Illegal Brazilians in Suriname Spark Maroons’ Bloody Revenge

Suriname by Tarso Sarraf After a Brazilian reportedly killed a mixed white-negro local resident, a member of a large ethnic group known as “maroons,”  the Brazilian community in the city of Albina in the northern area of Suriname was attacked on Christmas eve by a horde of maroons seeking revenge.

The information is from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. There is no official information on deaths, although it is reported that there were some. A few injured Brazilians have been removed to the capital, Paramaribo. And the Brazilian Air Force has sent planes to evacuate the injured and any Brazilians who want to leave the country.

Albina is located on the Suriname border with French Guiana and is an area with many gold mines where Brazilians who have entered the country illegally work competing with the maroons who do not like foreigners.

Relations between Brazil and Suriname are close in a number of areas. In foreign affairs, Suriname is a strong supporter of Brazil’s desire to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Brazil gives Suriname soldiers places in its military academies for officer training and frequently provides humanitarian aid when the neighboring country is hit by flooding.

In 2008 Brazil and Suriname signed a military defense cooperation agreement. Suriname has tense relations with its other neighbors: French Guiana (and the French) and Venezuela because of political and territorial (border) disputes.

In spite of the good relations the Brazilian community in Suriname, numbering around 15,000, is problematic as most of them are not in the country legally.. Because of them for most Surinames the image of Brazil is associated with illegal mining and prostitution.

Between 2003 and 2008 bilateral commerce has increased 360%. In 2008 Brazilian exports to Suriname totaled US$ 47 million, mostly chicken, machinery and footwear. Imports from Suriname were worth US$ 29 million, mostly aluminum. Suriname has a foreign debt with Brazil of around US$ 116 million.

Murder

The conflict apparently stated after a fight between a Brazilian and a local over a debt. According to reports, the Brazilian killed the local maroon and then the rest of the maroons in the town (a couple thousand)  tried to massacre all the Brazilians in the area (around 200).

Suriname covers only 163,000 square kilometers, a little larger than the state of Ceará in the Brazilian Northeast. It was discovered by the Spanish, settled by some English but became a Dutch colony in 1667. It is culturally and ethnically diverse.

The Dutch brought slave labor from Africa, but when slavery ended in 1863 many slaves just disappeared into the jungle. Today their descendants are known as maroons and they make up around 10% of the population.

The total population of 480,000 breaks down like this: 37% are descendants of workers from India who came after the end of slavery; they are the Hindustans. Other workers came from Java – 15% of the population. Creoles (a mix of black and white) 31% of the population.

Some 380,000 Surinames live abroad, most of them in Holland. Suriname continues to have a strong Dutch presence and connection with Holland. The result is a country with a solid social safety net, high levels of literacy and education, along with basic infrastructure and potable water.

Suriname has South America’s seventh highest HDI (Human Development Index). Life expectancy is 73 years. Government spending is 3,6% of GDP. But the economy is weak depending in large part on bauxite (15% of GDP), gold and petroleum. Suriname imports most consumer goods.

Almost all the 15,000 Brazilians who live in Suriname are in the country illegally and compete directly with the so-called maroons working as prospectors in the interior of the country. The maroons do not want any foreigners working in mining.

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