25 January 2013

Journey to Suriname

From January 27 to February 18, 2012, we travelled through Surinam as a group of rowers from “Roeiclub Naarden”. 

"The historic disunity of Suriname". President Desi Bouterse on the cover of a dutch History Magazine (September 2012, no. 6) 

Is it allowed to visit such a “vicious country”, where on 8 December 1982 fifteen opponents were killed under supervision of Desi Bouterse, where in 2007 a trial was started against him and 24 other suspects and where in 2010 Desi Bouterse was elected as president? Although the Suriname parliament accepted in April 2012 a controversial amnesty law that would plead the president and the other suspects free, the court-martial will not halt the trial, because the amnesty law interferes with an ongoing proces and this is unconstitutional. So, for Bouterse the struggle is going on, but so far no statement has been made by the public prosecutor. 

Why was he elected, especially as it appeared, by the younger generation and the mostly poor, Creole part of the population? According to Hans Buddingh', journalist and writer of the book "History of Suriname" (note the strange comma behind his name), the explanation lies in the deeply fragmented society. The country is organized along ethnical groups and its communities have never learned to support common goals. The people who voted for Bouterse didn't care that he had a bad reputation in the Netherlands, where he even is convicted because of drug trafficking. Many chose him also because his party, the NDP (Nationale Democratische Partij), is a multi-ethnic party. 

During our past journeys in 2005, 2007 and 2010 we talked with our host and many other people in Suriname and observed their struggle with the "December-killings". What would I have done, what political opinion would I have adopted if I had lived in Suriname? 

A few weeks ago we saw the stage play "Bouta", in which three actors tried to give an answer to the question who Desi Bouterse is and how he came to these killings for which he has accepted to be politically responsible. They interviewed classmates from the boarding school "Bonifacius" south of Paramaribo, giving interesting information about his youth and breeding. The three actors, Anouk Nuyens, Marjolijn van Heemskerk and Tjon Rockon, each treated the problem from their own perspective. While giving no answer they passed no judgment. Will Suriname be able to organize a truth and reconciliation commission, like in South Africa? With half of the Suriname population living in the Netherlands, including the relatives of the murdered people, this will be difficult. 

Left: Anouk Nuyens, Marjolijn van Heemstra and Tjon Rockon in their play "Bouta". Seen in Amersfoort on January 10th, 2013. Right: The basketball team of Desi Bouterse (upper right) at the boarding school Bonifacius south of Paramaribo. 

Various vicious countries

In the Netherlands, many of my aquaintances judge that one is not allowed to travel to countries like Israel, Iran or Suriname. Jet, in the past two years I visited all three countries. 

Regarding Israel, it is remarkable how the opinion of many people has shifted "to the right". But not as much as Netanyahu had hoped for. After all, Meretz, the most leftist large party popular in kibbutz HaZorea, more than doubled its seats. For the near future, a "practical solution" for the two populations does not seem to be the ambition for either party. "Practical", in this respect, means to look for a solution that is not infiltrated by religious or rather messianic notions that God has given the Land to either party. 

Regarding Iran, I ended my last blog with a prediction that did not come out. Although attacks on Iran have so far been postponed the saber-rattling continues. This may be less innocent than it sounds: In her column for the Online journal "Strategic Culture Foundation", Elena Ponomareva discusses an interview with Kissinger, who stated: <... To the extent that Iran shows willingness to conduct itself as a nation-state, rather than a revolutionary religious cause, (i.e. to fulfill all U.S. conditions and give up its sovereignty. – E.P) and accepts enforceable verification, elements of Iranian security concerns should be taken seriously, including gradual easing of sanctions as strict limits on enrichment are implemented and enforced....>. The question is how far the West will go in stirring-up a situation in which Iran is provoked to take measures that justify a military response from the U.S. 

Here, in the Netherlands, our governement has not been able to accept the responsibility for the slaughter of 7000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. Relatives of the murdered people have accused the dutch commander. But, already for some time, the public prosecutor has postponed the indictment, because "it is such a difficult case". I agree, because I don't want the commander to be the scapegoat. The religious and left-winged politicians should take the responsibility for sending dutch soldiers without sufficient arms to Srebrenica, to a foreign country, where they had not to be. 

So, in the beginning of 2012, we travelled again to Suriname. 

A group of pale rowers departs on January 27, 2012 from Schiphol airport (Amsterdam) 

Boattrip from Nieuw Nickerie to Amatopo: 300 km up the Corantine river and down again

A few days after our arrival at Camp David, we travelled for the second time by boat over the Corantine river, the border between Guyana and Suriname. The first time was in 2005 (December), when we reached the Wonotobo falls. This time we went further upstream to Amatopo. Again it was Paul de Boer who guided us on this 10-day trip. 

Being tourists, we thought we would enjoy the beautiful nature and experience something of the way of life of the local people living there. But from whom is the land we enter when leaving the boat? Is it no-man's-land? Who are those people and how do they survive here? 

January 29 to February 8, 2012: Overview of our Corentine-trip to Amatopo with Paul de Boer and his helpers, Dave Hope, Sike Rapu and Tyson Watiri. 

From the moment we stepped in the boat we looked at the continuously changing shores, their green walls of trees, we looked at the birds flying with us or crossing the river, we looked at each other, at the beautiful clouds, sometimes transforming in curtaines of warm rain. How did we enjoy this magnificent trip! We hardly thought about the above questions! 

But we got some impression of the life of the Trio's in Amatopo. When we arrived there it appeared that they were out of fuel for their boats. So, Paul de Boer offered his help. His aluminum boat was lifted on a large Trio-korjaal packed also with empty tanks, which they could refill in Apoera. 

Another highlight of our trip on the way back was the observation at Wonotobo of some 5 fishing, screaming and whistling Giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis). They were shy, but we could follow them upstream for some time. 

Dennis CaF and Paul de Boer with the aluminum boat in the Trio-korjaal. 

At home again, I found that, regarding Western Suriname, questions about landownership had also been asked by the anthropology student Koen Alefs of the University of Amsterdam (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences – Department of Sociology and Anthropology). 

In 2004 he performed an ethnographical study in Western Suriname called “the Bushmasters”. In his master thesis (written in dutch with English summary) he describes how the indigenous population (some 1500 Amerindians of Arawak, Warau and Carib descent) provide for their livelihood by fishing, hunting and trading bushmeat. There are no land titles or territorial divisions allowing all members of the communities to use the communal forests. But they require special skills like knowledge of the rivers and woods and of how to track game and how to shoot with their Russian shotguns. Their traditional way of living is threatened by land-exploitation grants given by the government to mining and logging companies. In a movie of a hunting party, Koen Alefs shows that these people need their communal forests if they want to continue to live like their ancestors. 

When I talked with him at Science Park of the University of Amsterdam he also showed me his project on the Kaburi creek, a proposed nature reserve just north of Apoera. Apparently, there was no additional funding to continue this project. What a pity! 

Our further adventures were described in my Dutch Blog "Roeien en Reizen" (rowing and travelling): 

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