SURINAME: How the Military Became a Political force: 25 February and the Helping Hand of Hans Valk

Posted on | februari 27, 2012 | No Comments

media_l_275102.jpg (250×171)One of the biggest fallacies of historical experiences is their failure to be transformed into an actual learning experience, to help safeguard people from making the same mistakes twice. The fact that history cannot function as a moral compass, is a byproduct of humankind, the ability to place unfavorable and unwanted incidences on the backburner, in the hopes that all will go away. What remains are the archives, newspapers, documentation and the narrative. Indeed, the didactical fallacies of history do not manifest themselves in the classrooms, but at the level of government where responsibility is a controversial and touchy matter. This posting was prompted by a remark made by one of the so called Group of Sixteen, the 16 junior officers that on the eve of February 25 1980, committed an after the fact coup d’etat, Badresein Sital, who argues that the coup was not the idea of colonel Hans Valk (…..). Valk mr Sital asserted was working on a coup with the officers (…….).

Mr Sital’s public claims on the origins of the coup were made last Friday, at the 32 year commemoration of this historical event. Indeed it was 32 years ago that the course of Suriname became altered by a military overthrow, committed by 16 junior officers, led by the current Surinamese president Desire Bouterse. The events leading to the coup are understudied, because the piecing of events, incidents and occurrences can turn research into a quagmire, because of a gag order levied by the Dutch government in 2011.

What is known is based on the archives in the Netherlands and other sources that I will not disclose at this point. Based on this information as well as a wide array of scholarly evidence from Latin America, a coup in Suriname was inevitable. The weakness of the incumbency, the fact that the government was held for ransom by parliament, paralyzing decision-making, contributed to social and political mayhem in the late 1970s. The deviant aspect in the case of Suriname was the nature of conflict, the fact that the conflict revolved around the wish of junior officers to be represented by a union. Their petition was denied by government upon which the junior officers started a protest that got massive support from the general public over the course of the year 1979.

Their actions, that at face value seemed reasonable, had however a deep and murky grounding, a grounding based on conspiracy and treason. All sources depicted a situation of an army inundated by Dutch advisors and technical experts that seemed to undermine the Commando structure of the army. Lower ranking personal for example, refused to accept the Surinamese commanders, and the Dutch military attaché Colonel Valk offered a willing ear, listening and giving advice, when lower ranking army came complaining about the Surinamese officers and the political situation. Colonel Valk, whose presence in Suriname was controversial to say the least, had several axes to grind with the Surinamese government. The fact that he had initially been refused agrement (term used in Diplomacy: agreement), had infuriated him. To be humiliated by a bunch of Baboons, in a banana republic, no less, was too much to bear for a man of his stature. The fact that Suriname eventually granted agrement is peculiar at best, specifically when taking into account that the Surinamese government had been aware of the wheeling and dealing of the Colonel, his intensive contacts with junior officers and his attempts to draw officers into conspiracy and treason.

The role of the Colonel Valk, albeit controversial, becomes less preponderant, when looking at the political crises that marred Suriname in the late 1970. Based on information found, a coup was eminent, the conflict stood on the verge of escalating, and the decay of democracy had reached a point of no return. I allege based on information obtained, that several groups of different plumage, competed in secret to overthrow government. Desire Bouterse with his friends, but also with other groups of junior and senior officers, high ranking police-officers, senior officers, leftist parties and junior officers and last but not least, the possible auto-golpe by the Arron Administration as a way to get out of deadlock. More than five categories of people, army and civilians, vied to take over government, and in the end Desire Bouterse and 16 of his comrades succeeded on the eve of February 25, 1980.

Looking at 7 years of military rule, 1980-1987, to connect the dots between history and the contemporary, raises serious questions on the memory of the Surinamese people. Did they forget how all kinds of roguish governments were wheeled in, Cubans, Maurice Bishop, Kaddafi, Jerry Rawlings leaders who at that time did not take democracy seriously? Did they forget that during the early days of the revolution, the first people were murdered, that in seven years more than 100 people disappeared, that the censorship became a determining factor as well as the deafening silence of the general public?

But murder, massive corruption and criminality did not deter the people to give their support to the former military after 1987, when they founded their own political party led by Desi Bouterse. But by placing the blame on the people alone will forego on the role previous governments, their conscious choice to cloak history. Was it because a debate about the events of the late 1970s would uncover their mishaps, their lack of oversight when dealing with unruly elements in the army, the fact that they had had absolutely no control over such a dangerous and volatile institution as the army? How would they have explained that because of their lacking experience on foreign affairs and diplomacy, some Dutch diplomat with an ax to grind destabilized government, altering the future of an entire nation?
Despite the intellectual inadequacies mentioned, there is ample evidence linking history with the contemporary. The incumbency, led by the former leader of the military authority, now president Desi Bouterse, is in fact the colloquial ‘blast from the past’. The heavy handed borrowing, wanton planning based on images and ideas of cornucopia and mineral wealth, the travels using the national carrier as private plane, the scores of roguish governments, the best friends of Suriname, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, the president of the remote Equatorial Guinea, all ghosts of the past, that came to life after May 25 2010.

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


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