Merchants and military

Posted on | maart 10, 2011 | No Comments

Desi Bouterse, head of the army in 1985

In 1980 the group of junior officers took over government in Suriname. Uncanny was the fact that the Dutch government soon after that fact, decided to offer the new regime aid and assistance. One Member of Parliament in the Dutch ‘Tweede Kamer’ said that it was imperative to protect ‘Dutch interests’. But the Dutch government gave the green-light to finance what the Surinamese regime termed as an urgent social program, a program that fell outside the realm of Dutch economic interests.

The idea behind this program was the building of a social safety net that would help, protect citizens from poverty, eradicate illiteracy, build affordable housing, and minimize health disparities. If implemented correctly, the results of such social plan would have been significant for the improvement of social well-being of the Surinamese people. It would have set the foundation for human empowerment, self-effectuation and economic welfare. The Dutch donors loved the fact that new regime focussed on the human development, instead of focusing on the building of infrastructure to support a massive extraction economy. They supported and rewarded this watershed with a carte blanche. But recalcitrance of reality soon took over, and to make a long story short, by 1982 the new regime had barely managed to realize a fraction (10%) of this plan. The rest of the plan perished, trapped in a doldrum of diverging interests, blatant corruption, nepotism and clientelism.

The ambitious planning by the new regime came in succession of equally ambitious plans, developed to build an economically self-sufficient nation with an economy comparable to western standard. The list is of plans is endless, and repetitive; for example plans to build a railway stem from the 1920, as did plans to exploit the tropical rain forest, or plans to develop a new city in the interior. Dutch and Surinamese economists alike envisioned a starkly organized extraction economy, with on the side, forestry and mechanical rice plantations. Interesting is that the majority of the plans failed to recognize the fact that citizens need to make a living.

It is no wonder that all these plans to make the country more self-sufficient, backfired, because the individual remained imbued, unable to loosen the ties with state institutions, to make free and independent choices, to study, work and consume. Before 1949, people had no other option than to rely on the colonial authorities for employment and after 1950, the people had little option but to rely on the various ethnic parties of their own ethnic category, to cater to their needs. The fact of the matter is that the interest of the citizen has always been subsidiary to that of institutions and the system is a paradox in and out of itself.

Let me begin by arguing that the case of Suriname is unique, in the sense that it stands model for misguided conceptions and theorems on economic modernization, designed in the Cold War Era. Its status of one of the biggest net-receivers of funding in the world, is imaginaries of a multi-racial nation governed by a coalition of ethnic parties, and not on the fact that the nation was the primary battleground for the east-west ideological war.

What if any is the value of these imaginaries of racial unity, when taking into account that assistance to developing nations during that era was purposeful, geared to serving the interests of either the West or the East? The sheer ethnic grounding of Surinamese politics disallowed the emergence of parties based on left-right ideology, and the ensuing east-west proxy struggle silently passed through the Surinamese air-space, to root in other societies on the South-American continent.

Corroborated by the empirics, the case of Suriname demonstrates that by the early 1960s, the expected economic take-off (first stage of modernization) had failed to materialize due to a myriad of practical constraints but chiefly because its highly theoretical context disallowed implementation (Adama 2006). Overwhelming evidence notwithstanding, seminal economists such as Jan Tinbergen en Cees Lieftink continued to promote modernization for Suriname as the only road for economic development (ibid).

The question arises why the Dutch remained so generous, so uncritical of planning and so lenient with the allocation of funding, when the results were meager, at best? What was the gain of such generous and lengthy support given to governments that typically paid slight attention to democratization?
What gave rise to the idea that an undemocratic and incompetent regime would be more successful in managing funds than previous, democratically chosen governments?

Questioning the motives of the Dutch governments pur sang, will carry this discourse into a quagmire of party interests, personal objectives and ideologies. A more pragmatic option is to look at aid from the perspective of political realism and international relations. Seminal literature on international relations teaches that aid per definition, is confounded on the existence of an ultier motive, a motive typically driven by political and economic agendas, transcending boundaries, human interest and political ideology. Looking at aid from international relations perspective, transforms them into instruments and tools of power. The power relationship hinges on the capability of a nation to reward conversely punish another nation for their compliance, or non-compliance. This so called carrot-stick antimony, foregrounds decision making on aid and assistance, making financing of projects contingent on co-operation and obedience. The value of the aforementioned antimony stretches so far in the empirical, confined by principles such as sovereignty and national autonomy.

Extrapolating the principles of political realism, carrot -stick antimony to the case of Suriname in 1980, automatically raises the argument that the military regime became rewarded for their ‘efforts’ to overthrow a democratically chosen regime that was not supported by the Netherlands. There is ample evidence to support the argumentation that the Netherlands were very concerned about the political and economic situation in Suriname.Vrij Nederland, a seminal Left leaning Dutch magazine for example, wrote extensively about the spendthrift of the Arron Administration between 1977-1980. Exemplary are the catchy headlines such as Wordt in dat land nooit iets afgemaakt , that fed the impression of an idle, wanton and corrupt government , overwhelmed by unfinished constructions and plans.

Extensive scholarly research reveals that between 1977-1980, payment of funding were put on hold, a reality that severely impacted the progress of existing projects and future planning. The Surinamese government in turn was forced to tap into its reserve, its so called working capital, to finance construction of the railroad in West Suriname, but had no extra cash to finance other sectors of its development program. Ironic is the fact that after 1980, the new regime simply labelled the social program of the Arron Administration as ‘urgent’.

Even more ironic is the fact that the transfer of funding of the much criticized West Suriname plan (infra-structure projects such as railroad)miraculously came through after 1980, as a gesture of fate in the new Surinamese government formed to underpin the Military Council. The new Surinamese government decided in turn decided to kill West Suriname and other large infrastructure plans in an attempt to break with the old regime and its adages. This rupture had massive financial consequences, resulting in massive capital destruction and lay-offs. To this day it is unclear what happened to the funding earmarked for this project. Up to this date, said funding is unaccounted for. Peculiar is the silence on the part of both the Dutch and Surinamese governments, and their blithe acceptance of the sheer possibility that the military between 1980-1982 embezzlement more than 1,4 billion Dutch guilders.

In this light, the decision by the Dutch government to keep the archives on Dutch involvement in the 1980 coup, closed until 2060 raises a new set of questions. I find their actions puzzling, because I wonder what they are trying to conceal and who they are trying to protect. It raises the impression of shady and seedy dealings with an unscrupulous and undemocratic regime.

But whatever happens, the trued is already on the street. Diligent and patient scholarship revealed that the Dutch government has played an important role in the overthrow of a democratically chosen regime. Dutch and Surinamese politicians and civil servants confirmed a lively and intensive aid and development assistance relationship until 8 December 1982 , when the killings of citizens rendered further collaboration immoral and unethical.

The actions of the current Dutch administration are not isolated; Surinamese governments have done everything in their power to prevent the dispersion of information on development aid and assistance.

For example, a scant and parsimoniously written report by Marion Maks and Dirk Kruyt, blames and accuses the Surinamese government, painting an unrealistic picture of a squeaky clean Dutch government, clutched by ‘white guilt’ and greedy Surinamese politicians, who only want more and more. This blatant observation indicative of a lack of nuance, makes this report controversial. It tells us nothing about the role and the motivations of consecutive Dutch governments, other than that the Netherlands funded an imaginary of nation government by a perfect political system grounded on racial unity and inter-ethnic political co-operation.

* Natascha Adama. 2006. In the Name of Holy Friendship: A Marriage of Convenience: The Influence of Ethnicity on the Development of Politics and the Economy in Suriname,Leiden; Gent, Belgie
* Dirk Kruyt en Marion Maks.? Een belaste Relatie. 25 jaar ontwikkelingssamenwerking 1975-2000. Source: Tweede Kamer der Staten Generaal.
* Gerard van Westerloo, various articles, Vrij Nederland, KB. Microfilm.

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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