Could Suriname become another Grenada? Three months after the controversial United States occupation of Grenada, this possibility is worrying Washington.
Surinamese observers see the former Dutch colony on South America's northeast coast slipping nearer to the sort of ''anarchy'' that prompted the US to launch its intervention into Grenada.
Labor organizations, led by unionists in the country's vital bauxite industry , are demanding the resignation of Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse, the country's military leader. Bauxite mining has been paralyzed by strikes for nearly four weeks. Workers at five banks walked out last week - and this week only two of them claim to be back at full operational speed.
Other workers recently cut electricity to parts of Paramaribo, the capital. The Army subsequently took over a key power plant to prevent a blackout.
This week, unrest spread as most of the privately owned bus lines withdrew services and as school classes were cancelled. Classes were cancelled, the Dutch news agency ANP reports, after pamphlets circulating over the weekend in Paramaribo appealed for solidarity with striking unionists and an end to Bouterse's rule.
''An ugly mood is settling over my country,'' says Charlo van Wit, a Surinamese. ''There is an ominous fear (of violence) everywhere. No one is certain whom to trust and yet most people oppose the government.''
Some of the unrest was sparked by tax hikes and price increases. And Colonel Bouterse, apparently convinced that the best defense is the counterattack, fired his hand-picked prime minister, Errol Alibux, charging him with failing to consult the public before imposing the new taxes. He also cancelled price increases. Unions, however, are not satisfied.
Bouterse has set up a powerful dictatorship since the military ousted democratic leaders in 1980. He also built a close relationship with Cuba's Fidel Castro, but broke that tie after the US landed in Grenada, saying he did not want ''to provoke'' a similar intervention in Suriname.
There are no indications that the US is planning an invasion, but Washington is concerned with Suriname's apparent instability. Some diplomatic observers see parallels between the violence in Grenada last year and that emerging in Suriname. Speculation in The Hague is that Bouterse's days in power are numbered.