Latin America & Caribbean

Suriname country profile

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. 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 labourers brought over by the Dutch to work in agriculture. Most political parties are ethnically based.

Gold, oil and agriculture are key economic sectors. Bauxite mining has gone into decline. Efforts have been made to diversify the economy.

FACTS

Republic of Suriname

Capital: Paramaribo

  • Population 534,000

  • Area 163,265 sq km (63,037 sq miles)

  • Major languages Dutch (official), English, Sranang Tongo, Hindi, Javanese

  • Major religions Hinduism, Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 68 years (men), 74 years (women)

  • Currency Suriname dollar

LEADERS

President: Desi Bouterse

Image copyright Getty Images

Former military leader Desi Bouterse was elected to his second term as president in July 2015 after his National Democratic Party (NDP) won a slim majority in parliament.

He was elected to his first five-year term in 2010 after the Mega Combination alliance, which included the NDP, won the legislative election in May that year.

He had ruled the former Dutch colony twice before as a result of military coups, from 1980 to 1987 and again in 1990.

In 1999, a Dutch court tried him in absentia and sentenced him to 11 years in prison for smuggling 400kg of cocaine.

In April 2012, Suriname's parliament passed a controversial amnesty law granting him immunity for alleged violations committed under his earlier military rule and for which he was due to face trial.

MEDIA

State-run broadcasters operate alongside private radio and TV stations.

By the end of 2015, about 41% of the population was online.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Suriname's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption People from various parts of the world were brought in to work the land

1593 - Spanish explorers visit the area and name it Suriname, after the country's earliest inhabitants, the Surinen.

1600-1650 - Settlements attempted by Spanish, Dutch, British and French during the first half of the 17th century. They all fail, in part because of resistance by the native inhabitants.

1651 - First permanent European settlement in Suriname, established by the British at Paramaribo.

1667 - Suriname is seized by the Dutch who remain in control until independence 1975.

1916 - Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) begins mining bauxite - the principal ore of aluminium - which gradually becomes Suriname's main export.

1975 - Independence. More than a third of the population emigrates to the Netherlands.

1980 - First of several coups.

1986 - Surinamese Liberation Army (SLA), composed mostly of descendants of escaped African slaves, begins guerrilla war with the aim of restoring constitutional order. A peace accord is achieved in 1992.

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

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