Latin America & Caribbean

Suriname profile - Overview

Map of Suriname

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is one of South America's smallest countries. It enjoys a relatively high standard of living but also faces serious political and economic challenges.

Since independence from the Netherlands in 1975 Suriname has endured coups and a civil war. Former military strongman Desi Bouterse dominated politics for much of the post-independence era.

Suriname is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Americas. Most of its people are descended from African slaves and Indian and Javanese indentured servants brought over by the Dutch to work as agricultural labourers.

However, there is little assimilation between the different ethnic groups, which confine their contacts to the economic sphere. Similarly, most political parties are ethnically based. This acts as an obstacle to consensus-building.

Suriname has potential for tourism, boasting rainforests, abundant wildlife and colonial architecture in the capital. But the sector is undeveloped, hampered by the inaccessibility of the interior and the lack of infrastructure.

As a result, the country depends heavily on mining and processing its declining reserves of bauxite and is vulnerable to falls in commodity prices.

Suriname and neighbouring Guyana have been engaged in a long-running territorial dispute over a potentially oil-rich offshore area.

A UN tribunal settled the issue in 2007, redrawing the maritime border and giving both countries access to the basin. The ruling is expected to bring a surge of exploration by major oil companies.

The issue had flared up in 2000 when Surinamese patrol boats evicted a Canadian-owned rig from a concession awarded by Guyana.

Image caption Suriname includes a variety of ethnic groups, including Amerindians, some of whom still live in traditional villages

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