Brazilian professor Maria Célia Coelho, a teacher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who has done research on Brazilian prospectors in Suriname, says relations between Brazilians and the so-called maroons in Suriname have always been difficult and that after the attacks on Christmas Eve they have gotten worse.
The trouble on Christmas Eve took place in a border town, Albina, where it seems a Brazilian killed a maroon after an argument about a debt. There were around 100 Brazilians in the town.
It is reported that shortly after the murder around 300 maroons attacked the Brazilians expelling them from the town violently. Many of the Brazilian women were raped.
Maroons are descendants of African slaves brought to the former Dutch colony. Many of them became runaways living fiercely independent lives in the jungle. In 1863 slavery was abolished. Today many maroons still live in the jungle where they prospect for gold.
Brazilians have become a small presence in Suriname over the last twenty years or so, since mining operations were closed in the Brazilian Amazon region. Almost all of them are in the country illegally and work in mining or prostitution. As prospectors they are in direct competition with the maroons.
Maria Célia Coelho says a fragile deal was worked out where the Brazilians paid the maroons 10% of what they made. But that is not considered sufficient because the maroons really want exclusive rights for themselves – they want the Brazilians to leave.
Ms Coelho explains that for the Brazilian government the situation is complicated. “They are Brazilians in another country illegally. How do you help them? What really should be done is to remove them. Assist the women who were raped. I don’t think Brazil can do more than that because the whole thing is illegal,” she said.