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July/August 2015


of land and some money if they stayed.

They kept their own culture, religion and

language and were not to be treated like

slaves. A British official was appointed to

see that these rules were adhered to.

The rules were badly bent. A lot

died. Malnutrition and lack of medi-

cal care were the main reasons. England

finally refused to send workers to Suri-

name. In 1882 a medical school was

started in Suriname. That’s how our

regional medical care started.

In 1942 Holland was not inter-

ested in Suriname anymore,

something a lot of Surinamers don’t

realize. They tried to forget about us and

not give a cent to Suriname. I also think

they were ashamed about what hap-

pened in the time of slavery. What we did

get was obligatory education from 1876.

Everybody had to go to school.

It was emancipation followed by educa-

tion. Former slaves forced their children to

go to school and learn the language, which

was forbidden in their time. The colonial

government told us we were free because

the king of Holland, who was so noble

and good, wanted us to be free. From

the moment you are free, you must never

speak about slavery again. Thank God

and the king of Holland. That is

what they told us, and we believed we

had to be thankful.

When I read in Barbara Tuch-

man’s book

A Distant Mirror:

The Calamitous 14th Century

that a

nation that has no access to the source of

its history becomes a folk with an iden-

tity based on stereotypes, I knew this

is what had happened to us. The

truth was in the National

Archives in The Hague. I

went on researching for

12 years.

Holland considered

Suriname a weight

they could not bear—

until bauxite was

discovered in 1916.

The American company

Alcoa was very inter-

ested, and in 1918

America proposed to buy Suriname.

The sale didn’t go through because of

our educated intellectuals. It came down

to a prestige question: You can’t sell

people anymore. However, Alcoa could

do here what it wanted. They paid 10

cents for a ton of bauxite. The import

duty on that ton when it reached New

Orleans was 60 cents. That is why baux-

ite developed so well in Suriname. It was

virtually free.

When World War


broke out, Alcoa

was afraid they couldn’t get the bauxite

out. The


sent 2,000 soldiers, and we

had work. They built our roads, and we

earned a lot of money. Those working on

plantations moved to Paramaribo. They

were Hindu, Javanese, Creole, etc. Their

children were in the same schools. That

is how we became an integrated country.

uralco, which was the

Suriname subsidiary of Alcoa,

said they dammed the

Suriname River that made

Lake Brokopondo, and

therefore it belongs to them. If they

leave, the generators that produce

hydro power are also theirs. Of the six

generators, they shut down three. The

result was too little energy. At a certain

point, my neighbor, on another line,

had electricity, and I didn’t. After

several hours my electricity kicked in,

and hers went out. Suralco said the

water level in the lake was too low.

It could be a game the government

is playing with Alcoa, but [President

Desiré] Bouterse is doing popular proj-

ects so his party can be elected. He has

his old buddies around him, and there-

fore a lot of rumors about corruption

swirl about. Now he is talking about

building a railway from Paramaribo to

the airport.

He is still a suspect for the

“December Murders” in ’82. Fifteen

prominent members of the opposition

to military rule were brought to Fort

Zeelandia and executed. The time

has come where this is holding back

development. Others say justice must

prevail. It is really sad for the families

of the victims. I don’t know how this

can end.