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Caricom: Suriname, the Newest Member, Expands Cultural Milieu
The Wall Street Journal / November 18, 1998

By Larry Luxner

When the Caribbean Community accepted Suriname as its 14th member in July 1995, it could no longer call itself an organization representing only the English-speaking Caribbean.

Geographically, Suriname is part of South America, yet culturally and politically, it's more of a Caribbean nation. Its 450,000 inhabitants -- scattered over an area larger than Georgia -- speak a melange of Dutch and Sranantongo, with various Amerindian dialects and sometimes Portuguese thrown in as well.

Like Guyana to its west, underpopulated Suriname is highly dependent on exports of price-sensitive commodities such as bauxite, sugar, rice, timber, gold and diamonds. Unlike Guyana, the former Dutch colony still recovering from the effects of a disastrous civil war that raged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Per-capita income, once the highest in South America, is now under $2,000, and most of the tens of thousands of Surinamese who fled to Holland after independence in 1975 have yet to return. Drug trafficking is a serious problem.

Despite the country's problems, President Jules Wijdenbosch recently won global praise for establishing a 4-million-acre nature reserve -- nearly 10% of Suriname's land mass -- to safeguard the largely uninhabited virgin forest against uncontrolled development by Asian logging firms.

While foreign investment is limited mainly to timber and mining, the retail and service sectors are gradually opening up. One year ago, fast-food giant McDonald's inaugurated its first restaurant in Paramaribo, the capital. There are also two KFC outlets and one Pizza Hut in Paramaribo, all of them owned by Miami-based World Industries.

Suriname's ties to other Caribbean nations are growing. The country's ambassador to Trinidad, Harvey Harold Naarendorp, says his government wants to deepen ties to Port of Spain because "politics may change, but once business is thriving, the relationship will remain." Possible areas of cooperation, he says, include fish-farming, furniture exports and the supply of Surinamese bauxite to aluminum smelters in the twin-island republic.

In January, a delegation of Surinamese officials visited Cuba in what may be a step towards resumption of diplomatic ties between Havana and Paramaribo. And earlier this month, Guyanese President Janet Jagan paid a state visit to Suriname, after which the two countries agreed to resume a joint ferry service and pursue various bilateral projects.

Suriname will host the next Caricom heads of government meeting, on Mar. 1-2, 1999, in Paramaribo. The Caribbean Tourism Organization has also chosen Suriname as the venue for an April 1999 conference on sustainable tourism development.

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