-as 29th Caricom Council of Ministers meeting gets underway
An urgent call was made yesterday by Suriname Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Winston Lackin, for the Caribbean Community to join forces if needful changes are to be realized. Lackin made the appeal in his capacity as Chairman of the 29th Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council of Ministers, which took place at the CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara.
He disclosed that although a number of decisions were made over the last decade within the Community, there is still need for these to be implemented, “if we want to survive as a Region. We have to do structural things and present decisions to our Heads to help Regional institutions to get out of the situation we are in.” He pointed out that it is a known fact that the impact of the financial crisis and the effects of Climate Change have directly affected the Region, even as he reiterated the need for more collaboration if the Region is to remain united.
He revealed that having perused the agenda for the Meeting, it was observed that more than 99 per cent of the issues have been there for a long time and “we are not finding solutions for them.”
Most of them, he revealed, have to do with the lack of finances even as he alluded to member states that are having serious financial problems.
“We are not in a position to make a contribution. When we look at our organization we see institutions that we have put in place that are not functioning because of finances.”
“We have to do things differently. We need to change our ideas and our behaviour and the way we have been doing business…We can’t even ensure security in our Region and it is directly related to our population’s survival…We can’t control our own institutions, so it is time for us to come together and change the way of doing business.”
Lackin expressed optimism that the conclusion of the meeting would see decisions being taken to change the way of doing business. He amplified the need to find means to create finances to get rid of the existing situation even as he pointed to the Region’s dependence on funding from outside sources.
“We have to think outside of the box to find solutions, to create CARICOM enterprises and business opportunities…Let us join our national resources and intelligences to have the possibility of controlling and directing our own institutions and come to a position where we can decide our own destiny, because if we keep on depending on funds from the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom we will not find structural solutions for the problems we are facing,” Lackin added.
Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, in delivering opening remarks at the meeting, pointed out that the Council is meeting at a time when the Community continues to ask hard questions of itself and the role of all of its organs, bodies and institutions against a background of the demand by Heads of Government. As such he noted that the actions that are engaged must make a meaningful impact on the ground even as he pointed to his movements throughout the Region where he met with various stakeholders. “I have heard firsthand the concerns expressed by our Heads, by you, our Ministers, and the citizenry of our communities and there is an urgent call to do things differently if we are to deliver what is expected of us.”
He noted too, that it is within the Council that the responsibility resides to function as a preparatory body for meetings of the Conference of Heads of Government and thereby to determine what matters may be laid before it. In other words, he said that “this Council should be the fulcrum around which the Community swivels. It is within your purview to discuss whether these highly pivotal functions are being adequately discharged.” He added too, that a process of review cannot be completed at any one meeting but rather, discussions are urgent and must form a major part of the introspection which the Community is poised to undertake.
Yesterday’s meeting of the Council of Ministers, for the first time, saw the attendance of Ministers from Jamaica and Saint Lucia.
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – Edward Belfort, deputy director of the Delinquents Care department has submitted a US$ 1.2 million project proposal with the government to fight corruption in prisons. The money will be used for digital networks, cameras and scanners in local prisons, the only way to combat crime within the correctional institutions. It appears that inmates who manage to con people from inside the prison walls go unpunished. It is next to impossible to finger the culprits. Some inmates have mobile phones at their disposal which they use to con people on the outside. Belfort blames a small group of prison guards who facilitate inmates. As soon as the police has received a complaint they request Delinquent Care to investigate, but it is often difficult to find the culprit. Inmates know who to point to, but they keep their mouth shut for fear of reprisals. ‘It’s to no avail, because there is a network.’ Corrupt prison guards simply supply their inmate ‘bosses’ with a new phone if the previous one is confiscated. Mavis Accord recently became a victim of the prison con artists. She notified the police, but was told that the police have to deal with much more pressing cases. The con artist told his victim that he was one doctor Vrede, employed by the University Hospital. He managed to get SRD 60 in calling credit from her. Accord is stunned that she has been conned in such a way, and she cannot understand why no one can do anything about it. ‘Swindling is swindling, whether it’s done from prison or not; whether it involves a small sum or not. The culprits have to be tried,’ says lawyer Humphrey Schurman. The lawyer understands that the large number of cases forces the police to prioritize some. If victims would press on, they could write a letter to the Public Prosecutors Office and demand an investigation. Swindling is but one of the crimes happening in the correctional institutions. Drugs seem to find their way in regularly. The justice official emphasizes that not all prison guards are corrupt, but, nevertheless, investigation is not easy.
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – Although the Chinese association Kong Ngie Tong Sang is content with last year’s results, it calls for a speedy settlement of the legal residence permit for over 1,000 Chinese. They have been waiting for more than three years to get their residence permit and for naturalization. Chairman Chee Yuk Kee, in his address on the Chinese New Year, did not go into details, but he expressed his desire that the incumbent Administration would work on a speedy settlement of this group’s position. ‘We are law-abiding citizens, living in peace with other ethnic groups and have earned our place in this community,’ Chee Yuk Kee said. Chinese have swarmed trade and industry sectors, agriculture, import, export and the construction industry. Chairman Chee Yuk Kee believes that this group will further expand its support for the development of the country. He is also quite content about the Chinese newspaper and radio station’s contribution. The Chinese school has had courses for several groups allowing them to learn to read and write Chinese. President Desi Bouterse considers the Year of the Dragon a significant event. There are several indicators that show that 2012 will be an extraordinary year globally, but primarily for the warm and friendly relations between Suriname and China. However, the diplomatic relations between the two countries have to be deepened. ‘We must do our utmost to bring people closer together instead of driving them apart. The dragon also stands for fortune and luck, and if there’s one thing we need in this life, it must be these.’ The head of state called on society to help the Chinese to mature their development. ‘Let’s celebrate the Year of the Dragon together and realize its characteristics: a year of peace, development, wealth and well-being for every Surinamese.’
Dengue outbreak in Suriname
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC –Health officials have confirmed an outbreak of dengue fever that has even led to the hospitalisation of the Speaker of the country’s parliament Jennifer Simons.
Last updated at 7:07 PM on 29th January 2012
A new species of frog has been discovered by scientists hidden deep inside the South American jungle.
Scientists also unearthed another 45 species during a three-year project where they were helped by tribes who live in villages along the Kutari and Sipaliwini Rivers in Suriname.
The creature has been named the 'Pac-Man Frog' after the video game character as it has a mouth as wide as its body and can swallow whole its prey of fish, other frogs and even mice.
Leaping into the record books: The 'Pac Man frog' was discovered by scientists deep in the jungle of Suriname in South America
Dozens of insects were also discovered including a vivid blue beetle the size of a snooker ball. A new kind of katydid, nicknamed the 'Crayola Katydid', was also thought to have been found during the trip.
Another potentially new species of frog was spotted and nicknamed the 'cowboy' thanks to the white fringes down its legs and a spur-like mass on each heel.
An 'armoured' catfish, covered in spines was caught - a natural deterrent for giant piranhas which also swim the inhospitable waters. Eight other new species of freshwater fish were found during the expedition which ended in 2010.
The discoveries were made by Conservation International, a non-profit team of scientists who were helped in their journey into one of the world's densest jungles by local guides. In total, they documented almost 1,300 species along the Kutari and Sipaliwini Rivers.
Standing out from the crowd: Dozens of species of insects were discovered including this fierce Great Horned beetle
Cutie: The 'Cowboy' frog was nicknamed because of the white fringing down its legs and a spur-like shape on each heel
Winged beauty: A new species of katydid, nicknamed the 'Crayola Katydid' was also thought to have been discovered by scientists on a trip to southwest Suriname
Trond Larsen, director of the program, said: 'As a scientist, it is thrilling to study these remote forests where countless new discoveries await, especially since we believe that protecting these landscapes while they remain pristine provides perhaps the greatest opportunity for maintaining globally important biodiversity and the ecosystems people depend upon for generations to come.'
Suriname has a population of half a million people with most living in the capital Paramaribo or along the Atlantic Coast. It the smallest independent country in South America.
A similar trip to the country by researchers in 2007 unearthed 24 new species.
Swamp thing: A new species of damselfly which breeds in forest swamps was found by scientists as they trekked through Suriname
Prostitution big business in Suriname gold fields
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – The commercial sex industry is also benefiting from high gold prices. A field investigation by de Ware Tijd shows that this industry is attractive to both local and foreign women, whose main motivation is the huge amounts that can be earned in a relatively short time. “No minors are coming, but the ages vary between 20 and even 45. Many Brazilians, Dominicans, Guyanese and French are coming to ‘work’ in the gold fields, as well as Surinamese women”, says one woman active in the gold fields near Brownsweg in the District of Brokopondo. One Guyanese woman says she is paid two grams of gold for twenty minutes and five for an entire evening, and she can sell one gram for SRD 150 in Paramaribo. In a good month, she can earn at least US$ 2,000. Another woman says her ‘work’ in the gold fields is very lucrative, but adds immediately that she is not proud of what she does. “This work is filthy and I don’t intend to do this for the rest of my life. I want to buy my own equipment to get started in the gold business”. The women say they are discreet in order to prevent their close relatives, particularly their children, from finding out about their work. There is growing concern about the social disruption in hinterland communities close to gold fields. Village heads in particular have often sounded the alarm, and the issue has even been discussed in Parliament many times. Especially young girls reportedly cannot resist the temptation of fast and easy money. “The women here are doing it for the money”, it is said.
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – The driving licence system will be digitized. Persons whose licence expire this year will get a new one in ID-card format. “Much of the equipment is already here”, Gloria Stirling of the Office of the Minister of Justice and Police tells de Ware Tijd. A sufficient number of workers is also available to manage the new system, and the target date for introduction has been set at 1 March. The introduction of a modern licence is one of the measures intended to make traffic safer. On the other hand, this license has such security features that it is difficult to forge, and it cannot be destroyed in a washing machine. In case of loss or theft, it is easier to track and the waiting period for a new or extended licence is shorter. Police chief Humphrey Tjin Liep Shie announced the introduction of the new driving license late last year. Close cooperation with the Central Civil Registration Bureau (CBB) will also make it easier to determine whether people stopped by police for traffic violations are providing their real address. It often happens that a fake address is provided, which makes it difficult for the court to process the case. The new system also makes it easier to find out whether a person who claims to have a driving licence actually has one.
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – Criminals and other suspicious persons on the black list of local and international authorities as well as lost or stolen passports can be uncovered easily at all legal ports of entry. An Integrated Border Management Control System will be used to register, identify and track incoming and departing travelers. The system will also be used to determine whether travel documents are real, as well as to screen airline passengers’ manifests before arrival. Canadian Bank Note (CBN), which is involved in similar projects in eighty countries, will set up the system in the next seven months. An agreement between CBN and the government was signed yesterday at Foreign Affairs by Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Robby Ramlakhan and CBN senior vice-president Cornel Bright. The Cabinet has approved 2.2 million Euros for the project, including a 2.1 million Euros fee for CBN. The remaining funds are intended for purchasing the necessary equipment. In the first phase, a registration network will be set up between the Johan Adolf Pengel Airport, police, the Central Civil Register (CBB), the National Security Bureau of the President’s Office, the Central Intelligence Department, the Immigration Service and Foreign Affairs, while a link with Interpol will be made in the future. In the second phase, the border posts Albina and South Drain will be added to the network.
In Suriname's Rain Forests, A Fight Over Trees vs. Jobs
By ANTHONY DePALMA
DRIETABBETJE, Suriname, Aug. 29— The women still wash in the chestnut-brown river and the men launch sleek canoes to fish and hunt in rituals as old as the rain forest itself. Life here seems unchanged and unchanging, but when the Granman Matodja Gazon looks into the future what he sees is sorrow for the forest and for his people.
"When our ancestors fled the city they were not guided to liberty by anyone who knew the way -- it was the forest itself that saved us," said the 85-year-old chieftain of this village of around 500 Maroons, descendants of African slaves who ran away after they were brought to South America by Dutch sugar plantation owners in the 18th century. "If something does good for you like that, you cannot just let it be cut down."
Long ignored, the dense and tangled Amazonian rain forest that surrounds the Granman's village for mile after unbroken mile and extends over 80 percent of this small former Dutch colony on South America's wild northern coast has suddenly become an object of intense desire as much inside Suriname as throughout the world.
Desperate for money, Suriname wants to grant several huge Asian companies the rights to selectively cut the ancient trees to make plywood, ornamental moldings and furniture.
If all the concessions are granted, Suriname, which now has only a limited timber industry, would allow up to 12 million acres, or 40 percent of the country, to be logged under an experimental plan that is supposed to protect indigenous villages and allow the forest to renew itself in 25 years. In exchange, the companies promise to invest more than $500 million in sawmills and factories, generate more than $60 million a year in royalties and taxes, and create tens of thousands of jobs.
For poor Suriname, the plan seems a dream come true. But environmentalists here and around the world think the dream would soon turn into a nightmare. They acknowledge Suriname's right to use the forest but warn that the expected jobs and anticipated revenues will never be realized because the concessions are too large and Suriname's Forestry Service -- two professionals and a broken-down Jeep -- will be incapable of policing the contracts.
Even with strict compliance, the forest would end up pockmarked and crisscrossed by logging roads bringing trucks and cars within a few miles of the Granman and about 10,000 other traditional people, including Caribs, some of whom would defend the sacred KanKan trees and 45 other hardwood species as though they were life itself. Recently Maroons and Amerindians held a meeting of chiefs, who angrily rejected the Government's proposals.
Because the concessions are so large, they must be submitted to Suriname's 51-member Parliament. As the Government rushes to get the contracts approved before national elections in May, the timber proposals are reopening many old wounds here. The 420,000 people of this country about the size of the state of Georgia are suddenly arguing about colonialism, sovereignty and self-determination with the same fire as before they gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
People like Rob Sabajo, a Carib, see in the forest a resource that the Surinamese have every right to exploit, and if the world wants Suriname to preserve its Eden, it will have to pay for it. "Anyone, American, Dutch or whatever, who comes in and tells us not to cut the forest has to give us another way to live," said Mr. Sabajo, who cuts logs for one of the big companies. "And so far they haven't done that."
For Winston W. Wirht, a Member of Parliament, and many others, the forest is more valuable standing than cut. "If we are the only country with 80 percent of the tropical rain forest as it was when Christ was born," Mr. Wirht said, "we have to think of the forest as part of the heritage of humankind."
President Ronald Venetiaan has denounced what he calls the "eco-colonialism" of international environmental organizations. To Iwan Krolis, a professional forester advising the Government, it seems that Suriname is again being bullied by the outside world.
PARAMARIBO, Suriname— Thirteen years after the United States considered sending marines up the muddy Suriname River to force a left-leaning military dictatorship from power in this small South American country, the dictator who ran that Government is now running for President.
The ex-dictator, Desire Bouterse, a 49-year-old career soldier who helped stage one coup in 1980 and another in 1990, is now chairman of the National Democratic Party. As he heads into national elections scheduled for next spring, his popularity is growing.
"You can tell everyone that we're 'coming soon,' just like in the movies," Mr. Bouterse told a rally of about 1,500 supporters who gathered under a large steel shed here in the capital one night recently.
As bats flew over their heads, the people in the audience heard Mr. Bouterse attack his favorite targets -- journalists, human rights campaigners, the current Government and the Netherlands, Suriname's former colonial ruler.
He also tried to explain his concept of decentralized government and how, if elected, he would divide Suriname into local districts that would have far greater self-determination than now. People in the stiff seats yawned.
Political theory is not the reason Surinamese support Mr. Bouterse. The country's economy is in a shambles. The exchange rate, which used to be seven Surinamese guildens to the dollar, is now 450 to the dollar. Taxes are higher, but the streets are filled with potholes.
Mr. Bouterse promises to fix everything, and he freely uses his wealth and influence to buy support.
"He brought us chainsaws and then he buys the timber from us," Herman Joeroeja, a Carib Indian who lives in the forest about 50 miles south of Paramaribo, said of Mr. Bouterse (pronounced BOUGH-ter-seh). "If he does good to me, I have to call his name good."
As he campaigns, Mr. Bouterse tries to put distance between the image of a serious politician he now tries to convey and the dark record of killings, disappearances, arrests and other rights violations that marked his decade in power.
In an interview at his office at his party headquarters, he said it was "a black page in our history" when soldiers under his command rounded up 15 opposition figures and journalists on Dec. 8, 1982, and murdered them at Fort Zeelandia, on the Suriname River.
"But people fail to realize the different coup attempts that took place under those 15 people who were killed," he said. "If the central Government hadn't taken action, we would have had not 15 deaths but 1,500."
While the victims were involved in campaigns to restore democratic government to Suriname, there has never been any evidence that they were plotting to overthrow Mr. Bouterse, although there were at least two attempts to oust him from power in that year.
In 1982, the United States was uneasy about Mr. Bouterse's overtures to Cuba, Libya and the Soviet Union, fearing he would allow another Communist beachhead besides Cuba in the Western Hemisphere.
Within a few weeks of the killings, American officials proposed a joint military operation with the Netherlands in which the Dutch would seize control of Paramaribo while United States warships insured that Cuba did not intervene.
When the Dutch hesitated, the United States considered other options. In his 1993 autobiography, "Turmoil and Triumph," former Secretary of State George P. Shultz described President Reagan as willing to send in American troops without Dutch support.
Later, American policymakers even considered an improbable plan for a force of up to 175 South Korean commandos to stage a raid on Paramaribo and overthrow Mr. Bouterse. In his book, Mr. Shultz called the plan "a hare-brained idea," and said post-Vietnam fears about American troops getting bogged down in a foreign land kept anything from ever happening.
Now, independent polls show Mr. Bouterse's party far more popular than the ragged coalition that has ruled since 1991.
"Bouterse may be in a position to be kingmaker in the next elections or even king himself," said Prof. Gary Brana-Shute, a cultural anthropologist at George Washington University who specializes in Suriname. "Bouterse and his friends no longer need military power. They've built a shadow empire of businesses and investments in Suriname and internationally to make the National Democratic Party one of the richest groups in Suriname."
SANTA ELENA DE UAIREN, Venezuela— In a few weeks many of the Seattle protesters will reassemble in Washington D.C. to throw rocks at the I.M.F. and the World Bank, denouncing them as agents of global corporate greed that is spoiling the environment and leaving the poor behind. The protesters are no doubt sincere, but the truth is the I.M.F. and World Bank are neither the problem nor the solution. They are bit players, of declining importance, in a much larger drama.
The real drama is on the ground in the developing world, not on H Street; the real players are a diverse collection of companies, indigenous peoples, endangered species and local governments; and the real solution lies not with he who throws the biggest stone but he who builds the most effective coalition to get these players working together.
I came to this remote spot on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border to watch a team from Conservation International try to build such a coalition. Its goal: to save the Guyana Shield, the largest unbroken expanse of tropical rain forest in the world, running from southern Venezuela across Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. As you fly over it in a small plane, this rain forest looks like an endless expanse of broccoli, broken only by waterfalls -- including Angel Falls, the tallest in the world -- and by tapuis, the mesa-like rock formations that thrust 8,000 feet above the forest floor. Save for local indigenous tribes, the area is ruled entirely by the ''locals''; harpy eagles and Amazon parrots control the skies, jaguars prowl the forest floor and ferocious peacock bass run the lakes. No wonder Arthur Conan Doyle based his novel ''The Lost World'' on this region.
Conservation International began by strategizing with the indigenous Ye'kwana tribe on how to protect its homeland -- which lies at the heart of this remarkable ecosystem -- from the Brazilian and local miners who covet its gold and ore, from the Japanese logging companies that covet its timber and from a debt-ridden Venezuelan government with legitimate development needs. Throwing stones at the I.M.F. won't do it. This is not a teach-in. This is the sort of real problem that needs to be solved, here and elsewhere, if we want to protect the environment and support growth in the third world.
Conservation International and the Ye'kwana are developing a ''network solution.'' First they are proposing the creation of a 13-million-acre protected area and indigenous reserve on this Venezuelan portion of the Guyana Shield. They have found an unexpected ally in Venezuela's national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, which owns Citgo in America. Petroleos has lost business in the U.S. because of environmental critics. To improve its global brand name, it has pledged to maintain strong environmental standards in its own operations and, through its affiliate Bitor, to provide funding and technical support to protect the Guyana Shield's biodiversity and the Ye'kwana. As one company official put it: ''As a global company, if you don't adapt to the growing trends in the world today you're going to be out of business.''
At the same time, Conservation International and its Venezuelan allies are asking the government here to consider a debt-for-nature swap, in which money raised from the environmental group's supporters around the world would be used to help retire part of Venezuela's national debt -- in return for the creation of the 13-million-acre reserve. If it can pull this off, one of the planet's richest ecosystems gets saved, the Ye'kwana's home is protected, Petroleos protects its global image and Venezuela reduces its debt (if you want to help, go to www.conservation.org).
''In the old days everyone focused on how to get governments to solve these problems by fighting the companies, because industry had so much more power than you and me,'' remarked Glenn Prickett, senior vice president for Conservation International. ''But thanks to globalization and the Internet, power is now much more diffused, global companies are now much more exposed, and organizations like ours much better positioned to offer solutions.''
Without activist protesters, neither governments nor corporations will be pushed to value the environment. But activists today have the power to do more than say no. In a networked world they now have the power, and the responsibility, to create coalitions -- with business, government and affected communities -- that don't just make a point, but make a difference.
THE HAGUE, the Netherlands, Nov. 23— A Dutch high court has ordered prosecutors to investigate the former military dictator of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, for his role in the ''December murders'' of 1982 when 15 of the most prominent opponents of his government were tortured and killed.
The court said it was possible to prosecute Colonel Bouterse in the Netherlands because the case involved crimes against humanity, which under international law can be tried at any place and any time.
The argument is similar to that made by a Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and demanded that he stand trial in Spain for human rights abuses and genocide.
Colonel Bouterse, who seized power in a military coup in 1980 and again in 1990, resigned in 1992. But the voluble former physical education instructor remains an influential political figure in Suriname, the South American country that was a Dutch colony until 1975.
He is also a notorious figure in the Netherlands, where he was tried in absentia for money laundering and running a cocaine-smuggling network between South America and Europe. Last June, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison but he is still living freely in Suriname.
For more than three years, the Dutch have tried to have Colonel Bouterse arrested and extradited. Since a new government took office in Suriname in May, Dutch authorities have been more hopeful of cooperation. Last week, the new government announced its own criminal investigation of Colonel Bouterse and his role in the killings. He has denied all responsibility.
The court in Amsterdam that is hearing the case said this week it was preferable that Colonel Bouterse be prosecuted in his own country, but that Dutch investigations should proceed because a trial in Suriname was uncertain.
This could mean that two prosecutions get under way. Lawyers said that parallel prosecutions for the same crimes could proceed in both countries as long as there had been no judgement in either case.
On Wednesday, prosecutors in Amsterdam said they were opening their case, based on charges by relatives of the victims now living in the Netherlands who have sought justice for years.
The killings of the regime's 15 opponents, among them prominent lawyers and trade union leaders, took place on the night of Dec. 8, 1982 in an army barracks in Paramaribo. Some of the bodies were put on public display. The events shook the country and led hundreds of people to flee. The United States and the Netherlands suspended their aid programs.
In Amsterdam, Abraham Moszkowicz, a lawyer for Colonel Bouterse, has requested that the colonel be granted diplomatic immunity because he was head of state at the time. But the court replied, referring to the allegations of torture and killing, that ''the commission of serious criminal offenses such as these cannot be considered the official duties of the head of state.''
Dutch newspaper reports said that the Suriname government would prefer that a trial take place in the Netherlands and that it had already conferred with Dutch officials about how and where to detain the former strongman who still has a following among the military. Those reports said the Surinamese feared that they had no prison secure enough to hold the former dictator.
At a school in Paramaribo, Suriname, a student reads Dutch, the nation’s official language, during a recent history class. More Photos >
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — Walk into a government office here and you will be greeted in Dutch, the official language. But in a reflection of the astonishing diversity of this South American nation, Surinamese speak more than 10 other languages, including variants of Chinese, Hindi, Javanese and half a dozen original Creoles.
Making matters more complex, English is also beamed into homes on television and Portuguese is the fastest-growing language since an influx of immigrants from Brazil in recent years. And one language stands above all others as the lingua franca: Sranan Tongo (literally Suriname tongue), a resilient Creole developed by African slaves in the 17th century.
So which language should Suriname’s 470,000 people speak? Therein lies a quandary for this country, which is still fiercely debating its national identity after just three decades of independence from the Netherlands .
“We shook off the chains of Dutch colonialism in the 1970s, but our consciousness remains colonized by the Dutch language,” said Paul Middellijn, 58, a writer who composes poetry in Sranan Tongo.
Nevertheless, Mr. Middellijn said English should be declared Suriname’s national language, a position shared by many Surinamese who want stronger links to the Caribbean and North America. “Sranan will survive because nothing can replace it as the language of the street,” he said.
“It is a form of communication perfect not just for poets but for the Chinese groceryman or Brazilian miner who arrived a few months ago,” he continued. “Are they going to go through the trouble of learning Dutch? No way.”
The flexibility of Sranan, as it is commonly known, enabled it to evolve into the country’s most widely spoken language. Based largely on English, it crystallized here before the Dutch traded New York with the British for Suriname in the 17th century; the colonial powers switched places but the slave populations did not.
Sranan developed an overlay of words from Dutch, Portuguese and West African languages. Today Surinamese speak it interchangeably with Dutch, depending on the formality of the setting.
For instance, lawyers use Dutch in court proceedings, while shoppers use Sranan to bargain for fish in the market. Jokes and rap music are often made in Sranan, dismissively called Taki-Taki (derived from the English “talky talky”) in the past, but at cocktail parties diplomats struggle with Dutch and get by in English.
“I do not speak Sranan,” said Suprijanto Muhadi, the ambassador from Indonesia, the former Dutch colony that sent Javanese laborers here until the eve of World War II. “But a manservant I brought from Indonesia a year ago picked it up much easier than Dutch.”
The use of Sranan became associated with nationalist politics after Desi Bouterse, a former dictator, began using Sranan in his speeches in the 1980s. The slogan of his National Democratic Party, the biggest in Suriname, remains “Let a faya baka!” Sranan for “Turn the lights back on!” or, figuratively, get things working again.
But even though relations with the Netherlands are tepid, Dutch is taught in schools rather than Sranan. In 2004, Suriname became an associate member of Taalunie, a Dutch language association including the Netherlands and Belgian Flanders.
Meanwhile, amid periodic bursts of debate in Parliament to change the national language to English or even Spanish in a nod to geography, other languages here are thriving because of their use by descendants of escaped slaves and indentured laborers brought here by the Dutch from the far corners of the world.
To get a sense of the Babel of languages here, just stroll through this capital, which resembles a small New England town except the stately white clapboard houses are interspersed with palm trees, colorful Chinese casinos and minaret-topped mosques.
Slip into one of the Indonesian eateries known as warungs to hear Javanese, spoken by about 15 percent of the population. Choose a roti shop, with its traditional Indian bread, to listen to Surinamese Hindi, spoken by the descendants of 19th-century Indian immigrants, who make up more than a third of the population. And merchants throughout Paramaribo speak Chinese, even though the numbers of Chinese immigrants are small.
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Venture into the jungly interior, where indigenous languages like Arawak and Carib are still heard with languages like Saramaccan, a Portuguese and English-inspired Creole spoken by descendants of runaway slaves who worked on plantations once owned by Sephardic Jews.
The linguistic diversity that makes Suriname exceptional also isolates it from its own hemisphere. Paramaribo, unlike many other regional capitals, has no direct flights to large cities like Miami or São Paulo. Instead, airlines fly to Curaçao in the Dutch Antilles or to Amsterdam, places with communities of Surinamese immigrants.
Dutch had a stronger presence in rural communities before a civil war from 1986 to 1991 destroyed many schools. As a result Sranan became even more critical for interethnic communication once peace was restored.
For a glimpse into Suriname’s linguistic future, visit Belenzinho, a neighborhood here with several thousand Brazilian immigrants, many of them gold miners. The storefront signs are lettered in Portuguese instead of Dutch or Chinese. Suriname has some 50,000 Brazilians, more than 10 percent of the population.
“All I need is Portuguese since my world is Brazilian,” said Ivanildo Vieira Cardoso, 38, a miner from northeast Brazil who was sipping not a Parbo, the Surinamese beer brewed by Heineken, but a can of Nova Schin imported from Brazil.
Whether Portuguese blends into Sranan or vice versa, scholars contend that linguistic choices here reflect a tension beneath the surface of a nationalist ethos that shuns ethnic identity for unity. Resentment has emerged against Chinese and Brazilians, recent immigrant groups that are economically successful. And because Sranan is the native language for Creoles in and near Paramaribo, groups like the Maroons, descended from runaway slaves, might chafe at making it the national language.
“Is it a language that unifies us or separates us because it is associated with Creoles?” asked Paul Tjon Sien Fat, a Surinamese linguist at the University of Amsterdam. “In our mind set, Sranan is black and Dutch is white. Suriname could not function without Sranan, but this is still an obstacle in formalizing its acceptance for many Surinamese.”
Faced with such quandaries, inertia may rule. If so, while Dutch would remain official, English is likely to gain ground. That seems to be the outcome reflected in bookstores here, with titles in Dutch and English far outnumbering books in Sranan, mainly bibles and poetry, which have gained a toehold among readers.
But even bookstore owners profess their love of Sranan. “Sranan is very smooth, with so many influences from everywhere, something that is purely and emotionally Surinamese,” said Debora van Etten, 46, a bookseller in Paramaribo’s old city. “Taking Sranan to the next level would be bold,” she said, “but for so many of us it would be a very big jump.”
Suriname's "wilde bussen" sport exuberant paintings of heroes, outlaws, performers and politicians. From left, President George W. Bush, Bollywood film stars, unicorns and the singer Capleton.
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — Stroll through this city, perched between jungle and sea, and Suriname ’s past as a Dutch colony comes into view: stately wooden white mansions, Lutheran churches, street names with vast streams of consonants and vowels (try Zwartenhovenbrugstraat on for size.)
But the colorful minibuses gliding through Paramaribo’s streets show a different side of the evolution of this astonishingly diverse South American country.
Drivers adorn these “wilde bussen” with hand-painted illustrations of the heroes, outlaws, religious temples and musical subcultures that beguile this nation, home to an ethnic variety that includes Javanese, Indians, Chinese, indigenous groups, mixed-race Creoles and Maroons, descendants of runaway slaves.
Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Sameera Reddy make many appearances in these paintings, as do singers like Capleton and Bob Marley in various stages of his career. Even a dizzying span of American political figures, from Malcolm X to George W. Bush , whiz by on buses.
“You paint your bus to attract riders,” said one driver, Satish Yokhoe, 29. He adorned his with a painting of the Bollywood screen idol Kareena Kapoor and the words “Ne Bluf Mi,” a phrase in Sranan Tongo , the Creole language that is Suriname’s lingua franca, that translates as “Don’t Challenge Me.”
“If you leave your bus blank,” said Mr. Yokhoe, “you might as well get off the street.”
Suriname is not alone in boasting painted buses on its streets. It has hefty competition from Colombia’s chivas, used for mobile revelry, Haiti’s tap-taps , Panama’s diablos rojos (red devils) and the jeepneys of the Philippines , originally made from World War II-era American military jeeps.
But Paramaribo’s wild buses do their best.
Their paintings are more restrained than those found on their Caribbean cousins, often limited to the front or back of the buses, with additional adornments on mudflaps, doors and gas tank covers. But craftsmen painting here within these parameters, including some who sign their work, still accomplish wonders.
Nishar Khodabaks has captured the sultriness of Priyanka Chopra , an Indian actress and former Miss World, in one bus painting. Other paintings are eerily prophetic, like one by Morales Peerwijk depicting Desi Bouterse , the cocaine-trafficking strongman who led Suriname in the 1980s.
The painting of Mr. Bouterse, now 65, which was done in 2009 and shows him in dark sunglasses and a green beret, as was his style in the ’80s, used to include the motto “Basi Joeroe,” or “The Boss’s Time.” Now, after Mr. Bouterse’s startling return to power last year, it reads “Baas Man” (Boss Man).
Some commuters do not care how their bus is painted, as long it gets them to where they are going. Others are more discriminating. “I always look for the Jah Cure bus,” said Amanda Safira, 18, a technical school student, referring to the dreadlocked singer, born Siccature Alcock in Jamaica, who has a following here.
Some paintings explore political and social themes. Mudflaps are illustrated with handguns or pipes of ganja. One black-and-white painting depicts Mr. Bush and Saddam Hussein , side by side, both looking uncomfortable. Osama bin Laden appears in one painting, his forefinger pointed upward as if delivering a lecture.
Hindu temples adorn some buses. Others seem to draw inspiration from biblical tales of temptation, like one painting of a red apple with two attractive ladies and the saying “Have a Bite.” Many buses show women in suggestive poses, from scantily clad hip-hop goddesses to myriad depictions of the American actress Jennifer Lopez .
“Some are really naughty,” said Chandra van Binnendijk, a journalist here who co-wrote a book on Paramaribo’s buses.
Indeed, government inspectors are known to clamp down on some illustrations considered too racy. In one such case, a painter simply painted a pair of shorts over a bikini bottom. Others, meanwhile, go on drawing their inspiration from movie posters or photographs in glossy magazines.
“These paintings are not meticulously copied but are made with a little bit of freedom, a little clumsiness,” said Ms. van Binnendijk, the journalist. “That’s the charm of it, what makes us human.”
Some of the painters themselves offer simple explanations for the appeal of their illustrations. “I’m honoring their art,” said Mr. Khodabaks, 41, the painter who specializes in Bollywood screen idols, between puffs on a Morello cigarette.
His assistant, Radjesh Hiera, 41, offered his own assessment of Mr. Khodabaks’s paintings, which can cost as much as $1,300 for the “package,” illustrating an entire bus.
“He is the Rembrandt of Paramaribo,” Mr. Hiera said. “You pay money for quality.”
Mr. Khodabaks has competition in the Rembrandt department from other painters here. One is Ramon Bruyning, who specializes in painting a broad range of musicians, including Michael Jackson, the South African reggae star Lucky Dube and Papa Touwtjie, a Surinamese dancehall singer shot dead in 2005.
Mr. Bruyning, 43, may be Paramaribo’s most prolific bus painter. In an interview at his home, he said he had illustrated more than 400 buses over the years, including jobs in which he was asked to paint over his own work.
“The customer is the boss,” he said. “I know my work won’t last forever.”
Mr. Bruyning said he had painted Bollywood stars for Indian clients and dancehall heartthrobs for Creoles. His paintings of women, which he said were inspired by images in Dutch graphic novels and comic books, sometimes evoke those of the American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein .
Still, Mr. Bruyning said while taking a break from painting a sausage cart for a client in the Netherlands, “I’m not familiar with that man’s work.”
With Suriname’s painted buses so beloved here, they face threats in an age of digital piracy. Entrepreneurs have begun downloading digital photos of the same idols painted on buses, making sticker versions for the buses that sell for a fraction of what a commissioned painting costs.
“This development disgusts me,” said Mr. Khodabaks, the specialist in Bollywood bus paintings.
Mr. Bruyning, the other bus painter, said he, too, was familiar with the stickers. But he said the best way to defeat them was to keep focused on the cultural and political pulse of this city’s streets. Aside from movie stars and singers, “The people want paintings of someone strong or defiant,” he said.
Paramaribo’s painted-bus pantheon certainly has an eclectic array of ideologies. Where else could Presidents Obama and Bush, or Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, for that matter, gaze at commuters alongside Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?
The elements in this city, its air thick with humidity, treat them all the same, slowly eroding their likeness. This, in turn, gives the bus painters more work.
“Qaddafi will be my next subject,” said Mr. Bruyning, referring to the embattled Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi . “I want to paint him before he is gone.”
In Paramaribo, young men waited for their friends before starting a basketball game.
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — The Foreign Ministry’s elegant new headquarters here is a gift from the Chinese government. Chinese signs on hundreds of businesses, from casinos to grocery shops and furniture stores, beckon the residents of this capital. Chinese work crews are paving roads cutting through the jungle.
Anchored by a surge in immigration to this country since the 1990s, and smoothed with gifts of aid and low-interest loans, China has quietly but surely established a foothold in Suriname , a tiny corner of South America that is often an afterthought even for its neighbors.
While the economic aid has certainly been welcome in Suriname, formerly known as Dutch Guiana, the growing political and demographic profile of the Chinese here has created concerns, ranging from xenophobic calls from some political leaders here to investigate what they call a “Chinese invasion” to more tempered efforts to decipher what effect China’s rising influence will have on a country that is already distant linguistically and culturally from the rest of South America.
“What’s next, Chinese Guiana?” asked John Gimlette, a Briton whose book, “Wild Coast,” about the forgotten corner of the world on South America’s northeastern shoulder — Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname — was published this year.
China, which has built an embassy compound here that dwarfs the aging United States Embassy, insists that it has no plans to make Suriname into a de facto colony. Instead, China portrays its growing clout here as a reflection of solidarity with another developing nation.
Still, Chinese officials acknowledge that Suriname, which is about the size of Florida but with a much smaller population, about 500,000, is rich in potential.
“Suriname is a lucky country, such small population, so much land,” said Yuan Nansheng, the Chinese ambassador to Suriname, in an interview.
China, which enjoyed warm ties with previous Surinamese leaders, has also nurtured a close relationship with President Desi Bouterse, a controversial figure who until his election by Parliament last year was a fugitive from Interpol because of a 1999 cocaine trafficking conviction in the Netherlands.
Mr. Yuan said that he met with Mr. Bouterse at least once a month, about the same pace of meetings he had withRobert Mugabe , the president of Zimbabwe, where he served as ambassador before coming to Suriname.
Mr. Yuan said China had no problem with the questions surrounding Mr. Bouterse’s past, even as the president also remains on trial for the killing of 15 top opponents in the 1980s, when he installed a military government here after taking part in a coup. “Of course, we would like to invite Mr. Bouterse to China,” Mr. Yuan said.
Meanwhile, though precise figures are hard to obtain, China is also thought to have emerged as the top provider of aid to Suriname after the Netherlands conveniently ended important aid disbursements here around the time of Mr. Bouterse’s election last year.
Aside from the new Foreign Ministry building, designed and built by Chinese companies, China’s aid to Suriname includes military assistance, construction of low-income housing, a plan to derive renewable energy from rice husks, help for shrimp farming and an upgrade of the state television network.
China’s expanded presence can easily be glimpsed just by driving out of Paramaribo into the countryside. Chinese laborers from one company, China Dalian International, which is upgrading Suriname’s roads, toil under the hot sun. They live in roadside camps carved out of surrounding forest.
In parts of Suriname, concerns over whether some Chinese laborers illegally stay past the end of their visas has led to debate over whether Chinese companies should be allowed to bring their own workers to the country, possibly depriving some Surinamese of jobs.
In one example, a Chinese palm oil project in the eastern province of Marowijne prompted calls by Ronnie Brunswijk, a leader of Suriname’s Maroons, who are descended from escaped slaves, for Chinese employment in the area to be limited to management positions.
More broadly, the arrival over the past two decades of thousands of new Chinese immigrants is generating debate over the influx’s effect.
Some here see positive results. “They invest in every corner of the country,” said Noel Hassankhan, a restaurant owner, referring to Chinese food stores. “They offer an assortment of products, cheap prices, and stay open until late in the evening.”
Estimates vary over the numbers of Chinese now in Suriname, but China’s embassy puts the figure at about 40,000, or nearly 10 percent of the population, including legal and illegal migrants. Others, citing scandals over illegally obtained residence permits, say the numbers could be higher.
As in other parts of the world that have recently attracted Chinese immigrants, notably in Africa , many of the new arrivals are traders or small-business owners. In parts of Paramaribo and towns in the interior, Chinese food stores can now be found on nearly every block.
These immigrants face numerous challenges. Many opt to bypass Dutch, the official language, communicating with customers and employees in Sranan Tongo , a Creole language that makes heavy use of English. Chinese shop owners and their families are also exposed to violent crime, including robbery and murder.
“We need the steel bars to protect us,” said Lin Yubo, 25, the Chinese owner of a general store in Atjoni, a village in the interior. He and his wife, who arrived in Suriname five years ago, live in their store behind a metal barricade. “This is life in the bush,” he said.
Suriname’s growing Chinese community supports two daily newspapers and a new television station with 15 employees that broadcasts each day in Mandarin. “Suriname is a gateway to both South America and the Caribbean, so its Chinese population has grown fast,” said Thomson Cheung, 57, the station’s director, who came to Suriname in the 1970s.
Chinese emigration to Suriname is nothing new. The first Chinese contract laborers arrived in the mid-19th century, and many Chinese in later generations intermarried with mixed-race Creoles.
But the recent influx of thousands more has been more notable, in part, because many of the new arrivals are visibly involved in commerce, standing in contrast to Brazilians, Suriname’s other fast-growing immigrant group, who work largely at remote gold mines in the interior.
Some immigration specialists, citing estimates for Chinese immigration elsewhere in South America, say concerns over China’s influence here is overblown. Canadian and American companies, for instance, remain important players in Suriname’s mining industry. In absolute terms, they point out, more Chinese have moved to neighboring countries like Brazil and Venezuela.
But Suriname’s size means that the influx is impossible to ignore. “Suriname is basically a village with a seat in theUnited Nations ,” said Paul Tjon Sie Fat, a Surinamese scholar in the Netherlands who has written widely on China’s influence in Suriname. “Any small change in the ethnic or class balance is immediately noticed.”
Ranu Abhelakh contributed reporting.