When the Spaniards discovered the coasts of the area that
later became the name Guyana (Berbice) in 1498, it was
sparsely populated by Caribbean and Arawak Indians.
Spaniards and Portuguese showed little interest in the area,
and it was not until 1651 that a British trading station was
set up by Barbados, which enticed other Europeans to invest
in the new colony.
Alternating colonial powers
Plantation was undertaken with African slaves who
cultivated cocoa, coffee, sugar and cotton. Jews from Brazil
built America's first synagogue in Suriname in 1665.
By the Breda agreement in 1667, the United Kingdom
swapped rights over Suriname with the Netherlands in favor
of Nieuw Amsterdam (New York). The Netherlands paid little
attention to this colony where slave rebellion was very
widespread. Control of the colony alternated between the
Netherlands, Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars
until the Netherlands regained it for good in 1815.
When slavery ceased in 1863, a larger number of workers
immigrated from India, Java and China, making the
population, and thus the politics, very heterogeneous.
In 1954, Surinam (then known as Dutch Guiana) gained
internal self-government, and only in November 1975 was full
independence. The first election in the new state in 1977
was won by the Suriname National Party (National Party
Suriname, NPS), which is comprised of African- bred
Creole. Henck Arron became prime minister and Johan Ferrier
president. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Suriname.
Due to the poor outlook on education, work and social
security, almost half of the population left Surinam during
the first years to try their luck in the Netherlands. The
Netherlands provided a substantial lump sum and further
development aid commitments to Surinam, but very little was
achieved in the first years after 1975. Constant political
rivalry, corruption and bureaucracy led to marked discontent
in the country. Bauxite extraction and a separate aluminum
plant were established, but it was international aluminum
companies that made the profit.
Most of the Dutch development aid also found its way back
to the donor country through Dutch companies that still had
the financial power.
The Arron government was ousted by a group of younger
officers in 1980, but President Ferrier was seated. The
military leadership and ministers were imprisoned, and a
six-man civil and military leadership took power with Henk
Chin A Sen as prime minister. Despite protests from the
Netherlands, a radical reform program was implemented. The
Constitution and impending elections were suspended. In
February 1982, the revolutionary strong man, Colonel
Lieutenant Désiré Bouterse, resigned the president and
himself assumed the position of "leader of the revolution",
while civilian Henri Neijhorst was named prime minister
after a disagreement between Chin A Sen and Bouterse.
The executions of 15 oppositionists in December 1982
sparked sharp reactions, and both the Netherlands and the US
suspended all economic and military cooperation. Neijhorst's
government resigned, and the new government led by Liagat
Ali Errol Alibux suffered the same fate in January 1984
following extensive strikes and pressure from the unions.
Under the leadership of Bouterse, attempts were made to
enter into negotiations with the former political parties,
largely to satisfy the demands the Netherlands set to resume
In 1986, businessman Pretaapnarian Radbakishun of the
Progressive Reform Party (Vooruitstrevende
Reformerpartij, VHP) was appointed prime minister with
the promise of reinstating democracy.
New constitution and political stagnation
In a 1987 referendum, an overwhelming majority voted in
favor of the introduction of a new constitution, leading to
elections in November of that year. The opposition coalition
United Front for Democracy and Development (UFDD) won an
overwhelming victory, while the military leadership's
National Democratic Party (National Democratic
Party, NDP) only got 10 percent of the vote. Ramsewak
Shankar was appointed prime minister, but was deposed by the
army on Christmas Eve 1990 and replaced by Jules Wijdenbosch
from the NDP until the 1991 election.
Surinam's financial situation was very critical at this
time. At the same time, since 1984, Surinam's Liberation
Army, led by Ronnie Brunswijk, had been carrying out armed
insurgency and sabotage from neighboring French Guiana. The
1991 election became a scarce victory for the opposition
front, now under the name Ny Front (Nieuw Front,
NF). It took four months before Ronald Venetiaan was
The new government agreed to limit the influence of the
army, restore peace in the country and maintain a
constructive relationship with the Netherlands. During 1992,
development cooperation with the Netherlands was restored,
and a peace agreement was reached with the Suriname
Liberation Army. In 1993, Dési Bouterse resigned as head of
the army; in 1999 he was sentenced in absentia in the
Netherlands to 16 years in prison for cocaine smuggling.
Drastic economic tightening was praised by the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), but led to an increase in
poverty. The 1996 election led to a coalition government led
by Jules Wijdenbosch from the NDP. The new government has
placed greater emphasis on social improvements and increased
national control over bauxite production and timber
extraction. Wijdenbosch, however, was unable to fulfill the
promises, the coalition government went from crisis to
crisis and finally fell completely. In 2000, he was forced
to print new elections and suffered a staggering defeat.
Voters' dissatisfaction gave the Nieuwe Front voor
Democratie coalition 47.3 percent of the vote, with the
result of Ronald Venetiaan again becoming president. He was
re-elected in 2005, and the Liberal-led coalition could
continue with a stiff majority in the National Assembly.
The 2010 election was won by Dési Bouterse, who had
previously been accused and convicted of cocaine smuggling.
Europol's arrest warrant against him was invalidated because
he enjoys international immunity as head of state. In
addition to drug crime, Bouterse is charged with several war
crimes that must have occurred during the military regime of
the 1980s. The United States and the Netherlands have warned
that normal relations with Suriname cannot be maintained
with Bouterse as president.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the UN had to be drawn
into a dispute with neighboring Guyana about the border line
in the oil-rich offshore areas. At the same time, the
country was hit by falling prices for bananas, bauxite and
other important export goods. Unlike other countries in the
region, Suriname, despite its interesting and beautiful
nature, has not succeeded in exploiting the tourism
In order to strengthen confidence in the country's
economy, currency guilders were replaced in 2004 with
dollars. But dependence on commodity exports, rising
inflation, swelling bureaucracy and reduced welfare services
continue to pose a significant obstacle to progress.