The military were out in force as Steve and I moved through streets of the capital moments after the violence. Markets remained closed, crowds dispersed—and photographs were discouraged. But some students were willing to talk about their grievances: Their dissents came from both far left and far right. Some wanted more autonomy and better classrooms; some, political changes.
Yet, curiously, the friendly atmosphere quickly returned: Both students and soldiers responded cheerfully to our questions.
During the troubles in Antananarivo, Steve and I flew north to Antsiranana (formerly Diego Suarez), until 1973 a French naval base for 3,500 people. We half expected a ghost town, like Gan.
“There’s not an empty house or apartment in town,” a local entrepreneur assured me at a sidewalk café. “Oh, our population fell off for a while, but now it must be 50,000—and twice that for the region. We have . . . visitors, from abroad.” His eyes wandered to a far table. There sat a group of burly Slays. “Of course, Russians,” said my companion. “Engineers installing radar across the bay, or that’s the rumor.”
The bay, one of the finest natural harbors in the Indian Ocean, is often compared in beauty to Rio de Janeiro’s. President Ratsiraka has insisted that the Russians will not be given access to the old French facilities. And, indeed, until the raising of some sunken ships from World War II, the great harbor could not serve a large navy adequately.
President Ratsiraka has said, “I am ideologically closer to the Soviet Union than to the Americans.” But he also insists that Madagascar “is probably the only really nonaligned country.” He defends Red Army action in Afghanistan as “a strategy of `disencirclement. ‘” Yet he has also warmly welcomed the first U. S. ambassador in Antananarivo for five years.