U.S. Department of State Background Note
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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.--Jaques R. Kross
Ambassador to UN--Henry MacDonald
Ambassador to OAS--Jaques R. Kross
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).
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 2006 alumina accounted for approximately 46.2% of total exports. Government income from the oil sector, however, has 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 U.S. $130 million, 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 is currently in negotiations with SURALCO and BHP Billiton over the exploitation rights for the Bakhuis region. Parties expect to have a new bauxite agreement signed by 2008, with the companies commencing activities in that region in either 2010 or 2011.
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. To alleviate some of Suriname’s energy woes, the state-owned oil company, Staatsolie, built a 14 megawatt (MW) diesel-generated energy plant in 2006. In its most recently updated expansion plan, the company intends to expand the capacity of the plant to 18 MW.
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), and 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 IAMGOLD, commenced its operations in 2004 and immediately positioned itself as the most productive and low-cost of all mines owned by IAMGOLD. A new player in the Surinamese gold sector is the U.S. firm Newmont Mining Corporation. Working in a joint venture with SURALCO, the company has indicated that it will be seeking a production license from the Government of Suriname by 2008. Newmont wants to be operational by 2010. The reserves in the company’s concession area are estimated to be 300 million troy ounces.
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.
The sector with the most promising outlook for rapid, near future expansion is the oil sector. A 2000 study by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that there may be up 15 billion barrels of oil in the Guyana Plateau. The state-owned oil company, Staatsolie, is by law the only company with the right to operate in Suriname’s oil sector. Other companies can only access the market through production sharing agreements with Staatsolie. With its current output at 14,000 barrels per day (bpd), Staatsolie announced a robust expansion plan titled “Vision 2020” that will seek to expand output to 18,000 bpd by 2012. Staatsolie also plans to expand its onshore exploration research in order to increase reserves by 30 million barrels per five years. In order to reach this goal, the company signed a production sharing agreement with the Australian company Hardman Resources. Staatsolie further intends to establish and develop near shore reserves. In its offshore activities the company signed a production sharing agreements with the Spanish Repsol YPF (2004), the Danish Maersk Oil (2004), and the American Occidental Petroleum Corporation (2005). A second U.S. firm, Murphy Corporation, is expected to sign a production sharing agreement with Staatsolie for offshore activities. Staatsolie expects 2008 to become the high point for Suriname’s offshore oil activities, with Repsol YPF drilling its first test well. In its “Vision 2020” Staatsolie also announced major expansion plans for its downstream market. The company wants to expand its refining capacity from 7,000 bpd to 15,000 bpd. Staatsolie also plans to put up its own retail business.
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. After an initial attempt to privatize the company failed in 2005, the government continued the restructuring of the company. With heavy financing from the European Union the company has been revitalized, but is not yet out of debt. In 2006 SBBS produced and exported at record quantities. The management of the company is currently in the hands of a French company. The government has not announced any new plans for privatizing the company. The privatization attempt of the wood processing company, Bruynzeel, has failed. After months of negotiations, a memorandum of understanding, a letter of intent, and opposition protests against the deal, the government and the Dutch company Doorwin failed to reach an agreement on the terms of sale. The government is currently considering its options with this company. A British investment firm, the Emerald Investment Group, has expressed an interest in the company and has made a tentative offer to the government for Bruynzeel. The government has not indicated what it plans to do with the company. The restructuring of the heavily indebted rice company SML has failed. The company has also continuously been involved in legal proceedings brought by one of its largest creditors. In May 2007 the government announced that it would go ahead with the sale of the company. A call for proposals was published in the daily newspapers. Indications are that the government might go ahead and accept any bid that would cover the company’s extensive debt.
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 Attaché--Susan Nave
Regional Security Officer--Jason Kight
Peace Corps Country Director--Ann Conway
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
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Revised: Jun. 2007