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In June 2002, the Surinamese police deported to the United States Carlos Bolas, a member of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas, to face charges of drug trafficking and murder. U.S. authorities say that Bolas, in addition to providing cocaine to Colombian traffickers in exchange for arms, money, and equipment, also was involved in the murder of three American activists in 2000. In October, authorities from neighboring Guyana complained that Suriname is a major supply route for illegal arms used in a crime wave gripping the Guyanese capital of Georgetown.
The Republic of Suriname achieved independence from the Netherlands in 1975, which had acquired it as a result of the Treaty of Breda with the British in 1667. Five years after independence, a military coup, which brought Desi Bouterse to power as the head of a regime that brutally suppressed civic and political opposition, initiated a decade of military intervention in politics. In 1987, Bouterse permitted elections under the constitution, which provides for the directly elected, 51seat National Assembly, which serves a five-year term and selects the state president. The New Front for Democracy and Development, a three-party coalition, handily won the 1987 elections. The military-organized National Democratic Party (NDP) won just three seats.
In 1990, the army ousted President Ramsewak Shankar, and Bouterse again took power. International pressure led to new elections in 1991. The New Front, a coalition of mainly East Indian, Creole, and Javanese parties, won a majority, although the NDP increased its share to 12. The National Assembly selected the Front's candidate, Ronald Venetiaan, as president. Bouterse quit the army in 1992 in order to lead the NDP. In the May 25, 2000, national elections, Venetiaan's center-right New Front garnered the majority of 51 National Assembly seats--3 times as many as its closest rival.
The May 2001 death of a labor leader, who was to be the star witness in a trial against Bouterse and others accused of 15 political killings, initially appeared to rob the prosecution of key testimony needed to convict the former narcotics-running strongman. However, the government vowed that testimony given by the witness during a preliminary hearing would be submitted in the trial by the judge who questioned him, a move defense lawyers said they would oppose, claiming they will be denied the right to cross-examine the witness. The loss of the lone survivor of the December 8, 1982, massacre of 16 Bouterse opponents came amidst a renewed push by the Dutch to bring the retired army colonel to account for the murders and for his role in the 1982 coup. The once all-powerful dictator had already been tried and convicted by a Dutch court in absentia on charges of having introduced more than two tons of cocaine into the Netherlands between 1989 and 1997.
Citizens of Suriname can change their government democratically. Political parties largely reflect the cleavages in Suriname's ethnically complex society. A record of 23 parties competed in the 2000 elections. Civic institutions remain weak. The judiciary is weak, is susceptible to political influence, and suffers from ineffectiveness and a huge backlog of cases. The civilian police abuse detainees, particularly during arrests, guards mistreat prisoners, and the prisons are dangerously overcrowded. The February 2001 release of 100 prisoners from the Paramaribo prison, which authorities said was done to accommodate overcrowded conditions there, created worries about rising crime in what was still one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The government generally respects freedom of expression. Radio is both public and private. A number of small commercial radio stations compete with the government-owned radio and television broadcasting system. State-broadcast media generally offer pluralistic viewpoints.
Both indigenous and tribal peoples, the latter called Maroons--the descendants of escaped African slaves who formed autonomous communities in the rain forest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--reside within Suriname's borders. Indigenous people number 12,000 to 15,000 people (approximately 4 percent of the population); Maroons number 40,000 to 50,000. Their rights to their lands and resources, to cultural integrity, and to the autonomous administration of their affairs are not recognized in Surinamese law. Discrimination against indigenous peoples and Maroons is widespread.
Constitutional guarantees of gender equality are not enforced, and the Asian Marriage Act allows parents to arrange marriages for their children without their consent. Human rights organizations function relatively freely. Several organizations specifically address violence against women, reports of the trafficking of Brazilian women for prostitution, and related issues. Despite their central role in agriculture and food production, 60 percent of rural women, particularly those in tribal communities, live below the poverty level.
Workers can join independent trade unions, and the labor movement is active in politics. Collective bargaining is legal and conducted fairly widely. Civil servants have no legal right to strike.