U.S. Department of State  
Background Notes: Suriname, March 1998  
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Official Name: Republic of Suriname



Area: 163,265 sq. km. (63,037 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Georgia. 
Cities: Capital--Paramaribo (pop. 180,000). Other cities--Nieuw 
Nickerie, Moengo. 
Terrain: Varies from coastal swamps to savanna to hills. 
Climate: Tropical.


Nationality: Noun--Surinamer(s). Adjective--Surinamese. 
Population (1996 est): 405,000. 
Annual growth rate (1996): .2%. 
Ethnic groups: Hindustani (East Indian) 37%, Creole 31%, Javanese 15%, 
Bush Negro 10%, Amerindians 3%, Chinese 1.7% (percentages date from 1972 
census, the last in which ethnicity data was collected). 
Religions: Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Moravian and 
several other Christian groups, Jewish, Baha'i. 
Languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranan Tongo (Creole language), 
Hindustani, Javanese. 
Education: Compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy--95%. 
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995--30/1,000. Life expectancy (1995--69 
Work force (100,000): Government--49%. Private sector--35%. Parastatal 


Type: Constitutional democracy. 
Constitution: September 30, 1987. 
Independence: November 25, 1975. 
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, Council of Ministers. 
Legislative--elected 51-member National Assembly made up of 
representatives of political parties. Judicial--Court of Justice. 
Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts. 
Political parties: Governing Coalition--National Democratic Party (NDP), 
Grassroots Party (BVD), Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), Pendawalima 
(faction of), Independent Progressive Democratic Alternative (OPDA). 
Other parties in the National Assembly--National Party of Suriname 
(NPS), Progressive Reform Party (VHP), Party for Brotherhood and Unity 
in Politics (HPP), Political Wing of the Federation of Agriculture 
(PVF), Pendawalima, Democratic Alternative '91 (DA 91), Democratic Party 
(DP), Progressive Political Party (PPP). 
Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP (1996): $522.5 million. 
Annual growth rate (1996): 4.0%. 
Per capita GDP (1996): $1,306. 
Natural resources: Bauxite, gold, iron ore, other minerals; forests; 
hydroelectric potential; fish and shrimp.
Agriculture: Products--rice, palm oil, bananas, timber, and citrus 
Industry: Types--aluminum, alumina, processed food, lumber, bricks, 
tiles, cigarettes, and glass. 
Trade (1996): Exports--$457.7 million: bauxite, alumina, aluminum, wood 
and wood products, rice, bananas, and shrimp. Major markets--U.S. 
(approx. 25%), Netherlands, European Union (EU), and other European 
countries. Imports (1996)--$415.5 million: capital equipment, petroleum, 
iron and steel products, agricultural products, and consumer goods. 
Major suppliers--U.S. (approx. 50%), Netherlands, EU, Brazil, and 
Caribbean (CARICOM) countries. 
Exchange rate: 400 guilders=U.S.$1. 


Most Surinamers live in the narrow, northern coastal plain. The 
population is one of the most ethnically varied in the world. Each 
ethnic group preserves its own culture, and many institutions, including 
political parties, tend to follow ethnic lines. Informal relationships 
vary: The upper classes of all ethnic backgrounds mix freely; outside of 
the elite, social relations tend to remain within ethnic groupings. All 
groups may be found in the schools and workplace.


Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus sighted the 
coast in 1498. Spain officially claimed the area in 1593, but Portuguese 
and Spanish explorers of the time gave the area little attention. Dutch 
settlement began in 1616 at the mouths of several rivers between 
present-day Georgetown, Guyana, and Cayenne, French Guiana.

Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. The new colony--Dutch Guiana--
did not thrive. Historians cite several reasons for this, including 
Holland's preoccupation with its more extensive (and profitable) East 
Indian territories, violent conflict between whites and native tribes, 
and frequent uprisings by the imported slave population, which was often 
treated with extraordinary cruelty. Barely, if at all, assimilated into 
European society, many of the slaves fled to the interior, where they 
maintained a West African culture and established the five major Bush 
Negro tribes in existence today: the Djuka, Saramaccaner, Matuwari, 
Paramaccaner, and Quinti.

Plantations steadily declined in importance as labor costs rose. Rice, 
bananas, and citrus fruits replaced the traditional crops of sugar, 
coffee, and cocoa. Exports of gold rose beginning in 1900. The Dutch 
Government gave little financial support to the colony.

Suriname's economy was transformed in the years following World War I 
when an American firm (ALCOA) began exploiting bauxite deposits in East 
Suriname. Bauxite processing and then alumina production began in 1941. 
During World War II more than 75% of U.S. bauxite imports came from 

In 1951, Suriname began to acquire a growing measure of autonomy from 
the Netherlands. Suriname became an autonomous part of the Kingdom of 
the Netherlands on December 15, 1954, and gained independence on 
November 25, 1975.

Most of Suriname's political parties took shape during the autonomy 
period and were overwhelmingly based on ethnicity. For example, the 
National Party of Suriname found its support among the Creoles, the 
Progressive Reform Party members came from the Hindustani population, 
and the Indonesian Peasant's Party was Javanese. Other smaller parties 
found support by appealing to voters on an ideological or pro-
independence platform; the Partij Nationalistische Republiek (PNR) was 
among the most important. Its members pressed most strongly for 
independence and for the introduction of leftist political and economic 
measures. Many former PNR members would go on to play a key role 
following the coup of February 1980. 

Independence, Revolution, And Democracy 

Suriname was a working parliamentary democracy in the years immediately 
following independence. Henk Arron became the first Prime Minister and 
was re-elected in 1977. On February 25, 1980, the elected government was 
overthrown by 16 noncommissioned officers. The military-dominated 
government then suspended the constitution, dissolved the legislature, 
and formed a regime which ruled by decree. Although a civilian filled 
the post of president, a military man, Desi Bouterse, actually ruled the 

Throughout 1982, pressure grew for a return to civilian rule. In 
response, the military ordered drastic action. Early in December 1982, 
military authorities arrested and killed 15 prominent opposition 
leaders, including journalists, lawyers, and trade union leaders.

Following the murders, the United States and the Netherlands suspended 
economic and military cooperation with the Bouterse regime, which 
increasingly began to follow an erratic but generally leftist-oriented 
political course. Economic decline rapidly set in after the suspension 
of economic aid from the Netherlands. The regime also restricted the 
press and limited the rights of its citizens. 

Continuing economic decline brought pressure for change. During the 
1984-87 period, the Bouterse regime tried to end the crisis by 
appointing a succession of nominally civilian-led cabinets. Many figures 
in the government came from the traditional political parties which had 
been shoved aside during the coup. The military eventually agreed to 
free elections in 1987, a new constitution, and a civilian government.

Another pressure for change had erupted in July 1986, when the Maroon or 
Bush Negro insurgency, led by former soldier Ronnie Brunswijk, began 
attacking economic targets in the country's interior. In response, the 
army ravaged villages and killed suspected Brunswijk supporters. 
Thousands of Bush Negroes fled to nearby French Guiana. In an effort to 
end the bloodshed, the Surinamese Government negotiated a peace treaty, 
called the Kourou Accord, with Brunswijk in 1989. Bouterse and other 
military leaders blocked the accord's implementation.

On December 24, 1990, military officers forced the resignations of the 
civilian President and Vice President elected in 1987. Military-selected 
replacements were hastily approved by the National Assembly on December 
29. Faced with mounting pressure from the U.S., other nations, the 
Organization of American States (OAS), and other international 
organizations, the government held new elections on May 25, 1991. The 
New Front Coalition, comprised of the Creole National Party of Suriname 
(NPS), the Hindustani Progressive Reform Party (VHP), the Javanese 
Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), and the Surinamese Labor Party (SPA) 
were able to win a majority in the National Assembly. On September 6, 
1991, NPS candidate Ronald Venetiaan was elected President, and the 
VHP's Jules Ajodhia became Vice President of the New Front Coalition 

The Venetiaan government was able to effect a settlement to Suriname's 
domestic insurgency through the August 1992 Peace Accord with Bush Negro 
and Amerindian insurgents. In April 1993, Desi Bouterse left his 
position as commander of the armed forces and was replaced by Arthy 
Gorre, a military officer committed to bringing the armed forces under 
civilian government control. Economic reforms institituted by the 
Venetiaan government eventually helped curb inflation, unify the 
official and unofficial exchange rates, and improve the government's 
economic situation by re-establishing relations with the Dutch, thereby 
opening the way for a major influx of Dutch financial assistance. 
Despite these successes, the governing coalition lost support and failed 
to retain control of the government in the subsequent round of national 
elections. The rival National Democratic Party (NDP), founded in the 
early 1990s by Desi Bouterse, benefited from the New Front government's 
loss of popularity. The NDP won more National Assembly seats (16 of 51) 
than any other party in the May 1996 national elections and, in 
September 1996, joined with the KTPI, dissenters from the VHP, and 
several smaller parties to elect NDP vice-chairman Jules Wijdenbosch 
president of a NDP-led coalition government. Divisions and subsequent 
reshufflings of coalition members in the fall of 1997 and early 1998 
weakened the coalition's mandate and slowed legislative action.


The Republic of Suriname is a constitutional democracy based on the 1987 
constitution. The legislative branch of government consists of a 51-
member unicameral National Assembly, simultaneously and popularly 
elected for a five-year term. The last election was held in May 1996.

The executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected by a 
two-thirds majority of the National Assembly or, failing that, by a 
majority of the People's Assembly, for a five-year term. If at least 
two-thirds of the National Assembly cannot agree to vote for one 
presidential candidate, a People's Assembly is formed from all National 
Assembly delegates and regional and municipal representatives who were 
elected by popular vote in the most recent national election. A vice 
president, normally elected at the same time as the president, needs a 
simple majority in the National Assembly or People's Assembly to be 
elected for a five-year term. As head of government, the president 
appoints a 16-minister cabinet. There is no constitutional provision for 
removal or replacement of the president unless he resigns. 

A 14-member State Advisory Council advises the president in the conduct 
of policy. Eleven of the 14 council seats are allotted by proportional 
representation of all political parties represented in the National 
Assembly. The vice president chairs the council, and three 
representatives of workers and employers organizations hold the rest of 
the seats. 

The judiciary is headed by the Court of Justice (Supreme Court). This 
court supervises the magistrate courts. Members are appointed for life 
by the president in consultation with the National Assembly, the State 
Advisory Council, and the National Order of Private Attorneys.

The country is divided into 10 administrative districts, each headed by 
a district commissioner appointed by the president. The commissioner is 
similar to the governor of a U.S. state but serves at the president's 

National Security Surinamese armed forces consist of the national army 
under the control of the Minister of Defense and a smaller civil police 
force, which is responsible to the Minister of Justice and Police. The 
national armed forces comprise some 2,500 personnel, the majority of 
whom are deployed as light infantry security forces. A small air force 
and navy/coast guard also exist. The Netherlands has provided limited 
military assistance to the Surinamese armed forces since the election of 
a democratic government in 1991. In recent years, the U.S. has provided 
training to military officers and policy-makers to promote better 
understanding of the role of the military in a civilian government. 

Principal Government Officials 

President--Jules Wijdenbosch 
Vice President--Pretaapnarian Radhakishun 
Foreign Minister--Errol Snijders
Ambassador to U.S.--Arnold Halfhide
Ambassador to UN--Subhas Mungra
Ambassador to OAS--Albert Ramdin

Suriname maintains an embassy in the United States at 4301 Connecticut 
Ave, NW, Suite 460, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-244-7488; fax 202-
244-5878). There also is a Suriname Consulate General at 7235 NW 19th 
St., Suite A, Miami, FL 33136 (tel. 305-593-2163). 


The backbone of Suriname's economy is the export of alumina and small 
amounts of aluminum produced from bauxite mined in the country. Alumina 
and aluminum exports accounted for 77% of Suriname's estimated $453.3 
million export earnings in 1996. Suriname's bauxite deposits have been 
among the world's richest. The preeminence of bauxite and ALCOA's 
continued presence in Suriname is a key element in the U.S.-Suriname 
economic relationship.

Mining sites at Moengo and Paranam are estimated to have 10 to 15 years 
of bauxite reserves remaining. Other bauxite reserves have been located 
but are currently unexploited. All bauxite mined in Suriname is brought 
via navigable rivers and the Atlantic to the Suriname Aluminum Company 
(SURALCO) alumina refinery and aluminum smelter in Paranam. In 1984, 
SURALCO, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), formed 
a joint venture with the Royal Dutch Shell-owned Billiton Company, which 
did not process the bauxite it mined in Suriname. Under this agreement, 
both companies share risks and profits.

Inexpensive power costs are Suriname's big advantage in the energy-
intensive alumina and aluminum business. In the 1960s, ALCOA built a 
$150-million dam for the production of hydroelectric energy at Afobaka 
(south of Brokopondo), which created a 1,550-square kilometer (600 sq. 
mi.) lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.

Suriname also exports rice, shrimp, timber, bananas, fruits, and 
vegetables. It formerly exported palm oil. All of these exports declined 
in 1989, due to lack of competitiveness of Suriname's products and 
insurgencies in the interior which effectively closed access to timber 
and most palm oil plantations. Deteriorating infrastructure and lack of 
spare parts also have constrained economic and export growth. Suriname's 
manufacturers of processed foods and consumer goods have experienced 
increased competition from Caribbean imports since Suriname joined 
CARICOM in early 1996.

At independence, Suriname signed an agreement with Netherlands, 
providing for about $1.5 billion in development assistance grants and 
loans over a 10- to 15-year period. Dutch assistance allocated to 
Suriname thus amounted to about $100 million per year but was 
discontinued during periods of military rule. After the return to 
democratically elected government in 1991, Dutch aid resumed. The Dutch 
relationship continues to be an important factor in the economy, with 
the Dutch insisting that Suriname undertake economic reforms and produce 
specific plans acceptable to the Dutch for projects on which aid funds 
could be spent. Suriname's present government is attempting to broaden 
its economic base, establish better contacts with other nations and 
international financial institutions, and reduce its dependence on Dutch 

Suriname has embarked on development projects in the areas of petroleum 
production expansion and a mini-refinery project for Staatsolie, the 
state-owned oil company. In addition, Suriname has attracted investments 
by international companies in gold exploration and exploitation as well 
as interest in extensive development of a tropical hardwoods industry 
and possible diamond mining. Proposals for exploitation of the country's 
tropical forests and undeveloped regions of the interior traditionally 
inhabited by indigenous and Maroon communities have raised the concerns 
of environmentalists and human rights activists both in Suriname and 
abroad, however.

In the 1980s, as Suriname's economic situation deteriorated due to the 
cutoff of Dutch development aid, the government instituted a regime of 
stringent economic controls over prices, the exchange rate, imports, and 
exports. The policy resulted in a reduction of activity in the 
officially controlled market. Meanwhile, the tolerated black market 
grew, at one point accounting for an estimated 85% of all imports. 
Economic reforms made major strides in 1993-95 to reduce such controls 
and wean Surinamese business from reliance on the black market.

Vestiges of the economic policies of the 1980s remain in the form of 
price controls, subsidies, and the existence of numerous parastatal 
companies throughout the economy. About half of the work force is still 
directly or indirectly on the government payroll.


Since gaining independence, Suriname has become a member of the United 
Nations, the OAS, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Suriname is a member of 
the Caribbean Community and Common Market and the Association of 
Caribbean States; it is associated with the European Union through the 
Lome Convention. Suriname participates in the Amazonian Pact, a grouping 
of the countries of the Amazon Basin which focuses on protection of the 
Amazon region's natural resources from environmental degradation. 
Reflecting its status as a major bauxite producer, Suriname is also a 
member of the International Bauxite Association. The country also 
belongs to the Economic Commission for Latin America, the Inter-American 
Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank, 
and the International Monetary Fund.

Bilateral agreements with several countries of the region, covering 
diverse areas of cooperation, have underscored the government's interest 
in strengthening regional ties. The return to Suriname from French 
Guiana of about 8,000 refugees of the 1986-91 civil war between the 
military and domestic insurgents has improved relations with French 
authorities. Long-standing border disputes with Guyana and French Guiana 
remain unresolved but have not negatively affected relations with either 
country. An earlier dispute with Brazil ended amicably after formal 
demarcation of the border.

In May 1997, President Wijdenbosch joined President Clinton and 14 other 
Caribbean leaders during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in 
Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional 
cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and 
development, and trade.


Since the re-establishment of a democratic, elected government in 1991, 
the United States has maintained positive and mutually beneficial 
relations with Suriname based on the principles of democracy, respect 
for human rights, rule of law, and civilian authority over the military. 
To strengthen civil society and bolster democratic institutions, the 
U.S. has provided training regarding appropriate roles for the military 
in civil society to some of Suriname's military officers and 

Narcotics trafficking organizations appear to be channeling increasing 
quantities of cocaine through Suriname for repackaging and transport to 
Europe and the United States. To assist Suriname in the fight against 
drugs and associated criminal activity, the U.S. has helped train 
Surinamese anti-drug squad personnel. The U.S. Peace Corps in Suriname 
works with the Ministry of Regional Development and rural communities to 
encourage community development in Suriname's interior.

Suriname is densely forested and has thus far suffered little from 
deforestation, but increased interest in large-scale commercial logging 
and mining in Suriname's interior have raised environmental concerns. 
The U.S. Forest Service, the Smithsonian, and numerous non-governmental 
environmental organizations have promoted technical cooperation with 
Suriname's government to prevent destruction of the country's tropical 
rain forest, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. U.S. 
experts have worked closely with local natural resource officials to 
encourage sustainable development of the interior and alternatives such 
as ecotourism. Suriname's tourism sector remains a minor part of the 
economy, and tourist infrastructure is limited; some 20,000 foreign 
tourists visit Suriname annually. 

Suriname's efforts in recent years to liberalize economic policy created 
new possibilities for U.S. exports and investments. The U.S. remains one 
of Suriname's principal trading partners, largely due to ALCOA's long-
standing investment in Suriname's bauxite mining and processing 
industry. Of an estimated $100-$145 million Surinamese exports to the 
U.S. in 1996, over one-half were bauxite-related. More than one-half of 
world exports to Suriname originate in the United States. Several U.S. 
corporations are active in Suriname, largely in the mining, consumer 
goods, and service sectors. Principal U.S. exports to Suriname include 
chemicals, aircraft, vehicles, machine parts, meat, and wheat. The 
United States has supplied P.L. 480 agricultural commodity purchase 
support for U.S. wheat and oil imports to assist Suriname through 
hardships caused by economic reform. U.S. consumer products are 
increasingly available through Suriname's many trading companies. 
Opportunities for U.S. exporters, service companies, and engineering 
firms will probably expand over the next decade. Suriname is looking to 
U.S. and other foreign investors to assist in the commercial development 
of its vast natural resources and to help finance infrastructure 
improvements. Enactment of a new investment code and intellectual 
property rights protection legislation, which would strengthen 
Suriname's attractiveness to investors, has been discussed, but no 
noticeable progress has been made in recent years.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Ambassador--Dennis K. Hays 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Kathleen Cayer 
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Ronald Ward 
U.S. Army Political/Economic Officer--Michael Oreste 
Consular Officer--Valerie Lynn 
Peace Corps Country Director--Gary Thompson 

The U.S. embassy in Paramaribo is located at Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat 
129, P.O. Box 1821, Paramaribo, Suriname (tel. 472900, 476459; FAX 597- 


U.S. Department of Commerce 
International Trade Administration 
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean 
14th and Constitution, NW 
Washington, D.C. 20230 
Tel: 202-482-1658 202-USA-TRADE 
Fax: 202-482-0464

Caribbean/Latin American Action 
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310 
Washington, DC 20036 
Tel: 202-466-7464 Fax: 202-822-0075 


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Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
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