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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Facts

Area: 163,265 sq km (63,037 sq miles)
Population: 491 989 (2011 est)
Capital City: Paramaribo (population: 180,000)
People: Surinamese. Ethnic groups include: Hindustani (East Indian) 27%, Mixed 19%, Creole 18%, Javanese 15%, Bush Negro (Maroons) 14.5%, Amerindians 3%, Chinese 2%, European 1%
Languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranan Tongo (Creole Language), Hindustani, and Javanese
Religions: Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Moravian, Jewish, Baha'i
Currency: Currency: Suriname Guilder was replaced by the Surinamese dollar (SRD) in January 2004. Approximately 4.08 SRD to one UK pound (May 2010)
Major Political Parties: National Party of Suriname (NPS), Progressive Reform Party (VHP), Pertjaja Luhur, Suriname Workers Party (SPA), National Democratic Party (NDP)
Government: Constitutional Democracy
Head of State: His Excellency the President Desire Delano BOUTERSE
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Winston LACKIN

Environment

The current environmental challenges facing Suriname include forest governance and sustainable forestry. Suriname also has substantial mining activity in the interior, including small scale mining, which can cause river pollution. The Government is currently working on a new land use management plan.

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ECONOMY

GDP (official exchange rate): US$ 3.682 Billion (2010 est)
GDP per head (purchasing power parity): US$ 9,700 (2010 est )
Annual Growth: 4.4% (2010 est)Inflation: -0.5% (2009 est EIU)
Major Industries: bauxite and gold mining, alumina production, logging, food processing, fishing.
Major Export Partners (2009 est): Norway 4.9%, Belgium 14.9% US 10%, Canada 35.4%
Major Import Partners (2009 est): US 30.9%, Netherlands 19.1% Trinidad & Tobago 13.4% China 6.8%,

The new Government has been faced with a large budget deficit, in part caused by an earlier public sector pay deal, and introduced a series of measures in early 2011, including a devaluation of the Surinamese dollar and significant purchase tax rises on a range of products including petrol.

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HISTORY

Pre-1500

Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus sighted the coast in 1498.

1500-1815

Spain claimed the area in 1593, but Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the time gave the area little attention. The English established the first European settlement in 1651 and control passed between the English, French and Dutch until it finally became a Dutch colony in 1815.

1815-1990

An autonomous part of the Netherlands from 1954, Suriname became fully independent in 1975. Suriname was a working parliamentary democracy in the years immediately following independence. Henk Arron became the first Prime Minister and was re-elected in 1977. On 25 February 1980, 16 non-commissioned officers overthrew the elected government. The military-dominated government then suspended the constitution, dissolved the legislature, and formed a regime that ruled by decree. Although a civilian filled the post of president, a military man, Desi Bouterse, actually ruled the country. Throughout 1982, pressure grew for a return to civilian rule. In response, the military ordered drastic action, the authorities arrested and killed 15 prominent opposition leaders, including journalists, lawyers, and trade union leaders. Following the murders, the United States and the Netherlands suspended economic and military co-operation with the Bouterse regime, which increasingly began to follow an erratic but generally leftist political course. Economic decline rapidly set in after the suspension of economic aid from the Netherlands. The regime restricted the press and limited the rights of its citizens. Continuing economic decline brought pressure for change. The military eventually agreed to free elections in 1987, a new constitution and a civilian government.

1990-to date

On 24 December 1990, military officers forced the resignations of the civilian President and Vice President elected in 1987. The National Assembly hastily approved military-selected replacements on 29 December. The government held new elections on 25 May 1991. NPS candidate Runaldo Venetiaan was elected President, and the VHP's Jules Ajodhia became Vice President of the New Front Coalition government. The NDP won more National Assembly seats (16 of 51) than any other party in the May 1996 national elections and in September 1996, joined with the KTPI, dissenters from the VHP, and several smaller parties to elect NDP vice-chairman Jules Wijdenbosch president of a NDP-led coalition government. Divisions and subsequent reshuffling of coalition members in the fall of 1997 and early 1998 weakened the coalition's mandate and slowed legislative action.

In May 1999, after mass demonstrations protesting poor economic conditions, the government was forced to call early elections. The elections in May 2000 returned Runaldo Venetiaan and his coalition to the presidency. The NF ran its campaign on a platform to fix the faltering Surinamese economy. But while the Venetiaan administration made progress in stabilising the economy, the government's popularity began to decline as the standard of living for most Surinamese showed little sign of improvement. The opposition NDP, led by Desi Bouterse gained ground. At the 2005 elections the New Front coalition held on to power although its share of the vote fell and it failed to gain an overall majority. The NDP, however, became the largest single party in parliament.

BBC News Country Timeline: Surinam (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1218000/1218515.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with the International Community

Suriname’s long-standing maritime border dispute with Guyana was settled in September 2007 when the UN Tribunal on the Law of the Sea awarded two-thirds of the disputed area to Guyana. Suriname still claims territory in the extreme south-east of Guyana (the New River Triangle). French Guiana disputes the area between Riviere Litani and Riviere Marouini (both headwaters of the Lawa). Suriname is a trans-shipment point for illicit South American drugs destined for Europe and Brazil.

President Bouterse’s Government has signalled a change in the country’s traditional close relationship with the Netherlands (where Bouterse was sentenced in absentia for drug smuggling). Relations with France are being given greater prominence, as are relations with China, Brazil and Venezuela.

Relations with the UK

UK/Suriname relations are friendly but not substantial. Our High Commissioner at Georgetown also holds the position of Ambassador to Suriname.

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GEOGRAPHY

Suriname is located in northern South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between French Guiana and Guyana.

The terrain varies from a narrow coastal plain with swamps to savannah to rolling hills and includes large areas of tropical rainforest. There is a great diversity of flora and fauna.

The climate is tropical and moderated by trade winds.

Much of the coastal belt in low-lying and prone to flooding.

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POLITICS

Elections

Peaceful and free and fair elections took place on 25 May 2010. The Mega Combinatie coalition was the largest single party in the National Assembly with 23 seats of the 51 seats, short of an absolute majority. After drawn out negotiations the Mega Combinatie formed a coalition with the A Combinatie (mostly supported by Maroons) and the People’s Alliance (mostly Javanese). Desi Bouterse was elected president by the National Assembly, in line with the constitution. He was sworn in on 12 August 2010.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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