|9th President of Suriname|
12 August 2010
|Vice President||Robert Ameerali
|Preceded by||Ronald Venetiaan|
|President pro tempore of the Union of South American Nations|
30 August 2013 – 4 December 2014
|Preceded by||Ollanta Humala|
|Succeeded by||José Mujica|
|Born||Desiré Delano Bouterse
(1945-10-13) 13 October 1945
|Political party||National Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Ingrid Figueira (divorced)
Ingrid Waldring (1990–present)
Desiré Delano “Dési” Bouterse (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈbʌutərsə]) is a Surinamese politician who has been President of Suriname since 2010. From 1980 to 1987 he was Suriname’s de facto leader after conducting a military coup and establishing military rule.
Bouterse is the chairman of the Surinamese political alliance Megacombinatie (“Mega combination”) and the leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), which is part of the Megacombination. On 19 July 2010, Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname with 36 of 50 parliament votes and on 12 August 2010 he was inaugurated.
Dési Bouterse is a controversial figure, held responsible by some for numerous human rights violations committed during the military rule in the 1980s. Most notable was the December murders in 1982 of fifteen leading opposition figures. (He was prosecuted in these murders and a trial was initiated, but in 2012 the National Assembly extended amnesty to him.) He is also suspected of having directed the Moiwana massacre in 1986 during the civil war by the Maroons, led by his former bodyguard.
In 2000, Dési Bouterse was sentenced in absentia in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment after being convicted of trafficking 474 kilos of cocaine. Bouterse always protested his innocence; he claimed that the star witness in the case, Patrick van Loon, was bribed by the Dutch government.
According to WikiLeaks cables released in 2011, Bouterse was active in the drug trade until 2006. Europol has issued an arrest warrant for him. As Suriname’s president, he enjoys national immunity from arrest in his country. Because Bouterse was convicted of the drug offense before his election in 2010 as Head of State, he enjoys no international immunity on these charges.
Desiré Delano Bouterse was born on 13 October 1945 in Domburg, located in Suriname’s Wanica District. His family were of multi-ethnic Amerindian, Afro-Surinamese, Dutch, French, and Chinese ancestry. As a young boy he moved from Domburg to the capital Paramaribo, where he was raised by an aunt. He attended the St Jozef boarding school and later the Middelbare Handelsschool (roughly equivalent to junior secondary general education), which he did not finish.
In 1968, Bouterse moved to the Netherlands, where he was conscripted into the armed forces of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Krijgsmacht). After completing his military service, he signed up to train as a non-commissioned officer at the Koninklijke Militaire School in Weert. In this period, Bouterse became known as an athlete, and he was chosen as head of the basketball team.
In 1970, Bouterse married Ingrid Figueira, whom he had known as a teenager in Suriname. They had two children: Peggy and Dino. Shortly after the marriage, Bouterse was assigned to the Dutch military base in Seedorf, Germany.
On 11 November 1975, Bouterse returned with his family to Suriname after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He wanted to help establish the Surinamese army. In 1979, Bouterse accepted a request by Roy Horb to become chairman of a new Surinamese military union (union BoMiKa; Bond voor Militair Kader).
On 25 February 1980, Bouterse, Horb and fourteen other sergeants overthrew the Henck Arron government with a violent military coup d’état, now known as the Sergeants Coup. This marked the beginning of the military dictatorship that dominated Suriname from 1980 to 1991. The sergeants who accomplished this coup were known as the Groep van zestien (group of sixteen). Dési Bouterse was the leader of the Groep van zestien. After the coup, he became chairman of the National Military Council of Suriname, which replaced the democratic government, and effectively ruler of the government.
On the day of the coup, Bouterse’s soldiers shot and burned down the Central Police Station of Suriname. The remains of this building now form the “monument of the Revolution.” Annually on 25 February, the coup is commemorated.
The military dictatorship imposed an evening curfew, and curtailed freedom of press (only one newspaper, de Ware Tijd, was allowed to continue publishing, but they were subject to heavy censorship). In 1985 it banned political parties and restricted freedom of assembly. It was characterized by a high level of government corruption and the summary executions of political opponents. After the ‘December murders’ of fifteen opposition leaders in late 1982, Bouterse closed the University of Suriname.
From the beginning of the dictatorship until 1988, the titular presidents were essentially army-installed by Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto leader of Suriname. After the coup, Bouterse initially sought support from Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and later from Libya.
On 7 and 8 December 1982, 15 prominent Surinamese men who had criticized Dési Bouterse’s military dictatorship or were connected with the coup d’état attempt on March 11, 1982, were brought to Fort Zeelandia (then headquarters of Bouterse), where they were tortured and shot dead. These killings are known as the December murders.
The 15 victims were:
- John Baboeram, lawyer
- Bram Behr, journalist
- Cyrill Daal, union leader
- Kenneth Gonçalves, lawyer
- Eddy Hoost, lawyer
- André Kamperveen, journalist
- Gerard Leckie, university teacher
- Sugrim Oemrawsingh, university teacher
- Lesley Rahman, journalist
- Surendre Rambocus, military
- Harold Riedewald, lawyer
- Jiwansingh Sheombar, military
- Jozef Slagveer, journalist
- Robby Sohansingh, businessman
- Frank Wijngaarde, journalist (with Dutch citizenship)
On December 10, 1982 Bouterse stated on STVS television channel that 15 arrested “suspects who were plotting to overthrow the government later in December were shot dead while trying to flee Fort Zeelandia”. Years later Bouterse said that he was not present at the killings. In 2000 he stated that the decision for these killings was made by the commander of the battalion, Paul Bhagwandas, who died in 1996. Bouterse accepted political responsibility as leader, but still denied any direct involvement.
The trials for the December murders did not take place in Suriname until November 30, 2007. Among the 25 indicted suspects, Bouterse is the chief figure. Since the trial began, Bouterse never went to court. In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2009, Bouterse said that the trial was being used by his political opponents to prevent him from running for office again and for their own political gain. In April 2012, two months before the verdict in the trial was expected, Bouterse’s party member Andre Misiekaba said, during a debate in the Surinamese parliament, that: “The December Murders trial is a political trial which has the purpose to eliminate Bouterse from the political arena and therefore the Amnesty Act is needed.”
Amnesty for December Murders
On February 1, 2012, Ruben Rozendaal, one of the military suspects, announced in local media that it was time for him to come forward with the truth about the December Murders because he wanted to clear his name before he died. (He was suffering from a severe kidney disease, and the doctors had told him he did not have much time left to live). After consulting with his lawyer, Rozendaal decided to withdraw the testimony he had given in 2010. After the last suspects and witnesses in the December Murders case were heard, the court-martial decided to hear Rozendaal again, and this hearing was set for March 23, 2012.
On March 19, five members of Bouterse’s political party Megacombinatie and one member of Paul Somohardjo’s party Pertjajah Luhur proposed a law in the parliament, which in effect would grant amnesty for the suspects in the December Murders, including Dési Bouterse. The amnesty law would also cause immediate termination of the trial. The parliamentary voting was to be held on March 23, the same day Ruben Rozendaal testified in court that Bouterse personally killed two of 15 victims of the December Murders: union leader Cyrill Daal and military member Soerindre Rambocus. That day there was no quorum in the parliament, and the voting did not continue.
On April 4, 2012, after three days of strong and emotional debate, the Assembly passed the amnesty law with 28 votes in favor and 12 votes opposed. The political parties Nieuw Suriname and BEP, both members of Bouterse’s coalition, left the room when the voting started because they “did not believe that they should support a law which is being opposed by a large part of the Surinamese community.” The chair of the Surinamese parliament, Jennifer Simons, who is also a member of Bouterse’s party, voted for the law.
The controversial law granted amnesty to Bouterse and the 24 other suspects of the December Murders. This could also mean that the ongoing December Murders trial will face an immediate stop.
On April 13, 2012, the public prosecutor in the December Murders trial formulated the demanded sentence against five suspects, including the main suspect, Bouterse. His defense lawyer, Irwin Kanhai, requested that the trial would be declared moot because of the amnesty law. On 11 May 2012, the court decided whether the trial would continue or not.
Edgar Ritfeld, one of the 25 suspects, said that he did not want amnesty because he knows he is innocent. He wanted the trial to be continued so that his innocence could be proven. Ruben Rozendaal and Wim Carbiere, both suspects, also asked for continuation of the trial.
The controversial amnesty law was protested both nationally and internationally. Organizations such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the law and urged the Surinamese judges and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to continue the trial. On 19 April 2012, Human Rights Watch demanded an immediate retraction of the law.
Reaction from the Netherlands
After passage of the amnesty law, the Netherlands immediately stopped the 20 million euro aid that was planned to be given to Suriname. President Dési Bouterse was unmoved by this decision, saying, “I never asked you for 20 million euros. We have economic reserves of almost 800 million dollars.” The Dutch Labour Party and the then ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) believed that this sanction was not enough. They called for more penalties such as economic sanctions, expulsion of the Surinamese ambassador (who is the daughter of MP Rashied Doekhi, one of the 28 MPs who voted in favour of the law), and a ban on European travel for all the Surinamese parliamentarians who voted for the amnesty law. Dutch minister of foreign affairs Uri Rosenthal did not agree with these requests.
On 8 April 2012, the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said it was “indigestible” that amnesty was granted to the suspects in this stage of the trial (the amnesty law was passed two months before the verdict in the trial).
Moiwana massacre of 1986
Moiwana is a Maroon village in the Marowijne District in the east of Suriname.
The Suriname Guerrilla War (1986–1990), also known as a civil war, was between the Surinamese military regime, headed by Dési Bouterse, and the Surinamese Liberation Army, a guerrilla Maroon group better known as the Jungle Commando, led by Dési Bouterse’s former bodyguard Ronnie Brunswijk. On 29 November 1986, members of the national military massacred at least 39 villagers of Moiwana, Brunswijk’s home village, killing mostly women and children. The soldiers also burned down the village dwellings, including Brunswijk’s house. The survivors fled as refugees with hundreds of other inland inhabitants across the Marowijne river to neighbouring French Guiana.
The human rights organisation ‘Moiwana ’86’ has committed itself to achieving justice with regard to this event. It is seeking to hold military officers and the government as responsible for the massacre.
Herman Gooding, a chief inspector of the police, was assassinated in August 1990 during his investigation of the massacre. Reportedly he was forced out of his car near Fort Zeelandia and shot in the head. His body was left outside the office of Desi Bouterse. Other police investigators fled the country for safety, stalling the progress of the investigation.
The government has stated that it is still continuing its investigation of the massacre. It claimed that prospective witnesses had either moved, died, or were uncooperative. It has also said that an investigation of the murder of Herman Gooding was continuing.
In August 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Suriname to pay 3 million USD in compensation to 130 survivors of the massacre, and to establish a 1.2 million USD fund for the development of Moiwana. The Inter-American Court of Human rights has judged that the responsible persons have to be prosecuted and punished; however, previous governments, and Bouterse’s current government, have failed to do so.
In July 1999, Bouterse was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands to 11 years in prison for trafficking 474 kilograms of cocaine. Dési Bouterse always proclaimed his innocence. He claimed that the star witness in his case, Patrick van Loon, was bribed by the Dutch government. Bouterse is believed by law enforcement officials to have been the leader of the so-called Suri kartel, which is held responsible for the trafficking and smuggling of large amounts of cocaine from Suriname and Brazil into Europe (especially into the Netherlands) in the 1980s and 90s.
Since 1999 Europol has maintained an international warrant for his arrest. According to the United Nations Convention against illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, since Bouterse was convicted before his election as Head of State in 2010, he has no immunity under international law. This was confirmed by various specialists in international law.
In 2011, Wikileaks published a few cables in which the United States embassy confirmed Dési Bouterse’s involvement in the drugs trade through 2006, together with that of top Guyanese criminal Roger Khan. The opposition in the Surinamese parliament demanded that President Bouterse respond to these reports but he said that he would not respond to “rumours from Wikileaks.”
In April 2012, Ruben Rozendaal, former fellow soldier of Dési Bouterse and also a suspect in the December 1982 murders, said that in the 1980s and early 1990s, Bouterse supplied the FARC of Colombia with weapons in exchange for cocaine. A 2006 document from the American embassy (published by Wikileaks) reported a possible connection between Bouterse and the FARC.
Dési Bouterse’s son Dino Bouterse was sentenced in 2005 to eight years imprisonment in a Surinamese court for narcotics trafficking, weapons trafficking, and theft of luxury vehicles. He was released early for good behavior. The government’s counter-terrorism department appointed him to a senior role.
On August 29, 2013, Dino was arrested by the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration in Panama while traveling on a diplomatic passport. He was extradited to the United States and taken to New York City. He was prosecuted and in March 2015, he was sentenced to a 16-year prison term on convictions of drug smuggling and trying to help Hezbollah set up a base in Suriname. In a letter, Dino Bouterse insisted he had no terrorist leanings and was motivated only to make several million dollars. Bouterse was arrested after an elaborate international sting in which he was recorded meeting in Greece and Panama with DEA operatives posing as Hezbollah and Mexican drug traffickers.
President of Suriname
After the return of democratic government, led in succession by Ronald Venetiaan, Jules Wijdenbosch, and Venetiaan again, Bouterse tried repeatedly to return to power through elections. In the 2010 Surinamese legislative election, Bouterse and his coalition, the Mega Combination (Mega Combinatie) became the biggest party in Suriname, gaining 23 of the 51 seats in the parliament. The coalition failed to gain an absolute majority in the parliament by three seats (the half of 50 plus 1 was needed). In order to secure the votes necessary to become President, Bouterse cooperated with the party of his former archenemy, Ronnie Brunswijk, which had 7 seats; and the Peoples Alliance party (Volks Alliantie) of Paul Somohardjo (6 seats), who had left the ruling New Front party before the election.
On July 19, 2010, Dési Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname with 36 of the 51 votes; he was installed to the office on August 12, 2010. His running mate was the current Vice President of Suriname, Robert Ameerali.
The current cabinet consists of the following members:
|Labor, Technological Development & Environment||Michael Miskin|
|Interior Affairs||Edmund Leilis|
|Foreign Affairs||Winston Lackin (NDP)|
|Defense||Lamure Latour (NDP)|
|Finance & Planning||Andy Rusland (NDP)|
|Trade & Industry||Don soejit Tosendjojo (abop)|
|Justice & Police||Edward Belfort (ABOP)|
|Natural Resources||Jim Hok (PALU)|
|Education||Ashwin Adhin (NDP)|
|Public Works & Traffic||Rabin Parmessar (NDP)|
|Regional Development||Stanley Betterson (ABOP)|
|Spatial Planning, Land- & Forest Management||Steven Relyveld (NDP)|
|Social Affairs & Housing||Alice Amafo (ABOP)|
|Sport- & Youth Affairs||Ismanto Adna (KTPI)|
|Transport, Communication & Tourism||Falisie Pinas (ABOP)|
|Public Health||Michel Blokland|
The first minister of Spatial Planning Martinus Sastroredjo (KTPI) had been relieved of his duties at the end of 2010 due to his life partner asking for a piece of land with the help of a ministry official. He was succeeded by Simon Martosatiman, also a member of the political party KTPI. The second minister to leave office due to personal reasons was Miss Wonnie Boedhoe, the first minister of Finance & Planning of this cabinet.
By the end of April 2011, several ministers had been dismissed due to political changes in the cabinet. They included Paul Abena (Sport- & Youth Affairs), Martin Misiedjan (Justice & Police), Celsius Waterberg (Public Health), Linus Diko (Regional Development), and Simon Martosatiman. The ministers Raymond Sapoen, Michael Miskin and Ginmardo Kromosoeto were assigned to new posts. In addition to the newly formed cabinet, two deputy ministers were installed. Mahinder Gopie had served as the secretary of the president and was made the deputy minister of Regional Development. Abigail Lie A Kwie, a loyalist of Pertjajah Luhur chairman Paul Somohardjo, started as the deputy minister of Public Works & Traffic, but was moved in October 2012 to the ministry of Agriculture.
The president’s four top advisors are Jules Wijdenbosch, who handles the country’s administrative and constitutional affairs; Errol Alibux, who advises the president about foreign affairs and international laws; Eddy Jozefzoon, who deals with the country’s social and educational issues; and Andy Rusland, who oversees the nation’s economy. The president appointed Cliffton Limburg as his press secretary and cabinet’s spokesman; he was a propagandist for Dési Bouterse and a talkshow host. Bouterse installed Gilmore Hoefdraad, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) official, as the new governor of the Central Bank of Suriname.
Controversial honouring the coup
After his inauguration as president, Dési Bouterse immediately honoured the nine surviving conspirators, who together with him had conducted the violent 1980 Surinamese coup d’état; he awarded them the Grand Cordon of the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star, the highest honor of Suriname. This action was met with international outrage, as all nine (and Bouterse) were accused of involvement in the December murders of 1982.
After becoming president, Dési Bouterse designated February 25, the anniversary of the coup d’état, as a national holiday. Former president Ronald Venetiaan has said that 25 February should not be a holiday, but a national day of mourning.
In December 2011, President Dési Bouterse granted a pardon to his foster son Romano Meriba, who in 2005 was convicted to 15 years imprisonment for the 2002 murder and robbery of a Chinese trader. Meriba was also convicted for throwing a hand grenade at the house of the Dutch ambassador. Judge Valstein-Montnor ruled that the evidence proved that Meriba tried to commit a robbery at the ambassador’s house similar to that of the trader. After it was prevented by guards from the Dutch embassy, Meriba threw a hand grenade from a car at the ambassador’s residence.
The pardon was controversial, as it is the first time a Surinamese President has pardoned someone convicted of murder and robbery. “People that have committed such heavy offends, should not get a pardon” said former justice minister Chan Santokhi. “Besides, the requirement that a thorough investigation must be conducted and that the decision should be based on the advice by the judge who passed the sentence was ignored.”Bouterse’s staff said that Meriba’s status as the foster son of President Bouterse was not part of the decision, and that there were strong legal arguments for the pardon. According to rumors, after Meriba was released from jail, he was hired by the heavily armed Counter Terror Unit (CTU). Dino Bouterse, son of President Bouterse, was appointed to head this unit.
Dési Bouterse has hired other convicts. His delegation that visited a South American summit had two members besides Bouterse who had criminal drug records: former military Etienne Boerenveen and Hans Jannasch. “Such people now circulate around the state power”, said Ronald Venetiaan, former president of Suriname.
Meriba was arrested again on March 23, 2012 in Paramaribo on charges of assaulting a citizen and police officer the night before in a nightclub. He was not long held in police custody because the complaint was retracted the following day.
After the 2015 Surinamese legislative election, Bouterse’s NDP won 26 seats; he was reelected unopposed on 14 July 2015.
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