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This study examines some concerns that derive from Suriname‘s May-July 2010 elections, which resulted in the re-emergence of erstwhile military ruler and convicted drug trafficker, Désiré (Desi) Bouterse, as President of the Republic. The victory reflects Bouterse‘s political acumen in aggregating disparate political interests and in establishing a viable coalition government. But because of his history and profile, this triumph has generated anxiety in some places internationally. In this respect, the study examines anxieties related to three matters: (a) relations with Guyana, where there is an existing territorial dispute and a recently resolved maritime dispute, (b) illegal drug trafficking operations, and (c) foreign policy engagement with Venezuela.

There has been a flurry of bilateral activities—including several presidential summits—with Guyana since President Bouterse‘s inauguration, albeit seemingly more about symbolism than substance. Although the maritime dispute was settled by a Tribunal of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in 2007, the 15,000 km2 New River Triangle is still unresolved. Indeed, in June 2011 President Bouterse reasserted Suriname‘s claim to the Triangle. Suriname has upped the ante in that dispute by portraying internationally the map of Suriname as inclusive of the disputed area. In all likelihood that self-redefinition slowly will become the country‘s cartographic definition in the eyes of the world if Guyana does not successfully rebuff that move or pursue the definitive settlement of the dispute.

A geonarcotics assessment shows Suriname to be still heavily implicated in trafficking, because of geography, law enforcement limitations, corruption, and other factors. But despite Bouterse‘s drug-related history and that of former senior military officers, several reasons suggest the inexpediency of a narco-state being created by Bouterse. As well, as part of Suriname‘s pursuit of increased Caribbean and South American engagement, it has boosted relations with Venezuela, which has included it in PetroCaribe and provided housing and agricultural aid. However, the engagement appears to be driven more by pragmatism and less by any ideological affinity with Hugo Chavez.


The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report (paper) are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by the official documentation.

Funded by the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment (NDCEE), ID W91WAW-09-D-0022, delivery order number 0616.

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