U.S. Department of State  
Background Notes: Suriname, April 1997  
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Official Name: Republic of Suriname



Area: 163,265 sq. km. (63,037 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Georgia. 
Cities: Capital--Paramaribo (pop. 180,000). Other towns--Nieuw Nickerie, Moengo.  
Terrain: Varies from coastal swamps to savanna to hills.  Climate: Tropical.


Nationality: Noun--Surinamer(s). Adjective--Surinamese.  
Population (1995 est): 439,000.  Annual growth rate (1995): .75%.  
Ethnic groups: Hindustani (East Indian) 37%, Creole 31%, Javanese 15%, Bush Negro 10%, Amerindians 3%, Chinese 1.7% (percentages date from 1972 census, the last in which ethnicity data was collected). Religions: Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Moravian and several other Christian groups, Jewish, Baha'i.  
Languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranan Tongo (Creole language), Hindustani, Javanese. 
Education: Compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy--95%. 
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995)--30/1,000.  Life expectancy (1995)--69 years.  
Work force (100,000): Government--49%. Private sector--35%. Parastatal companies--16%.


Type: Constitutional democracy.  
Constitution: September 30, 1987.  
Independence: November 25, 1975.  
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, Council of Ministers. 
Legislative--elected 51-member National Assembly made up of representatives of political parties.  Judicial--Court of Justice. 
Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts. 
Political Parties: Governing Coalition -- National Democratic Party (NDP), Grassroots Party (BVD), Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), Party for Brotherhood and Unity in Politics (HPP), Political Wing of the Federation of Agriculture (PVF), Independent Progressive Democratic Alternative (OPDA). Other Parties in the National Assembly -- National Party of Suriname (NPS), Progressive Reform Party (VHP), Pendawalima, Democratic Alternative '91 (DA 91), Democratic Party (DP).  
Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP (1996 projected): $646 million.  
Annual growth rate (1996): 4.0%.  
Per capita GDP (1996 est.): $1,471.  
Natural resources: Bauxite, gold, iron ore, other minerals; forests; hydroelectric potential; fish and shrimp. Agriculture: Products--rice, palm oil, bananas, timber, and citrus fruits.  
Industry: Types--aluminum, alumina, processed food, lumber, bricks, tiles, cigarettes, and glass. 
Trade Exports(1996 est.)--$453.3 million: bauxite, alumina, aluminum, wood and wood products, rice, bananas, and shrimp. 
Major markets--U.S. (approx. 25%), Netherlands, European Union (EU), and other European countries.  Imports(1996 est.)-- $483 million: capital equipment, petroleum, iron and steel products, agricultural products, and consumer goods.
Major suppliers--U.S. (approx. 50%), Netherlands, EU, Brazil, and Caribbean (CARICOM) countries.  Exchange rate: 400 guilders=U.S. $1.


Most Surinamers live in the narrow, northern coastal plain. The population is one of the most ethnically varied in the world. Each ethnic group preserves its own culture, and many institutions, including political parties, tend to follow ethnic lines. Informal relationships vary--the upper classes of all ethnic backgrounds mix freely; outside of the elite, social relations tend to remain within ethnic groupings. All groups may be found in the schools and workplace.


Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus sighted the coast in 1498. Spain officially claimed the area in 1593 but Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the time gave the area little attention. Dutch settlement began in 1616 at the mouths of several rivers between present-day Georgetown, Guyana, and Cayenne, French Guiana.

Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. The new colony--Dutch Guiana-- did not thrive. Historians cite several reasons for this, including Holland's preoccupation with its more extensive (and profitable) East Indian territories, violent conflict between whites and native tribes, and frequent uprisings by the imported slave population, which was often treated with extraordinary cruelty. Barely, if at all, assimilated into European society, many of the slaves fled to the interior, where they maintained a West African culture and established the five major Bush Negro tribes in existence today: the Djuka, Saramaccaner, Matuwari, Paramaccaner, and Quinti.

Plantations steadily declined in importance as labor costs rose. Rice, bananas and citrus fruits replaced the traditional crops of sugar, coffee and cocoa. Exports of gold rose beginning in 1900. The Dutch Government gave little financial support to the colony.

Suriname's economy was transformed in the years following World War I when an American firm (ALCOA) began exploiting bauxite deposits in East Suriname. Bauxite processing and then alumina production began in 1941. During World War II over 75% of U.S. bauxite imports came from Suriname. 

In 1951, Suriname began to acquire a growing measure of autonomy from the Netherlands. Suriname became an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands On December 15, 1954, and gained independence on November 25, 1975.

Most of Suriname's political parties took shape during the autonomy period and were overwhelmingly based on ethnicity. For example, the National Party of Suriname found its support among the Creoles, the Progressive Reform Party members came from the Hindustani population, and the Indonesian Peasant's Party was Javanese. Other smaller parties found support by appealing to voters on an ideological or pro-independence platform; the Partij Nationalistische Republiek (PNR) was among the most important. Its members pressed most strongly for independence and for the introduction of leftist political and economic measures. Many former PNR members would go on to play a key role following the coup of February 1980. 

Independence, Revolution, and Democracy 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 February 25, 1980, the elected government was overthrown by 16 noncommissioned officers. The military-dominated government then suspended the constitution, dissolved the legislature and formed a regime which 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. Early in December 1982, military 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 cooperation with the Bouterse regime, which increasingly began to follow an erratic but generally leftist-oriented political course. Economic decline rapidly set in after the suspension of economic aid from the Netherlands. The regime also restricted the press and limited the rights of its citizens. 

Continuing economic decline brought pressure for change. During the 1984-87 period, the Bouterse regime tried to end the crisis by appointing a succession of nominally civilian-led cabinets. Many figures in the government came from the traditional political parties which had been shoved aside during the coup. The military eventually agreed to free elections in 1987, a new constitution, and a civilian government.

Another pressure for change had erupted in July 1986, when the Maroon or Bush Negro insurgency, led by former soldier Ronnie Brunswijk, began attacking economic targets in the country's interior. In response, the army ravaged villages and killed suspected Brunswijk supporters. Thousands of Bush Negroes fled to nearby French Guiana. In an effort to end the bloodshed, the Surinamese Government negotiated a peace treaty, called the Kourou Accord, with Brunswijk in 1989. Bouterse and other military leaders blocked the accord's implementation.

 On December 24, 1990, military officers forced the resignations of the civilian President and Vice President elected in 1987. Military-selected replacements were hastily approved by the National Assembly on December 29. Faced with mounting pressure from the U.S., other nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international organizations, the government held new elections on May 25, 1991. The New Front Coalition, comprised of the Creole National Party of Suriname (NPS), the Hindustani Progressive Reform Party (VHP), the Javanese Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), and the Surinamese Labor Party (SPA) were able to win a majority in the National Assembly. On September 6, 1991, NPS candidate Ronald Venetiaan was elected President and the VHP's Jules Ajodhia became Vice President of the New Front Coalition government.

The Venetiaan Government was able to effect a settlement to Suriname's domestic insurgency through the August 1992 Peace Accord with Bush Negro and Amerindian insurgents. In April 1993 Desi Bouterse left his position as Commander of the Armed Forces and was replaced by Arthy Gorre, a military officer committed to bringing the armed forces under civilian government control. Economic reforms institituted by the Venetiaan government eventually helped curb inflation, unify the official and unofficial exchange rates and improve the government's economic situation by re-establishing relations with the Dutch, thereby opening the way for a major influx of Dutch financial assistance. Despite these successes, the governing coalition lost support and failed to retain control of the government in the subsequent round of national elections. The rival National Democratic Party (NDP), founded in the early 1990's by Desi Bouterse, benefited from the New Front government's loss of popularity. 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. 


The Republic of Suriname is a constitutional democracy based on the 1987 constitution. The legislative branch of government consists of a 51-member unicameral National Assembly, simultaneously and popularly elected for a five-year term. The last election was held in May 1996.

The executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly or, failing that, by a majority of the People's Assembly, for a five-year term. If at least two-thirds of the National Assembly cannot agree to vote for one presidential candidate, a People's Assembly is formed from all National Assembly delegates, regional and municipal representatives who were elected by popular vote in the most recent national election. A vice president, normally elected at the same time as the president, needs a simple majority in the National Assembly or People's Assembly to be elected for a five-year term. As head of government, the president appoints a 16-minister cabinet. There is no constitutional provision for removal or replacement of the president unless he resigns. 

A 14-member State Advisory Council advises the president in the conduct of policy. Eleven of the 14 council seats are allotted by proportional representation of all political parties represented in the National Assembly. The vice president chairs the council and three representatives of workers and employers organizations hold the rest of the seats. 

The judiciary is headed by the Court of Justice (Supreme Court). This court supervises the magistrate courts. Members are appointed for life by the president in consultation with the National Assembly, the State Advisory Council and the National Order of Private Attorneys.

The country is divided into 10 administrative districts, each headed by a district commissioner appointed by the president. The commissioner is similar to the governor of a U.S. state but serves at the president's pleasure. 

National Security Surinamese armed forces consist of the national army under the control of the Minister of Defense and a smaller civil police force which is responsible to the Minister of Justice and Police. The national armed forces comprise some 2,500 personnel, the majority of whom are deployed as light infantry security forces. A small air force and navy/coast guard also exist. The Netherlands has provided limited military assistance to the Surinamese armed forces since the election of a democratic government in 1991. In recent years the U.S. has provided training to military officers and policy-makers to promote better understanding of the role of the military in a civilian government. 

Principal Government Officials President--Jules Wijdenbosch  Vice President--Pretaapnarian Radhakishun  Foreign Minister--Mohamed Afzal Faried Pierkhan  Ambassador to U.S. and OAS--vacant  Ambassador to UN--vacant

Suriname maintains an embassy in the United States at 4301 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 108, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-244-7488; fax 202-244-5878). There is also a Suriname Consulate General at 7235 NW 19th St., Suite A, Miami, Fl 33136 (tel. 305-593-2163). 


The backbone of Suriname's economy is the export of alumina and small amounts of aluminum produced from bauxite mined in the country. Alumina and aluminum exports accounted for 77% of Suriname's estimated $453.3 million export earnings in 1996. Suriname's bauxite deposits have been among the world's richest. The pre-eminence of bauxite and ALCOA's continued presence in Suriname is a key element in the U.S.-Suriname economic relationship.

Mining sites at Moengo and Paranam are estimated to have 10 to 15 years of bauxite reserves remaining. Other bauxite reserves have been located but are currently unexploited. All bauxite mined in Suriname is brought via navigable rivers and the Atlantic to the Suriname Aluminum Company (SURALCO) alumina refinery and aluminum smelter in Paranam. In 1984, SURALCO, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), formed a joint venture with the Royal Dutch Shell-owned Billiton Company, which did not process the bauxite it mined in Suriname. Under this agreement, both companies share risks and profits.

Inexpensive power costs are Suriname's big advantage in the energy-intensive alumina and aluminum business. In the 1960's, ALCOA built a $150-million dam for the production of hydroelectric energy at Afobaka (south of Brokopondo), which created a 1,550-square kilometer (600 sq. mi.) lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.

Suriname also exports rice, shrimp, timber, bananas, fruits and vegetables. It formerly exported palm oil. All of these exports declined in 1989, due to lack of competitiveness of Suriname's products and insurgencies in the interior which effectively closed access to timber and most palm oil plantations. Deteriorating infrastructure and lack of spare parts have also constrained economic and export growth. Suriname's manufacturers of processed foods and consumer goods have experienced increased competition from Caribbean imports since Suriname joined CARICOM in early 1996.

At independence, Suriname signed an agreement with the Netherlands providing for about $1.5 billion in development assistance grants and loans over a 10- to 15-year period. Dutch assistance allocated to Suriname thus amounted to about $100 million per year but was discontinued during periods of military rule. After the return to democratically elected government in 1991, Dutch aid resumed. The Dutch relationship continues to be an important factor in the economy, with the Dutch insisting that Suriname undertake economic reforms and produce specific plans acceptable to the Dutch for projects on which aid funds could be spent. Suriname's present government is attempting to broaden its economic base, establish better contacts with other nations and international financial institutions and reduce its dependence on Dutch assistance.

Suriname has embarked on development projects in the areas of petroleum production expansion and a mini-refinery project for Staatsolie, the state-owned oil company. In addition, Suriname has attracted investments by international companies in gold exploration and exploitation as well as interest in extensive development of a tropical hardwoods industry and possible diamond mining. Proposals for exploitation of the country's tropical forests and undeveloped regions of the interior traditionally inhabited by indigenous and Maroon communities have raised the concerns of environmentalists and human rights activists both in Suriname and abroad, however.

In the 1980's, as Suriname's economic situation deteriorated due to the cutoff of Dutch development aid, the government instituted a regime of stringent economic controls over prices, the exchange rate, imports and exports. The policy resulted in a reduction of activity in the officially controlled market. Meanwhile, the tolerated black market grew, at one point accounting for an estimated 85% of all imports. Economic reforms made major strides in 1993-1995 to reduce such controls and wean Surinamese business from reliance on the black market.

Vestiges of the economic policies of the 1980's remain in the form of price controls, subsidies and the existence of numerous parastatal companies throughout the economy. About half of the work force is still directly or indirectly on the government payroll.


Since gaining independence, Suriname has become a member of the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Non-Aligned Movement. Suriname is a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS); it is associated with the European Union through the Lome Convention. Suriname participates in the Amazonian Pact, a grouping of the countries of the Amazon Basin which focuses on protection of the Amazon region's natural resources from environmental degradation. Reflecting its status as a major bauxite producer, Suriname is also a member of the International Bauxite Association. The country also belongs to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank (IBRD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bilateral agreements with several countries of the region, covering diverse areas of cooperation, have underscored the government's interest in strengthening regional ties. The return to Suriname from French Guiana of about 8,000 refugees of the 1986-91 civil war between the military and domestic insurgents has improved relations with French authorities. Long-standing border disputes with Guyana and French Guiana remain unresolved but have not negatively affected relations with either country. An earlier dispute with Brazil ended amicably after formal demarcation of the border.


Since the re-establishment of a democratic, elected government in 1991, the United States has maintained positive and mutually beneficial relations with Suriname based on the principles of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law, and civilian authority over the military. To strengthen civil society and bolster democratic institutions, the U.S. has provided training regarding appropriate roles for the military in civil society to some of Suriname's military officers and decision makers. Narcotics trafficking organizations appear to be channeling increasing quantities of cocaine through Suriname for repackaging and transport to Europe and the United States. To assist Suriname in the fight against drugs and associated criminal activity, the U.S. has helped train Surinamese anti-drug squad personnel. The U.S. Peace Corps in Suriname works with the Ministry of Regional Development and rural communities to encourage community development in Suriname's interior.

Suriname is densely forested and has thus far suffered little from deforestation, but increased interest in large-scale commercial logging and mining in Suriname's interior have raised environmental concerns. The U.S. Forest Service, the Smithsonian and numerous non-governmental environmental organizations have promoted technical cooperation with Suriname's government to prevent destruction of the country's tropical rain forest, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. U.S. experts have worked closely with local natural resource officials to encourage sustainable development of the interior and alternatives such as eco-tourism. Suriname's tourism sector remains a minor part of the economy and tourist infrastructure is limited; approximately 20,000 foreign tourists visit Suriname annually. 

Suriname's efforts in recent years to liberalize economic policy created new possibilities for U.S. exports and investments. The U.S. remains one of Suriname's principal trading partners, largely due to ALCOA's long-standing investment in Suriname's bauxite mining and processing industry. Of an estimated $100-145 million Surinamese exports to the U.S. in 1996, over half were bauxite-related. Over half of world exports to Suriname originate in the United States. Several U.S. corporations are active in Suriname, largely in the mining, consumer goods and service sectors. Principal U.S. exports to Suriname include chemicals, aircraft, vehicles, machine parts, meat and wheat. The United States has supplied P.L. 480 agricultural commodity purchase support for U.S. wheat and oil imports to assist Suriname through hardships caused by economic reform. U.S. consumer products are increasingly available through Suriname's many trading companies. Opportunities for U.S. exporters, service companies and engineering firms will probably expand over the next decade. Suriname is looking to U.S. and other foreign investors to assist in the commercial development of its vast natural resources and to help finance infrastructure improvements. Enactment of a new investment code and intellectual property rights protection legislation which would strengthen Suriname's attractiveness to investors has been discussed but no noticeable progress has been made in recent years.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 
Ambassador--Dennis K. Hays  
Acting Chief of Mission--Kathleen Cayer  
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Jeffrey Jore,  
U.S. Army Political/Economic Officer--Michael Oreste  
Consular Officer--Valerie Lynn  
Peace Corps Country Director--Gary Thompson 

The U.S. embassy in Paramaribo is located at Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat 129, P.O. Box 1821, Paramaribo, Suriname (tel. 472900, 476459; FAX 597- 410025). 

Other Contact Information: 
U.S. Department of Commerce  
International Trade Administration  
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean  
14th and Constitution, N.W. 
 Washington, D.C. 20230 
Tel: 202-482-1658  202-USA-TRADE  
Fax: 202-482-0464

Caribbean/Latin American Action  
1818 N Street, N.W. Suite 310 
 Washington, D.C. 20036  
Tel: 202-466-7464  Fax: 202-822-0075


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