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Ironically, Bouterse was initially so suspicious of the left that he expelled a Cuban diplomat suspected of subversive plotting and imprisoned a radical activist for meeting Cuban leaders in Nicaragua. But with the encouragement of Grenada's Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, who had led a Marxist coup on his nearby Caribbean island in 1979, Bouterse drifted gradually leftward. Soon he was visiting Fidel Castro, singing his praises and allowing the Soviets and Cubans to open well-staffed embassies in the riverfront capital of Paramaribo. Nevertheless, Bouterse's revolutionary fervor remained relatively lackadaisical: he never bothered to nationalize private enterprises or muzzle frequent criticism from the press.
During his first three years in office, the former national marathon champion survived four civilian governments and an estimated six attempted coups. Last October a coalition of lawyers, workers, students and clergy men opposed to Bouterse's increasingly autocratic rule embarrassingly incapacitated the nation during a state visit by Grenada's Bishop. Only 1,500 people showed up for a public appearance by Bishop, while a demonstration organized by Labor Leader Daal at the same hour drew 15,000. "Your government is too friendly to its enemies," Bishop publicly counseled Bouterse. "You must eliminate them or they will eliminate you." Within six weeks Bouterse had moved against his "enemies." Then he arrested his closest ally, Roy Horb, who was later found hanging in his cell.
Suriname's leader remains perplexingly changeable. The "Cuban sympathizer" he once arrested is now his Minister for Mass Mobilization. Moreover, a Bouterse emissary admitted to TIME that the government has made some costly errors. "It is not enough to make decrees from the top, even if it is in the people's interests," he said. Then he added darkly, "We don't want to kill anybody, but we don't want to sit in a chair and be killed."
After the December slaughter, Washington retracted its planned $1.5 million in aid and The Netherlands withdrew its subsidy, which amounted to a fourth of Suriname's budget. Unemployment now runs at around 10%, and the country's esti mated foreign reserves of $120 million are falling rapidly. Moreover, as head of the country's angry exile community (180,000 in The Netherlands alone), former Prime Minister Henk Chin A Sen is mobilizing diplomatic support from his bases in The Netherlands and the U.S. Last week he published Horb's eyewitness account of the executions. Bouterse may nonetheless launch another brutal purge while some 1,000 exiled military men may yet galvanize a disgruntled populace into another coup. But no one can be sure that a change of power would restore democracy or prosperity to Suriname. As Chin A Sen says, "We don't want to replace Frankenstein with Dracula." By Pico Iyer. Reported by William McWhirter/ Paramaribo