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People take to the streets to confront the government
Latinamerica Press
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Thousands of people turned out in Paramaribo to protest against the rising cost of living.

The Surinamese government, at the request of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), put in place an economic reform programme aimed at reducing its public spending deficit. The program materialized in October of last year with the phase out of subsidies to electricity companies, something that led to the automatic increase in electricity tariffs, which in turn triggered mass protests in May and June. The subsidy policy, approved in 1972, applied to the cost of electricity for end consumers.

Opposition parties, trade unions, and the private sector had publicly opposed the measure taken by the government. Although the increase of 60 percent in electricity bills for the first 6 months and the two subsequent increases of 20 percent in phases of three months was the straw that broke the camel’s back, protesters in the streets also complained that after the 25 percent devaluation of the Surinamese dollar in November 2015 and a second devaluation of about 27 percent in March, life had become much more expensive.

Following the decision of the government to reduce subsidies, the IMF approved a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) for US$478 million in late May to support the economic reform program of the country designed to improve Suriname’s resilience to withstand substantial economic shocks. Indeed, the hostile global economic context, added to the closure of the Suralco alumina refinery, had plunged the country into an economic recession.

The economy of this former Dutch colony of 550,000 inhabitants is based on the extraction of bauxite, gold and oil, and aluminum production, which together constitute 85 percent of exports. This makes the economy of this country, the smallest in South America, extremely vulnerable to changes in international mineral prices.

“Numerous public servants, pensioners, disabled persons and others who have become victims of the ongoing financial and economic crisis are in serious financial problems and should be immediately compensated for the inflation,” protesters said in a petition presented to the Parliament where they claim that inflation has increased by 46 percent, while at the same time the national currency loses its value on a daily basis due to the “incompetent monetary policy by the government.”

 Controversy surrounding Bouterse

Last August, President Dési Bouterse was sworn in for a second consecutive term of five years. Bouterse, a 70 year old former sergeant, led a coup in 1980 known as “the coup of the sergeants” which overthrew President Johan Ferrier (1975-1980), the first president of Suriname after its independence from the Netherlands. Ferrier was replaced by Henrick Rudolf Chin A Sen (1980-82), who ruled until 1982 when he was ousted by a military council controlled by Bouterse. He was succeeded by L. F. Ramdat Misier, who led the country between 1982 and 1988, but it was Bouterse who maintained control during that period considered a dictatorship.

It was not until 2010 that Bouterse was elected democratically. The president has a pending trial in his country for the murder of 15 political opponents in 1982. In December, the High Court of Suriname reopened the trial for this case despite the existence of an amnesty law passed in 2012 that stopped all legal proceedings against Bouterse.

The president has also been accused of masterminding the slaughter of Moiwana, which occurred on Nov. 29, 1986, where 35 innocent civilians were killed, mostly women and children. Bouterse was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands in 1999 on charges of drug trafficking, but was not extradited as he enjoys immunity as head of state in his country. However, there is an international arrest warrant held against him that prevents him from leaving Surinamese territory under risk of being arrested. In addition, his son, Dino Bouterse, was convicted in 2013 in the United States and sentenced to 16 years in prison for various crimes including drug and weapons trafficking.

Despite these accusations, Bouterse has maintained high popularity in his country, which allowed him to win the elections of 2015. In his last mandate he implemented a series of social welfare programs, free university education and social infrastructure projects that gave him significant support, particularly among the younger population.

Despite the protests, and thanks to the absolute majority he has in Parliament, Bouterse has been able to carry out the economic reforms promoted by the IMF. —Latinamerica Press.


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