It’s clear not only from the announcements coming out of their engagements, but from their obvious bonhomie, that Presidents Ali and Santokhi have hit it off. While it’s said in international affairs there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests, it never hurts for leaders to be able to get along with each other at a personal level. Especially when those relations have never been historically tight, to begin with.
It’s possible that this might’ve been due to language and cultural differences, since Suriname, with their Dutch colonial experience as opposed to our British, didn’t pass through the same “finishing school”! But on the other hand, we never reached the tetchiness of the English and the French, which went back centuries and, in the modern era, was illustrated by one memorable meeting between French PM Jacques Chirac and British PM Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Asked Chirac exasperatedly, “What more does this housewife want from me? My balls on a plate?”
Anyhow, back to the two presidents, who were just elected to office. While there mightn’t have been too much direct contact between leaders of the two countries in the past (does Corbin allegedly receiving some firepower from Bouterse’s son Dino during the Buxton Uprising count?) Santokhi’s recent marriage to a woman of Guyanese descent had to have eased tensions. After all, the Surinamese President would’ve been fully briefed by his in-laws of why they had to flee Guyana and end up in Suriname!! The PNC’s ears must’ve been ringing!!
Especially when, after Suriname’s election on Mar 25, Bouterse started demanding recounts like his counterpart Granger in Guyana did. Santokhi had to’ve shared his trepidation with Ali, and breathed another sigh of relief that Bouterse caved in to internal and external pressures and went along with the count. That Bouterse had bankrupted Suriname, and created a massive scandal at the Central Bank when his party claimed a missing US$100 million had been used to buy “onions and aloo” must’ve helped!! On the other hand, over in Guyana, President Ali is just unearthing the massive financial looting that the PNC committed during the past five years, and might’ve been (part of) the reason they’d held on so desperately!
Be that as it may, Santokhi and Ali had to have congratulated each other for amassing votes way in excess of their traditional ethnic support. This positive development offers hope in both countries: that with them governing nations of minorities, their national approach had at long last shown that ethnic voting was dissipating.
One hopes that Bouterse doesn’t go the way of Granger and the PNC, to launch a rearguard attack to end ethnic divisions.
Even though English isn’t his first language, most Guyanese must’ve been surprised that Santokhi was so proficient in the language that he could quip that he wasn’t just opening up talks about building the bridge across the Corentyne River but also building the bridge of friendship! The Surinamese weren’t exposed to British insularity, which insisted there was no other language worth learning but English!! Santokhi, like most Surinamese, would be proficient in Dutch and at least two other ethnic languages.
While the Bridge would be a great addition to the connectivity between the two countries, your Eyewitness is happy that the ferry will be back in service soon. He’s travelled many a time to our eastern neighbour, and had wonderful vacations in Nickerie and Paramaribo. The Surinamese might have a smaller population than we have, but they’re much more cosmopolitan. They haven’t only retained their historic buildings in immaculate condition, they’ve also cultivated a touch of Old Europe, which contrasts nicely with the cultures of their five peoples.
We, Philistines here, can learn a lot from Suriname!!
Word that Larry London was the fella supposedly collecting a big salary and perks galore didn’t surprise your Eyewitness.
Larry’s one ex-GDF officer who always had a nose for a fast buck! Durban Park anyone??