Suriname Country Profile

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Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is one of South America’s smallest countries. It enjoys a relatively high standard of living but also faces serious political and economic challenges.

Since independence from the Netherlands in 1975, Suriname has endured coups and a civil war. Suriname is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Americas.

Most of its people are descended from African slaves and Indian and Javanese indentured labourers brought over by the Dutch to work in agriculture. Most political parties are ethnically based.

Gold, oil and agriculture are key economic sectors. Bauxite mining has gone into decline. Efforts have been made to diversify the economy.

REPUBLIC OF SURINAME: FACTS

  • Capital: Paramaribo
  • Area: 163,821 sq km
  • Population: 632,638
  • Languages: Dutch, Sranan Tongo, plus regional languages
  • Life expectancy: 69 years (men) 75 years (women)

LEADERS

President: Chan Santokhi

Suriname's President Chan Santokhi

Parliament elected former police chief Chandrikapersad “Chan” Santokhi to the presidency in July 2020. He stood unopposed.

He took over from controversial arch-rival Dési Bouterse, who had served as elected president since 2010 and military ruler in 1980-1987. Mr Santokhi’s centre-left Progressive Reform Party won the parliamentary elections in May 2020.

It was his investigation that had secured a murder conviction against President Bouterse the previous year.

MEDIA

Women at the covered central market in the city centre of Paramaribo, Suriname

Reporters Without Borders praises Suriname’s varied media landscape. State-run broadcasters operate alongside private radio and TV stations.

The country enjoys a pluralist media landscape. The two major private papers are De Ware Tijd and De West.

TIMELINE

Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral-Basilica, Paramaribo, Suriname
Image caption,Paramaribo’s 19th Century St Peter and Paul cathedral is one of the largest wooden buildings in the Caribbean

Some key dates in Suriname’s history:

1593 – Spanish explorers visit the area and name it Suriname, after the country’s earliest inhabitants, the Surinen.

1600-1650 – Settlements attempted by Spanish, Dutch, British and French during the first half of the 17th Century. They all fail, in part because of resistance by the native inhabitants.

1651 – First permanent European settlement in Suriname, established by the British at Paramaribo.

1667 – British cede their part of Suriname to the Netherlands in exchange for New Amsterdam (later called New York City).

1682 – Coffee and sugar cane plantations established and worked by African slaves.

1799-1802, 1804-16 – British rule is reimposed. The colony is returned to Dutch rule at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

1863 – Slavery abolished; indentured labourers brought in from India, Java and China to work on plantations.

1916 – Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) begins mining bauxite – the principal ore of aluminium – which gradually becomes Suriname’s main export.

1954 – Suriname given full autonomy, with the Netherlands retaining control over its defence and foreign affairs.

1975 – Independence. More than a third of the population emigrates to the Netherlands.

1980 – First of several coups.

1982– Armed forces seize power in a coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Desiré “Dési” Bouterse and set up a Revolutionary People’s Front; 15 opposition leaders charged with plotting a coup and executed; Netherlands and US respond by cutting off economic aid.

1986 – Surinamese Liberation Army (SLA), composed mostly of descendants of escaped African slaves, begins guerrilla war with the aim of restoring constitutional order. Within months principal bauxite mines and refineries forced to shut down.

1992 – Peace accord reached with SLA.

2004 – Suriname dollar replaces guilder. Government says move aims to restore confidence in economy. UN sets up tribunal to try to resolve long-running maritime border dispute between Suriname and neighbouring Guyana.

2007 – UN tribunal rules in the Guyana-Suriname dispute over maritime territory, giving both a share of a potentially oil-rich offshore basin.

2020 – Controversial leader Dési Bouterse retires from public life following a murder conviction the previous year.

White wooden clock tower of the Ministry of Finance building and colonial houses in the city centre of Paramaribo

Image caption,Suriname is the smallest sovereign state in South America

Source: BBC