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Suriname Modern History

Suriname became an independent state in 1975. Five years later, Colonel Desi Bouterse conducted a military coup. In practice, he ruled the country until 1987, when a people-elected government took office. However, the military retained influence and Bouterse retained a prominent role, despite the verdict in the Netherlands for drug smuggling and prosecution in the home country for the murder of opinion opponents in the early 1980s.

At independence in 1975, the Creole Henck Arron became prime minister. Arron's coalition won the election in 1977 but struggled with a stagnant economy. In February 1980, Colonel Desiré ("Desi") Bouterse, with support in the left circles, carried out a military coup. Parliament was dissolved and the constitution was repealed. A civilian government was set up, but in practice Bouterse and his military council ruled.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Suriname. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The economy did not get better, and Bouterse gradually lost support from the left and the unions. Resistance to the military regime was silenced by terror. After the "December assassination" in 1982, of 15 union leaders, journalists, military and intellectuals, the Netherlands and other donors withdrew all aid to Suriname.

Bouterse became increasingly close to states such as Cuba and Libya, but he faded the revolutionary noises following the US intervention against the left government on the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983. The following year, the state of emergency was lifted from the coup, and under strong pressure from the outside world, Surinam took the first the steps towards reinstating civilian rule. From 1986, political parties were allowed to resume, and Surinam's old ethnic parties resumed their seats on the scene.

Contemporary History of SurinameA new constitution was adopted in 1987. In November, the first parliamentary elections were held for eight years. An election alliance between three traditional parties - a "Creole", an "Indian" and a "Javanese" - won the election with 40 of the 51 seats. The National Assembly appointed the leader of the Indian-dominated party, Ramsewak Shankar, as president. The Netherlands again provided assistance, albeit with much stricter conditions than before. Soon it was clear that the military retained real power.

The year before the 1987 elections, a new cloud of turmoil had sailed when maroons (see Population and Languages) in the interior of Surinam triggered an uprising. The Maroons feared that the autonomy they had been guaranteed since 1761 was threatened by the military's development plans. They formed the guerrilla movement SLA (popularly called the Jungle Command) and attacked new plants in the rainforest for bauxite and palm oil. The army responded with attacks against villages and by arming and inciting some indigenous people to the Maroons. During battles that followed, some 10,000 maroons fled to French Guiana. Bouterse sabotaged President Shankar's attempt to reach a deal with SLA.

In December 1990, Bouterse and the military overthrew Shankar in a bloody coup. A party founded by Bouterse, the National Democratic Party (NDP), formed a new government. At the same time, more and more information emerged that the military was involved in illegal drug cultivation and international drug trafficking.

After the coup

In May 1991, new elections were held, which observers described as "largely correct". Victory made the same alliance as 1987, although it was expanded by one party and now called itself the New Front (Nieuw Front, NF). Ronald (Runaldo) Venetiaan, new leader of the NPS Creole Party, was named president. His government negotiated a peace agreement with SLA in 1992. SLA recognized the state's authority throughout the country, and the government in turn promised to respect the rights of the maroons, including finding gold, cutting timber and recruiting. Later that year Desi Bouterse resigned as army chief.

The Venetian implemented austerity policies that helped push down soaring inflation, but it also put pressure on the population. High food prices triggered riots in Paramaribo. Following strong criticism from environmental groups, the government postponed a decision to grant large parts of the country's forests to Asian forest companies.

When elections were held in 1996, the NDP received 16 seats and the New Front "only" 24, which led to the front temporarily falling apart. NDP candidate Jules Wijdenbosch was elected president after promising to keep Bouterse out of government. However, Wijdenbosch was generally regarded as Bouterses puppet, and despite his promise, he gave Bouterse a high official position as adviser. Wijdenbosch's economic policy left the country in crisis, and after strikes and demonstrations, new elections were announced until May 2000. Now the New Front won a reassuring majority, and Ronald Venetiaan again became Surinam's president. The austerity policy was resumed and the economy stabilized.

The 2000 elections became a relative hardship for the old coup maker Bouterse, although he got a seat in parliament. He had been sentenced to eleven years in prison the year before in his absence in the Netherlands, for cocaine smuggling. In December 2004, he and 25 others were indicted in Suriname for the December 1982 murder, but the trial first began in 2007.

NF won the election convincingly and gained its own majority in the National Assembly. Ronald (Runaldo) Venetiaan became president again.

Ahead of the next parliamentary elections, in May 2005, the Government Coalition emphasized the economic progress achieved through a market-oriented policy. The opposition, for its part, sought to win votes on dissatisfaction with poverty, high crime, corruption and shortcomings in school and care. The NDP mainly reached out to young voters. Faced with the possibility of the NDP winning and Bouterse becoming president, the US threatened to suspend all aid to Suriname.

Venetian reign

Despite the threats, the NDP strengthened its position and the NF lost its majority in the elections. As a result, the ruling party formed a coalition with the small Democratic Alternative '91 and with the Alliance A combination of three maroon parties. The Maroons thus got a clear representation in the National Assembly for the first time. Their presence paid more attention to the fiery conflict between Maroons and indigenous peoples on the one hand and forest and mining companies on the other.

The new parliament tried twice to appoint a new president, but neither Ronald Venetiaan nor the NDP candidate Rabin Parmessar received the two-thirds of the votes required. In accordance with the constitution, a people congress was then convened with 891 delegates, and in August President Venetiaan was re-elected with 560 votes against 315 for Parmessar.

In March 2007, Bouterse apologized for the December murders. He assumed political responsibility but continued to claim that he was not present at the time of the murder.

In 2008 and 2009, two former Venetian government ministers were sentenced to prison for corruption.

The trial of Bouterse for the December murders continued to be delayed - only in January 2009 was Bouterse called to appear in court, but he did not come. Bouterse said he did not intend to allow the trial to prevent him from being elected president in 2010.

In December 2009, disputes between Surinamese and immigrant gold miners exploded in the city of Albina, near the border with French Guiana. In revenge for a knife act, Maroons and Indigenous people first attacked Brazilians and then Chinese as well. Women were raped, buildings burned and hundreds fled before police and military stopped the riots.

Ahead of the May 2010 parliamentary elections, incumbent President Venetiaan did not stand for re-election. The candidate for the NF Alliance was Chan Santokhi instead. The May elections were quiet, and observers from OAS did not observe any irregularities. The election victory went to an alliance, the Megacombination, dominated by the NDP. The mega-combination did not get its own majority, but formed government with two smaller parties: the A-combination and the Folk Alliance for Progress. Among other things, the A combination was given the post of Minister of Police and Justice, which was seen as a symbolically important gesture in view of the abuses that the Maroons were subjected to during Bouterses rule in the 1980s. Thereafter, the National Assembly elected Bouterse as the country's president.

 
 

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