For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Republic of Suriname
Area: 163,194 sq. km. (63,037 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Georgia.
Cities: Capital--Paramaribo (pop. 243,556). Other cities--Nieuw Nickerie, Albina, Moengo.
Terrain: Rain forest, savanna, coastal swamps, hills.
Nationality: Noun--Surinamer(s). Adjective--Surinamese.
Population (2004 census): 492,829.
Annual growth rate (2004): 1.30%.
Ethnic groups: Hindustani (East Indian) 27%, Creole 18%, Javanese 15%, Maroon 15%, Mixed 12.5%, Amerindians 3.7%, Chinese 1.8% (percentages from 2004 census).
Religions: Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Moravian, several other Christian denominations, Jewish, Baha'i.
Languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranan Tongo (Creole language), Hindustani, Javanese.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy--90%. Health: Infant mortality rate (2000)--27.1/1,000. Life expectancy (2003)--71 yrs.
Work force (100,000): Government--35%; private sector--41%; parastatal companies--10%; unemployed--14%.
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 Party of Suriname (NPS); Progressive Reform Party (VHP); Pertjaja Luhur; A - Combination, a coalition of General Interior Development Party (ABOP), Brotherhood and Unity in Politics (BEP), and Seeka; Suriname Workers Party (SPA); Democratic Alternative '91 (DA' 91). Other parties in the National Assembly--National Democratic Party (NDP), Democratic National Platform 2000 (DNP 2000), Alternative 1 (A1), Party for Renewal and Development (BVD), Javanese Indonesian Peasants Party (KTPI).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2005 est.): US$ 1,344 million
Annual growth rate real GDP (2004 est.): 4.2%.
Per capita GDP (2004 est.): US$ 4,300
Inflation (2005): 9.6%
Natural resources: Bauxite, gold, oil, iron ore, other minerals; forests; hydroelectric potential; fish and shrimp.
Agriculture: Products--rice, bananas, timber, and citrus fruits.
Industry: Types--alumina, oil, gold, fish, shrimp, lumber.
Trade (2004): Exports-- US$ 870.5 million: alumina, gold, crude oil, wood and wood products, rice, bananas, fish, and shrimp. Major markets--Norway (29.8%), U.S. (15.4%), Canada (12.7%), France (8.5%), Iceland (3.9%). Imports--$740.1 million: capital equipment, petroleum, iron and steel products, agricultural products, and consumer goods. Major suppliers--U.S. (26.5%), Netherlands (19.5%), Trinidad and Tobago (13.7%), Japan (6.7%), China (4.6%), Brazil (4.2%).
Most Surinamese live in the narrow, northern coastal plain. The population is one of the most ethnically diverse 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 schools and the workplace.
Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus sighted the coast in 1498. Spain officially claimed the area in 1593, but Spanish and Portuguese 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 plantation 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 1916. During World War II, more than 75% of U.S. bauxite imports came from Suriname.
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, with Dutch consent, 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.
Suriname was a 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, 16 noncommissioned officers overthrew the elected government, which many accused of inefficiency and mismanagement. The military-dominated government then suspended the constitution, dissolved the legislature, and formed a regime that ruled by decree. Although a civilian filled the post of president, a military man, Desi Bouterse, actually ruled the country.
Throughout 1982, pressure grew for a return to civilian rule. In early December 1982, military authorities cracked down, arresting and killing 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 often leftist-oriented political course. The regime restricted the press and limited the rights of its citizens. The economy declined rapidly after the suspension of economic aid from the Netherlands.
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 that 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 a Maroon 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 Maroons 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. However, 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 (NF) Coalition, comprised of the Creole-based National Party of Suriname (NPS), the Hindustani-based Progressive Reform Party (VHP), the Javanese-based Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), and the labor-oriented Surinamese Workers 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.
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 rebels. 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 instituted 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 an 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.
In May 1999, after mass demonstrations protesting poor economic conditions, the government was forced to call early elections. The elections in May 2000 returned Ronald Venetiaan and his New Front coalition to the presidency. The NF based its campaign on a platform to fix the faltering Surinamese economy.
In the national election held on May 25, 2005, the ruling NF coalition suffered a significant setback due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and the public perception that the NF had produced few tangible gains. The NF won just 23 seats, falling short of a majority in the National Assembly, and immediately entered into negotiations with the Maroon-based "A" Combination and the A-1 Coalition to form a working majority. Desi Bouterse's NDP more than doubled its representation in the National Assembly, winning 15 seats. Bouterse, the NDP's declared presidential candidate, withdrew from the race days before the National Assembly convened to vote for the next president and tapped his running mate, Rabin Parmessar, to run as the NDP's candidate. In the National Assembly, the NF challenged Parmessar's Surinamese citizenship, displaying copies of a Dutch passport issued to Parmessar in 2004. Parmessar was eventually allowed to stand for election, and parliament later confirmed his Surinamese citizenship. After two votes, no candidate received the required two-thirds majority, pushing the final decision in August 2005 to a special session of the United People's Assembly, where President Venetiaan was reelected with a significant majority of votes from the local, district, and national assembly members gathered. His running mate, Ramdien Sardjoe, was elected as vice president. While the Venetiaan administration has made progress in stabilizing the economy, tensions within the coalition have impeded progress and stymied 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 5-year term.
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 5-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 5-year term. As head of government, the president appoints a cabinet of ministers. There is no constitutional provision for removal or replacement of the president unless he resigns.
A 15-member State Advisory Council advises the president in the conduct of policy. Eleven of the 15 council seats are allotted by proportional representation of all political parties represented in the National Assembly. The president chairs the council; two seats are allotted to representatives of labor, and two are allotted to employers' organizations.
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 pleasure.
Principal Government Officials
President--Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan
Vice President--Ramdien Sardjoe
Foreign Minister--Lygia Kraag-Keteldijk
Ambassador to U.S.--Henry Lothar Illes
Ambassador to UN--Ewald Limon
Ambassador to OAS--Henry Lothar Illes
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).
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 2,200 personnel, the majority of whom are deployed as light infantry security forces. A small air force, navy, and military police 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 policymakers to promote a better understanding of the role of the military in a civilian government, and also offers significant humanitarian aid. Since the mid-1990s, the People's Republic of China has been donating military equipment and logistical material to the Surinamese Armed Forces. The Netherlands, France, Venezuela, and Brazil also have working relationships with the Surinamese military.
Suriname's borders are porous; largely uninhabited, unguarded, and ungoverned rain forest and rivers make up the eastern, western, and southern borders, and the navy's capability to police Suriname's northern Atlantic coast is limited. Protecting natural resources from illegal exploitation such as unlicensed gold mining is difficult, and significant tax revenue is lost. Porous borders also make Suriname a target for transshipment of drugs. Since 2000, arrests and prosecutions of drug smugglers have increased, partially due to funding and training for police capacity through the U.S. State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.
Suriname's economy has been dominated by the exports of alumina, oil and gold. Other export products include bananas, shrimp and fish, rice and lumber. In 2005 alumina accounted for approximately 50% of total exports. Government income from the oil sector, however, has slightly surpassed that of the bauxite/alumina sector. Suriname's bauxite deposits have been among the world's richest. Active in Suriname since 1916, SURALCO, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), has had a long-standing working relationship with the Australian-owned BHP Billiton.
After two years and an investment of approximately 130 million USD, BHP Billiton officially commenced its mining activities at the Kaaimangrasie and Klaverblad mines in 2006. These mines are expected to provide enough bauxite to cover the transition between the closing of the depleted Lelydorp Mine and the possible opening of a mine in the Bakhuis area with estimated reserves of 300 to 400 metric tons. Other proven reserves, sufficient to last until 2045, exist in the east, west, and north of the country. However, distance and topography make their immediate development costly. The government and the companies are looking into cost-effective ways to develop the new mines. The preeminence of bauxite and ALCOA's continued presence in Suriname are key elements in the U.S.-Suriname economic relationship.
The severe shortage of affordable energy sources has hampered Suriname's ability to expand its industries. This goes for the bauxite sector as well. Currently running on diesel fueled generators, SURALCO has indicated that any expansion of operations to include mining and refining reserves from West Suriname will depend on Suriname expanding its energy generating sources.
The gold mining sector is largely informal, unregulated, and small scale, but constitutes an important part of the informal economy (estimated at as much as 100% of GDP), must be brought into the realm of tax and environmental authorities. In the official sector the Gross Rosebel Goldmines, wholly owned by the Canadian firm CAMBIOR, commenced its operations in 2004 and immediately positioned itself as the most productive and low-cost of all mines owned by CAMBIOR.
Suriname has also attracted the attention of international companies interested in extensive development of a tropical hardwoods industry and possible diamond mining. However, 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 in Suriname and abroad.
With its current output at 12,700 barrels a day, reserves at 107 million barrels, and regional geology suggesting additional potential, oil is currently the most promising sector in Suriname. There is particular interest in Suriname's offshore potential. A 2000 study by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that there may be up to 15 billion barrels of oil in the Guyana Plateau. The area includes territory affected by a maritime border dispute with Guyana. By law Staatsolie, the state-owned oil company, is the only company with the rights to operate in Suriname's oil sector. The company has therefore sought reputable international partners to explore the possibilities for offshore oil production. Since 2004 the company has signed exploration agreements with Repsol YPF (Spain), Mearsk Oil (Denmark), and Occidental Oil and Gas (United States). Bidding on three new blocks offshore was completed in July 2006. Staatsolie has not yet announced its decision, and is also seeking to expand its onshore activities. The company recently started new oil exploration projects seeking oil in other areas of the country.
In an effort to address the problem of Suriname's ailing 110 parastatals, the Government has introduced a plan that would strengthen them, after which they would be privatized. The first parastatals chosen for this experiment were the banana company, Surland, the wood processing company, Bruynzeel, and the rice company, SML. After closing for more than seven months in 2002, the banana company was reopened under the new name SBBS. With significant and continuous financial support from the European Union, the company was able to resume its banana exports and improve its infrastructure. In 2005 the government attempted to privatize the company by opening an international bidding round. After receiving several unsatisfactory bids, the company was taken off the market, and is now in a strengthening phase. The privatization of the wood processing company, Bruynzeel, is nearing a conclusion with a Memorandum of Understanding and a Letter of Intent signed between the Government and the Dutch company Doorwin, but opposition demands for Suriname to negotiate a better deal have delayed the process. No indication has been provided on when the final sale may be concluded. The restructuring of the rice company SML has failed according to the minister of Agriculture. The company was never able to recover from its debt situation, and neglect and mismanagement in the rice sector has added fuel to the fire. The company is now facing a public sale by its largest creditor.
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. The Netherlands remains Suriname's biggest donor, but it has been surpassed by the U.S. as a trade partner. Suriname participates in the Amazonian Pact, a grouping of the countries of the Amazon Basin that 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. Suriname became a member of the Islamic Development Bank in 1998.
At independence, Suriname signed an agreement with the Netherlands providing for about $1.5 billion in development assistance grants and loans over a 10- to 15-year period. Initial disbursements amounted to about $100 million per year, but were discontinued during military rule. After the return to a democratically elected government in 1991, Dutch aid resumed. The Dutch relationship continued 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. In 2000, the Dutch revised the structure of their aid package and signaled to the Surinamese authorities their decision to disburse aid by sectoral priorities as opposed to individual projects. In 2001 both governments agreed to spend the remaining development funds to finance programs in 6 different sectors: health care, education, environment, agriculture, housing and governance.
Relations with the Dutch have been complicated by Dutch prosecution of Desi Bouterse in absentia on drug charges, and by legal maneuvering by Dutch prosecutors trying to bring charges relating to the December 1982 murders. (A Dutch appellate court in 2000 found Bouterse guilty of one drug-related charge; the decision was upheld on appeal.)
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. Longstanding border disputes with Guyana and French Guiana remain unresolved. Negotiations with the Government of Guyana brokered by the Jamaican Prime Minister in 2000 did not produce an agreement, but the countries agreed to restart talks after Guyanese national elections in 2001. In January 2002, the presidents of Suriname and Guyana met in Suriname and agreed to resume negotiations, establishing the Suriname-Guyana border commission. In 2004 Guyana brought Suriname before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the case regarding the maritime border dispute; a decision is expected in 2007. An earlier dispute with Brazil ended amicably after formal demarcation of the border.
Since the reestablishment 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 further 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 decision makers. In addition, Narcotics trafficking organizations are channeling increasing quantities of cocaine through Suriname for repackaging and transport to Europe and the United States, and of ecstasy for transport to 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. and Suriname also have significant partnerships in fighting trafficking in persons and money laundering.
Since 2000, the U.S. has donated a criminal records database to the police as well as computers, vehicles, and radio equipment. Projects through which the U.S. has supported the judicial system include case management and computer hardware donation. Along with training projects, these programs have led to a strong relationship with law enforcement entities in Suriname.
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 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. On December 1, 2000, UNESCO designated the 1.6-million hectare Central Suriname Nature Reserve a World Heritage site. Suriname's tourism sector remains a minor part of the economy, and tourist infrastructure is limited (in 2004, some 145,000 foreign tourists visited Suriname).
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 longstanding investment in Suriname's bauxite mining and processing industry. Several U.S. corporations represented by Surinamese firms acting as dealers are active in Suriname, largely in the mining, consumer goods, and service sectors. Principal U.S. exports to Suriname include chemicals, vehicles, machine parts, meat, and wheat. 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; the investment law was approved by the National Assembly and is currently being revised by the Ministry of Finance.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Genton
Military Liaison Officer--Willard T. Green LCDR
Political/Economic Office--Jesse L. Sanders
Management Officer--David Lamontagne
Consular Officer--Gwendolyn S. Webb
Police Attach�--Susan Nave
Regional Security Officer--Jason Kight
Peace Corps Country Director--vacant
The U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo is located at Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat 129, P.O. Box 1821, Paramaribo, Suriname (tel. 597-472900, 597-476459; fax: 597- 410025).
Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658, 202-USA-TRADE
Caribbean Central American Action (CCAA)
1818 N Street, NW Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Office of Caribbean Affairs
2201 C Street, NW