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A letter from Brokopono.

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". The civil war has left our electoral district, which happens to be in the center of the fighting, splintered and largely abandoned.

Last week I went to a faraway village called Kwakoegron to see how the elections were coming along in this booming town of 150. I was accompanied by Ormand Robertson, Election Commissioner for the Island of St. Vincent, and Hesdy Eduards, our fearless Bush Negro interpreter.

Bouncing our way down the pit-filled road to Kwakoegron in our white Cherokee jeep with huge blue letters spelling "O.A.S. Electoral Mission" in Dutch on the side, we approached a barricade where we were met by a group of 16-year-old boys with machine guns. "Tucayanas," Hesdy whispered, his usually calm voice noticeably tensing. My back straightened and I reached for my OAS cap.

As two of the boys approached the car, I rolled down my window and, with a charming diplomatic smile, I chirped, "E Weki No!" ("Good morning" in Saramaccan, the regional Bush Negro language most widely used in Brokopondo). The Tucayanas are not Saramaccans, and this big white man speaking a foreign African language brought a funny smirk to one of their faces. Hesdy carefully explained the OAS mission to them in Sranan Tongo, the country-wide creole language, and why we wanted to go to Kwakoegron. Their Commander, a man in his late 30s, informed us gruffly that nobody entered Tucayana territory without a pass from Paramaribo. I blurted out that we were invited by the government in Paramaribo to visit Kwakoegron to see whether or not all political parties had free access to the elections. After more interrogation and demands for a bottle of rum, which we didn't happen to be carrying with us on a Thursday afternoon, they let us into Tucayana territory, where we were welcomed by a Tucayana sign and banner.

There is a temporary cease-fire between Bourterse and Brunswijk which has held through the election. Many locals express their appreciation of the OAS presence in Suriname as a deterrence to disturbances and a fraudulent election, but others add that the trouble could begin again as soon as we leave.
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Title Annotation:Surinam election observer's impressions
Author:Swaney, David
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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