HomeNewsAnalysisThe Comeback of Suriname’s ‘Narco-President’
ANALYSIS

The Comeback of Suriname's 'Narco-President'

BRAZIL / 4 MAY 2011 BY HANNAH STONE EN

The president of the tiny Caribbean nation Suriname has been charged with murder, convicted of drug trafficking, and accused of leading an international drug cartel. So why is he in power?

A recent New York Times report looks at the checkered history of President Desi Bouterse, who regained power in August 2010. He previously ruled for seven years as head of a repressive police state, after taking power in a coup in 1980.

As well as murdering opponents, Bouterse is accused of masterminding the growth of drug trafficking through Suriname in the 1990s.

According to reports, he worked with Brazilian traffickers who would pick up weapons in Suriname and smuggle them into Colombia. In a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), the Brazilians would swap weapons for cocaine, some of which was then trafficked onwards to Europe from Suriname.

One report says that a witness claimed the weapons were stolen from the Surinamian army. Others say arms were smuggled from Florida by the Russian mafia.

Bouterse's alleged role in this, as a still-influential figure in Suriname's politics even after his first period in power ended, was to allow the Brazilians to land in the country. In exchange he received a share of the cocaine to sell on.

Together the Brazilians and Bouterse were known as the "Suri Cartel." Many of the key players in this operation were arrested, including its founder, Brazilian Leonardo Dias Mendonca, who was captured in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation in 1999.

However, the Caribbean country has remained a key transshipment country for drugs destined for Europe, says the U.S. State Department’s 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The report notes that in 2010 the Caribbean country seized more than 340 kilos of cocaine, and almost 33 liters of liquid cocaine.

Suriname may also still be of strategic important for the FARC. Documents seized from computer disks in a FARC camp in 2010 detailed operations to send and receive goods to and from Suriname.

Bouterse may have been involved in the drug trade as recently as 2006, according to unreleased U.S. diplomatic cables seen by the Dutch media.

Peculiarities of country's legal system played a role in Bouterse's comeback -- a Dutch court found in 1999 that Bouterse had masterminded the shipment of two tons of cocaine to Europe, but the former leader avoided his 11 year jail term because Suriname has a law against extraditing citizens. The presidential immunity he gained last year puts him in an even safer position.

Another factor was the absence of credible political alternatives. Ronnie Brunswijk, his main rival and now coalition partner, has also been convicted of cocaine trafficking by a Dutch court.

But the real question here is how a convicted narcotics smuggler could win a nation's presidency. Not untypical for the Caribbean, the answer seems to be money -- in a poor state with a weak democracy, his fortune has made Bouterse one of the richest men in the country. His power and influence, as well as the name recognition that is crucial in South America's dynasty-dominated elections, allowed him to form a coalition and gain enough votes in parliament to claw his way back to power.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 10 APR 2018

The bold arrest of one of the FARC’s top leaders on drug charges has shaken Colombia’s peace process, uncovered ties…

COLOMBIA / 24 FEB 2017

Authorities in Colombia have seized close to $100 million in assets allegedly belonging to FARC dissidents, as the state begins…

COLOMBIA / 7 NOV 2012

The arrival of Dutch FARC fighter Tanja Nijmeijer in Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government appears…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Collaborating on Citizen Security Initiatives

8 JUN 2021

Co-director Steven Dudley worked with Chemonics, a DC-based development firm, to analyze the organization’s citizen security programs in Mexico.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Deepens Its Connections with Universities

31 MAY 2021

A partnership with the University for Peace will complement InSight Crime’s research methodology and expertise on Costa Rica.

THE ORGANIZATION

With Support from USAID, InSight Crime Will Investigate Organized Crime in Haiti

31 MAY 2021

The project will seek to map out Haiti's principal criminal economies, profile the specific groups and actors, and detail their links to elements of the state.

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.