Cuba next door. The Deputy Secretary said that we would look for new ways to work constructively with Suriname and that we would make sure not to take our good friends for granted.

COMMENT: Prime Minister Arron’s meaning in his closing remarks concerning Guyana, Cuba, and U.S. influence was unclear, but he may have been seeking assurance of U.S. support should Cuban influence in Guyana grow or should there be further difficulties between Suriname and Guyana, such as the Coryntine River dispute of last spring.7

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P780170–2309. Drafted by Hewitt; approved by Oxman and Vaky. Limited Official Use. The meeting was held in Christopher’s office.
  2. In telegram 243423 to all American Republics, September 25, the Department reported that in response to the Sandinista insurrection in Nicaragua, Suriname supported an OAS resolution to “offer their [OAS] services to the Nicaraguan Government in seeking to mediate the current crisis and to help find a peaceful, democratic solution to the current violence.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780392–0315)
  3. In telegram 4128 from USUN, the Mission reported that on October 5, Arron addressed the UN, affirming Suriname’s dedication to human rights and condemning apartheid practices in South Africa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780413–0570)
  4. The New International Economic Order, enunciated in a May 1975 UN General Assembly resolution, aimed to give developing countries more control over their economies and natural resources and increase development assistance from industrialized countries. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 257.
  5. See Document 335.
  6. See Document 33.
  7. In telegram 975 from Georgetown, March 31, the Embassy reported that six Guyanese forest workers were “arrested at gunpoint” by the Surinamese military and held for two weeks. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780142–0359)