Suriname is the smallest country in South America. With a territory of 64,000 square miles and a population slightly larger than half a million residents, whose official language is Dutch, Surinam is a country mostly ignored by students of Latin America and observers in general. Though considered politically inconsequential and rarely mentioned, Suriname is now playing a big role involving many of the countries of the hemisphere.
Most recently Suriname served as the host country for the annual conference of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). UNASUR is an organization founded with the objective of promoting regional integration, the development of a single Latin American market and cooperation on military matters between the different countries.
UNASUR‘s 12 members include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Suriname. The organization’s headquarters are in Quito, Ecuador, its parliament is located in Cochabamba, Bolivia and its main bank is in Caracas, Venezuela. These three countries are the leaders of the Bolivarian alliance (ALBA), and represent the most radical, revolutionary and anti-American alliance in South America.
Interestingly enough, at the same time as the UNASUR conference was taking place, the United States announced the arrest of Dino Bouterse, the son of Suriname’s president Desi Bouterse, apparently on drug trafficking and perhaps arms dealing charges. Curiously, Bouterse was arrested before in Suriname in 2005 on drug trafficking and released three years later by Suriname’s authorities.
Furthermore, his father, the current president of Suriname, Desi Bouterse was tried and charged in absentia in 1999 for cocaine trafficking. According to some reports, Bouterse was involved in drug trafficking until the year 2006. Europol issued an arrest warrant against him but since he was elected president of Suriname in 2010 he enjoys immunity.
In addition, President Bouterse has been found responsible for the death in 1982 of 15 opponents to his regime; among them journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and military officers.
Bouterse was president of Suriname between 1980 and 1987 after having carried out a coup d’état establishing a military regime. In 1986, the Bouterse government was responsible for a massacre in the village of Moiwana, killing at least 39 villagers, mostly women and children. Bouterse’s soldiers also barbarically burned the village and the survivors fled the country. In 1991, democracy was restored to Suriname but Bouterse was elected president in 2010. Since his election he declared February 25th, the day he carried out the coup d’état in 1980, as a national holiday. This was a sign that he had no regrets for the atrocities committed under his regime.
But there are more surprises. Suriname will assume the presidency of UNASUR this coming year and the president of UNASUR, of course, is no other than Mr. Bouterse, himself. The fact that Suriname’s president has such a record does not seem to bother UNASUR members, whose former president Nestor Kirchner led the renewal of trials against violators of human rights in Argentina and made it a core issue of his presidency.
By the same token UNASUR does not seem to see a contradiction in having Bouterse as president of the organization while at the same time passing a resolution establishing mechanisms to combat organized crime and drug trafficking.
Bouterse welcomed UNASUR participants with a speech where he focused mostly on praising the late Venezuelan President and leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez. Suriname has become part of the Venezuelan-led Petro-Caribe and Bouterse has received money and support from Hugo Chavez for his election bid in 2005. Bouterse has been reported by State Department officials (as it was revealed in wikileaks) to have a large and prominent poster of Mr. Chavez in his office. Suriname was admitted as a guest country in ALBA. The Venezuelan government also continues to spread propaganda in Suriname.
Although Bouterse has not yet established Bolivarian rule in Suriname, he has followed Chavez’s lead in promoting relations with Iran.
In January 2012, Bouterse met in Managua with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and pledged to promote relations with Iran.
Following this, in June 2012 Iran and Suriname signed a memorandum of understanding where the Iranian deputy foreign minister announced a donation of US$1.2 million for purchase of tractors.
In addition, cheap direct flights were offered between three cities in Iran and Paramaribo, the capital and main city in Suriname.
Could these flights possibly be used to transport weapons or other material like uranium to Iran? At present, we do not have sufficient information to come to factual conclusions but these most unusual activities raise very serious questions.
We can say that UNASUR and the role played by Suriname and its highly repressive narco-president epitomizes the greatest tragedy the region is undergoing.
UNASUR is an organization that combines those countries that are members of ALBA (Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia), with those that are supporters or apologetic of ALBA and the Bolivarian revolution (mainly Argentina but also Brazil, Uruguay, and certainly Suriname), and, those that are none of the above but in practice remain bystanders (this includes U.S allies such as Colombia, Chile and Paraguay).
The only thing that UNASUR members share is their desire for regional integration. Their moral rhetoric is empty and unimportant. Their anti-terrorist, anti-narcotic, or pro-democracy discourse is to be taken with a grain of salt. UNASUR is not credible, it is not reliable, and it encourages its most radical elements.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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