343. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs (Warne) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Newsom)1


  • Situation Report on Suriname: 7:00 am, 2/27

Last night, the Acting Minister President and Minister of the Interior, van Gendren, announced that the government is being turned over to the ruling junta, the National Military Council (NMC).2 The NMC has established a Citizens Council to help govern, which will be led by Bruma, a former Minister of Economics and lawyer for the rebel NCOs, and Leeslang, also a lawyer and local politician.

Bruma has told diplomatic representatives the following: (1) the NMC is capable of assuring safety and public order (this seems to be the case because shops and newspapers have commenced activity); (2) continued cooperation with the Dutch; (3) the constitution has been set aside, but the NMC has no plans for holding elections in the near future (national elections were previously scheduled for March 27); (4) all senior government figures are now in custody, except former Premier Arron, who has reportedly turned himself in; President Ferrier remains at the Palace, but is under guard. Ambassador Ostrander believes that the NMC will probably not harm these officials; and (6) there is no Cuban or other third party country involvement in the coup.

Ambassador Ostrander reports that 22 people have been killed, of whom one was a military officer and numerous others were wounded, including several children. No Americans have been harmed, but many are anxiously awaiting departure. The Embassy believes a special Surinamese Airways flight will be arranged to evacuate American tourists today.

The new government appears to be made up of Nationalist Republic Party members (NRP), a left-of-center, nationalistic, socialistic party. Bruma is regarded as an excellent lawyer, who is an effective planner, [Page 850] but a poor administrator. Many influential diplomats and politicians are calling for a technocratic government.

Earlier, President Ferrier had instructed his Ambassador here to call an emergency session of the OAS. The NMC has reversed this decision. An instruction is being relayed by our embassy to this effect and we plan to meet with Ambassador Karamat this morning to discuss how to proceed.

We have sought consultations with the Dutch, Venezuelans and Brazilians. We do not plan to take the lead in this matter, but are looking to the border states. Ostrander reports the Venezuelan Ambassador denounced the violent overthrow to Bruma, but essentially recognized the Government. The Brazilians also reportedly recognized the new government. Our Ambassador has not yet been approached, but expects to meet Bruma today. She is letting the border states and the Dutch and Indians see him first.

The NCO coup d’état represents a unique situation in the hemisphere. A newly-independent country with an elected government that has been moderate and cooperative in its foreign policy has been overturned by a dissident group of NCOs. Labor grievances spurred the NCOs to rebel.3 Their violent action caused them to go beyond seeking redress to their grievances and to form a new government. Its ideological orientation is unclear; indeed, many of the rebel NCOs are not politically oriented, but they have gravitated toward civilian leaders who are more progressive and leftist than the current government.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P808050–0798. Confidential.
  2. A more detailed summary of the events behind the coup is in airgram A–5 from Paramaribo, March 6 (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800035–0833), and Intelligence Information Cable TDFIR DB–315/05678–80, March 21. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 73, Suriname, 1/77–1/81)
  3. In telegram 9 from Paramaribo, January 4, 1979, the Embassy reported on unrest within the Surinamese military and civil service. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790006–0008)
  4. In airgram A–7 from Paramaribo, March 6, the Embassy stated that the events behind the coup were the result of a “narrow labor dispute, escalated beyond imagination by Government failure to act.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800038–0845)