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officially Republic of Suriname, Dutch Republiek Suriname
Country, northern coast of South America.

Area: 63,251 sq mi (163,820 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 493,000. Capital: Paramaribo. The population includes South Asians, Creoles, Javanese, and smaller groups of people of African, Chinese, American Indian, and Dutch descent. Languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranan (a creole language), Javanese, Sarnami (derived from Hindi and Urdu). Religions: Christianity (Roman Catholic, Protestant, other Christians), Hinduism, Islam, traditional beliefs. Currency: Suriname dollar. Suriname has a low, narrow coastal plain, inland savannas, a forested plateau region, and mountain ranges. A number of major rivers, including the Courantyne, Maroni, and Suriname, cross the country to empty into the Atlantic. Bauxite mining, aluminum production, and agriculture are the largest sectors of the economy. Exports include rice, bananas, sugarcane, oranges, and shrimp. Suriname is a republic with one legislative house; its head of state and government is the president. It was inhabited by various South American Indian peoples prior to European settlement. Spanish explorers claimed Suriname in 1593, but the Dutch began to settle there in 1602, followed by the English in 1651. It was ceded to the Dutch in 1667, and in 1682 the Dutch West India Company introduced coffee and sugarcane plantations and African slaves to cultivate them. Slavery was abolished in 1863, and indentured servants were brought from China, Java, and India to work the plantations, adding to the ethnic mix of the population. Except for brief interludes of British rule (1799–1802, 1804–15), Suriname remained a Dutch colony. It gained internal autonomy in 1954 and independence in 1975. A military coup in 1980 ended civilian control until the electorate approved a new constitution in 1987. Military control resumed after a coup in 1990. Elections were held in 1992, and civilian democratic government returned.

Official name Republiek Suriname (Republic of Suriname)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly [51])
Head of state and government President
Capital Paramaribo
Official language Dutch
Official religion none
Monetary unit Suriname dollar (SRD)1
Population estimate (2008) 516,000
Total area (sq mi) 63,251
Total area (sq km) 163,820
1The Suriname dollar (SRD) replaced the Suriname guilder (SRG) on Jan. 1, 2004, at a rate of 1 SRD = SRG 1,000.

officially Republic of Suriname, Dutch Republiek Suriname

country located on the northern coast of South America. Suriname is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by French Guiana, on the south by Brazil, and on the west by Guyana. It claims two disputed territories totaling some 6,800 square miles (17,612 square kilometres) in the southwest and southeast, bordering on Guyana and French Guiana, respectively. The capital is Paramaribo.

Suriname is one of the smallest countries in South America. Formerly known as Dutch Guiana, it was a plantation colony of The Netherlands. Suriname gained its independence on Nov. 25, 1975.

The land
Relief and drainage
The narrow coastal zone, some 226 miles (364 kilometres) long, consists of sandbanks and mudbanks deposited by the southern equatorial currents from the area surrounding the mouth of the Amazon River. South of the mudbanks begins the New Coastal Plain, also formed from sand and clay from the mouth of the Amazon. The region, covering some 6,600 square miles, consists of swampland. The soil of the swamps is clay, in which a great deal of peat has formed. The region is traversed by sandy ridges that run parallel to the coast. Suriname’s most fertile soils occur in the inundated lands reclaimed by diking and drainage (polders), which are principally in the New Coastal Plain.

South of the New Coastal Plain is the Old Coastal Plain, which covers some 1,550 square miles. It consists largely of fine clays and sands and contains a variety of topographies, including old ridges, clay flats, and swamps.

South of the Old Coastal Plain is the Zanderij formation, a 40-mile-wide landscape of rolling hills. This formation rests on bleached sand sediments, rich in quartz. Most of the region is covered by tropical rain forest, but swamps and areas of savanna grassland are also found.

Farther to the south is an area, covering some 80 percent of the country, that consists largely of a central mountain range, its various branches, and scattered hilly areas. The southern four-fifths of the country is almost entirely covered with tropical rain forest. In the southwest near the Brazilian border is the Sipaliwini Plain, another savanna area. The highest summit, at 4,035 feet (1,230 metres), is Juliana Top, in the Wilhelmina Mountains.

Suriname’s major rivers flow northward into the Atlantic. They include the Courantyne, which forms part of the boundary with Guyana, the Coppename, the Suriname, and the Maroni, which forms part of the border with French Guiana.

Suriname has a tropical climate. The populated area in the north has four seasons: a minor rainy season from early December to early February, a minor dry season from early February to late April, a major rainy season from late April to mid-August, and a major dry season from mid-August to early December. Daytime temperatures in Paramaribo range between 73° and 88° F (23° and 31° C), with an annual average temperature of 81° F (27° C). In the interior, diurnal temperature extremes can vary by as much as 18° F (11° C). The range in average temperatures between the warmest month, September, and the coldest, January, is only 3° F (2° C). Rainfall is highest in the central and southeastern parts of the country. Annual rainfall averages 76 inches (1,930 millimetres) in the west and 95 inches in Paramaribo.

Plant and animal life
The flora of the coastal area is better known than that of the interior. It consists of some 4,000 species of ferns and seed plants and a large number of mosses, weeds, and mildews. About 90 percent of Suriname’s area is covered with heterogeneous tropical forest consisting of more than 1,000 species of trees. The baboen (Virola surinamensis), which grows in the coastal area, is used to make plywood. The kapok (Ceiba pentandra) reaches a height of more than 150 feet.

There are some 150 species of mammals, including monkeys, wild pigs, deer, manatees, jaguars, ocelots, armadillos, sloths, and anteaters. The tapir is the largest land mammal. Reptiles include caimans, iguanas, and the boa constrictor. The beaches on the eastern part of the coast are breeding grounds for marine turtles, which are protected by law. About 650 species of birds, including hummingbirds, vultures, and parrots, have been identified. Some 350 species of fish occupy coastal and inland waters.

Settlement patterns
Some 80 percent of the total population is concentrated in Paramaribo and the surrounding area. Small urban centres include Nieuw Nickerie, in the northwest near the Guyanese border; Albina, in the northeast on the border with French Guiana; Moengo, in the centre of the bauxite-mining region in northeastern Suriname; and Paranam, in the bauxite-mining and bauxite-processing region on the Suriname River south of Paramaribo. Small settlements of Bush Negroes (descendants of escaped African slaves) and South American Indians make up almost the entire population of the interior. Some Indian villages are located in the coastal area, and nomadic Indian tribes live along the Brazilian border in the south.

The people
The so-called Hindustanis, or East Indians, descendants of contract labourers from India, are the largest ethnic group, with more than a third of the population. The second major ethnic group is the Creoles, people of African or mixed European and African descent, who make up about a third of the population. The descendants of Javanese contract labourers make up about 14 percent of the population. Bush Negroes constitute less than 10 percent of the population, and American Indians make up about 3 percent. Minor ethnic groups include descendants of Chinese, Jewish, Lebanese, Portuguese, and Dutch immigrants; Creoles from the West Indies; and a few North Americans.

Dutch is the official language, but the extent to which members of the various ethnic groups are able to use the language differs. Most of the population learns Dutch as a second language. English is widely spoken. Additional languages include Sranan (Taki-Taki) and other creole languages; Sarnami, which originated from Hindi and Urdu; Javanese; and a number of American Indian languages.

The principal religion is Christianity, imposed on the population by European colonizers. About a third of the Creoles are Protestant, and another third are Roman Catholic. The East Indians are predominantly Hindu. Most of the Javanese and a small East Indian group are Muslim. Judaism, present in Suriname since the early 16th century, is still practiced, and many of the Chinese are Confucians. African and native Indian religions are still widely practiced.

The population has a relatively high rate of natural increase. Birth and death rates have decreased since the 1960s. About 40 percent of the population is under 15 years of age, and about 75 percent is under 30. After 1973, when it was announced that Suriname would become independent, a large number of people emigrated to The Netherlands. By 1980, according to some estimates, one-third of the population had left the country; many of those who left were professionals and skilled workers.

With the rise in 1986 of a guerrilla movement, based in northeastern Suriname and enjoying widespread support among Bush Negroes, the National Army has carried out raids in the Bush Negro villages. The killing and detaining of a large number of Bush Negroes has resulted in the flight of some 10,000 to 12,000 of them to French Guiana.

The economy
Suriname has a higher standard of living than many Latin-American countries. During the 1980s the economy experienced a decline, resulting mainly from falling export prices for bauxite and from a reduction in development aid from the United States and The Netherlands. This decline was marked by inflation, a growing budget deficit, and unemployment. Government expenditures account for almost half of total consumption. The civil service employs about 45 percent of the work force.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Less than 1 percent of Suriname’s land is arable, and about half of this is cultivated. Most of the farmland is on the New Coastal Plain. In this region drainage is necessary most of the year, owing to a surplus of precipitation. During dry periods evaporation exceeds precipitation, and irrigation is necessary.

More than half of the cultivated land in Suriname is planted with rice, the basic food staple. There are two rice harvests every year, the principal one in the spring and a second crop in the autumn. Some rice is exported, as are bananas, citrus fruits, coconuts, and palm oil. Sugar, coffee, and cocoa, formerly important export items, are produced mainly for domestic consumption.

Suriname has great timber resources, but they have not been fully exploited. Plywood and timber are exported. There is a small fishing industry, centred in Paramaribo, that exports shrimp to North America.

The main industry in Suriname is the mining and processing of bauxite. Mines exist near Moengo, Paranam, and Overdacht. There are aluminum smelter and an alumina refinery in Paranam.

The Brokopondo Dam and a hydroelectric power plant on the Suriname River produce electricity for the bauxite-refining operations in Paranam. The dam impounds the 600-square-mile W.J. van Blommestein Lake. The Suriname State Oil Company (Staatsolie) produces a limited amount of oil from wells in the Tambaredjo area.

Apart from the bauxite and wood-processing industries, manufacturing is limited to small import-substitution enterprises. Processed foods, clothing, cigarettes, and construction material are produced for the domestic market.

Finance and trade
Local banks and insurance companies either are subsidiaries of or cooperate with foreign companies, mostly from The Netherlands and the United States. Monetary policy is controlled by the minister of finance and the president of the Central Bank of Suriname (established 1957), the bank of issue.

Bauxite, alumina, and aluminum account for almost three-fourths of total exports. Imports consist mostly of fuels, food products, capital goods, industrial products, and industrial raw materials. Suriname’s main trade partners are the United States and The Netherlands.

Surface transport systems are for the most part limited to the coastal area. The East–West Highway connects Paramaribo with Albina on the eastern border and with Nieuw Nickerie on the western border. There is a road from Paramaribo to Afobaka near the Brokopondo Dam. Only one-fourth of the roads are paved. Rivers and canals are an important means of transport. The lower courses of the larger rivers are accessible to oceangoing vessels. Paramaribo is the chief port. Zanderij, the international airport, began operation in 1934.

Administration and social conditions
Under the 1987 constitution, legislative power is exercised by an elected 51-member National Assembly, which elects a president and vice president. The president, vice president, and members of the National Assembly serve five-year terms. The president is the chairman of a nonelective, military-influenced Council of State, which ensures that the government’s actions conform to the law. It has constitutional powers to annul laws passed by the National Assembly. The judicial system consists of a Court of Justice and three cantonal courts.

Suriname’s system of education is modeled on that of The Netherlands, and Dutch is the language of instruction. School attendance is compulsory for children up to age 12, and education at all levels is free. More than 90 percent of the children in the coastal areas attend primary school. Suriname has secondary schools, junior colleges, a teacher’s college, and vocational and technical schools. The University of Suriname in Paramaribo, founded in 1968 and renamed the Anton de Kom University in 1980, has faculties of law, medicine, social science and economics, engineering, and natural resources.

Health and welfare
Health conditions are relatively good in Suriname. Most tropical diseases are being combated effectively. Medical care in the interior is provided by the Foundation for Medical Mission of the Evangelical Brethren in Suriname, which operates medical centres in the main Bush Negro and American Indian settlements.

Most of the population has health insurance. All collective labour agreements include medical care. The unemployed and workers in the informal sector, however, must obtain a “certificate of poverty” from the government to receive free medical care. Unemployment benefits and other social provisions are almost nonexistent.

Cultural life
Suriname is a culturally divided society, with contact between its ethnic groups largely limited to the economic sphere. Fine arts, such as painting and sculpture, are primarily middle-class concerns dominated by Western—primarily Dutch—cultural standards.

There is one government-owned television station (with one channel), as well as a government-owned radio station and a number of small commercial radio stations. There are a few government-owned publications and two privately owned daily newspapers.


The Surinen (from whom the country’s name derives) were the area’s earliest known inhabitants. By the 16th century, however, the Surinen had been driven out by other American Indian groups. Europeans learned of Suriname (and other areas in the Guyana region) from Christopher Columbus, who sighted its coast in 1498. A Spanish expedition led by Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda sailed along the coast of Suriname in 1499, and the Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón visited the region in 1500. Settlements attempted by the Spanish, Dutch, British, and French during the first half of the 17th century all failed, in part because of resistance by the native Indian inhabitants.

The first permanent settlement of Europeans in Suriname was established by a group of British planters and their slaves in 1651. In 1667 Suriname was seized by a Dutch fleet, and that year it was ceded to The Netherlands in exchange for Nieuw Amsterdam (New York). Except for the years 1799–1802 and 1804–15, when it was under British rule, Suriname remained part of The Netherlands until its independence in 1975.

Suriname developed into a flourishing plantation colony after Dutch planters, driven out of Brazil from the mid-17th century, settled in the area. Sugar was the main export, and the production of coffee, cacao, cotton, indigo, and wood gained importance during the 18th century.

Until the mid-19th century the majority of the population were slaves, mostly from the west coast of Africa. The small white population was mainly of Dutch origin. Jews, who had come from Portugal, Spain, and Italy, mainly by way of Brazil, made up one-third of the whites, and the remainder came mostly from France, Germany, and Great Britain.

In 1853 Chinese and Madeiran contract labourers were brought to Suriname to work on the plantations. Many of these workers eventually became small-scale merchants. On July 1, 1863, slavery was abolished in Suriname. The former slaves, however, were placed under government supervision for a period of 10 years in order to perform labour under contract. Contract labourers from India (called East Indians) were recruited to replace the former slaves, and workers also came to Suriname from Java, Indon.

Despite efforts to preserve plantation production, Suriname’s position as an agricultural supplier declined. In 1916 Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) began mining the country’s newly discovered reserves of bauxite, the principal ore of aluminum. Later, especially after World War II, Dutch interest in Suriname revived, seen first in the arrival of the Dutch mining company Billiton in 1939. The Netherlands began to provide development aid to Suriname in 1948, the year in which talks on Suriname’s internal political autonomy began.

After World War II the issue of universal suffrage served as a catalyst for political mobilization. Political parties were set up, most of them organized along ethnic lines. The light-skinned Creole elite, who opposed universal suffrage, set up the Suriname National Party (Nationale Partij Suriname; NPS). The Progressive Suriname People’s Party (Progressieve Suriname Volkspartij; PSV) organized the working-class Creoles. The East Indians and Indonesians were eventually grouped within the United Hindu Party (VHP; later called the Progressive Reform Party) and the Indonesian Peasants’ Party (Kaum-Tani Persuatan Indonesia; KTPI), respectively. Universal suffrage was instituted in 1948.

After Suriname was granted autonomy in its internal affairs in 1954, development aid from The Netherlands increased steadily. From 1964 onward Suriname, as an associate member of the European Economic Community (EEC), also received aid from the EEC’s development fund. In spite of this aid, Suriname’s rate of economic growth was strong only during the mid-1960s, when there were dramatic increases in the production of alumina and aluminum.

The 1958 elections produced a coalition government of the NPS and the VHP. In 1961 the left-wing Nationalist Republican Party (Partij Nationalistische Republiek; PNR) was established. Among the East Indian population the Action Group (Aktie Groep) became active. A split occurred in the NPS–VHP coalition after the 1967 elections, which led to a coalition of the Action Group and the NPS, but in 1969 that government fell. A coalition was then formed by the VHP and the Progressive National Party (Progressieve Nationale Partij; PNP), which was set up by a group of intellectuals who had left the NPS.

The National Party Alliance, a coalition of the NPS, the PSV, the KTPI, and the PNR, won the 1973 election. The PNR and most of the younger party leaders within the NPS favoured independence, as did the ruling socialist party in The Netherlands. Despite resistance from East Indians, who feared increased Creole domination, Suriname became independent on November 25, 1975.

In the late 1970s Suriname’s economy continued to stagnate. Unemployment was high, and most of the population had incomes at the minimum subsistence level. On February 25, 1980, after the government’s refusal to sanction trade union activity within the armed forces, a group of noncommissioned army officers seized control of the government. The coup was welcomed by most of the population. The National Military Council (Nationale Militaire Raad; NMR), installed after the coup, called on the moderate wing of the PNR to form a Cabinet composed mostly of civilians. After the new Cabinet proclaimed that Suriname would return to democracy in two years, the Dutch government agreed to finance an emergency development program.

After the military coup in 1980, government expenditures rose dramatically, particularly defense spending. The economy, moreover, steadily deteriorated, as a result of the suspension of foreign aid, the stagnation of private foreign investment, and the decline of the export (especially bauxite) sector. The country’s domestic affairs continued to be strained, reflecting an uncertain and tense relationship between the military, with de facto power, and the nominal civilian government led by a president. The military leaders, initially without a clear political ideology, began to take a conciliatory approach toward left-wing radical factions close to the NMR, which led to the formation in August 1981 of the Revolutionary Front, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Dési Bouterse. The Front included the Revolutionary People’s Party (Revolutionaire Volkspartij; RVP), the PNR, and some of the trade and farm workers’ unions. By the following year, however, as military leaders showed few signs of willingness to surrender control, trade unions, business associations, and professional groups began to proclaim their discontent. The conflict reached a climax in December 1982 when 15 prominent civilians were executed. The Netherlands and the United States immediately suspended development aid. In February 1983 a left-wing coalition was able to form a government, but a strike in the vital bauxite industry and the threat of a general strike led to its dismissal by the military within one year.

Raids by the Surinamese Liberation Army, a guerrilla group better known as the Jungle Commando (JC; consisting mainly of Bush Negroes), disrupted bauxite mining and led to the killing of many Bush Negro civilians by the National Army; thousands of Bush Negroes fled to French Guiana. The deteriorating economic and political situation forced the military to open a dialogue with the leaders of the principal political parties that had operated before the coup. In 1985 a National Assembly was formed; a new Cabinet of Ministers was installed the following year, and a new constitution was approved in a referendum on September 30, 1987. Elections held on November 25, 1987, resulted in the defeat of the political wing of the military. The Front for Democracy and Development (Front voor Democratic en Ontwikkeling; FDO), a coalition of the VHP, NPS, and KTPI, formed a new government.

In 1988 the Suriname and French governments (the latter as the sovereign of neighbouring French Guiana) began peace negotiations with the JC on the repatriation of the Bush Negroes and the incorporation of the JC in the police force. An agreement signed in July 1989 was opposed by the military as well as by the Tucayana Amerindians, a group of native Indians armed by the military. On December 24, 1990, military leaders once again seized control of the government.

Henk E. Chin

In response to political pressure from the United States, The Netherlands, France, and the Organization of American States, elections were held on May 25, 1991. The New Front for Democracy and Development, which included the old Front and the Suriname Labour Party (Surinaamse Partij van de Arbeid; SPA), won a majority of seats in the National Assembly and elected Ronald Venetiaan president. The new government quickly passed an act that officially deprived the military of all political power and in 1992 signed an agreement with the JC and the Tucayana regarding repatriation of Bush Negroes from French Guiana. Venetiaan sought to rein in both inflation and the budget deficit, but his reform efforts were hampered by a bloated bureaucracy and by cocaine trafficking, in which the Suriname military and former president Bouterse were implicated. Bouterse had retained broad appeal in Suriname; he served as president of the National Democratic Party (Nationale Democratische Partij; NDP) and was widely viewed as the real power behind Jules Wijdenbosch, who was elected president of the country in 1996.

In 1997 the government of The Netherlands issued an arrest warrant for Bouterse on charges of drug smuggling, but Suriname failed to extradite him; in 1999 he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 16 years in prison. During Wijdenbosch’s administration (1996–2000) Suriname was beset with economic problems—an International Monetary Fund report declared the country “practically bankrupt”—and a deterioration of social services. Facing protests, Wijdenbosch called early elections, and in 2000 Venetiaan returned to the presidency. Under his guidance, the economy improved, the armed forces were depoliticized, and loans were negotiated with The Netherlands and the Inter-American Development Bank to finance health, education, and social programs. Venetiaan was reelected president in 2005 in a special session of the National Assembly after no candidate claimed a two-thirds majority in the general elections. Tensions within the SPAstalled legislative progress, however. Moreover, in the early 21st century Suriname faced several seemingly intractable problems—among them a vast criminal economy that included drug trafficking and gold smuggling. The country also lost a longstanding maritime border dispute with neighbouring Guyana, which gained promising oil-rich zones from Suriname in the ruling.




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