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Desiré Delano "Dési" Bouterse (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈbɑutərsə]) (Domburg (Wanica), 13 October 1945) is the ninth President of Suriname. From 1980 till 1987 he was dictator of Suriname when the country was under military rule.
Bouterse is the chairman of the Surinamese political combination Megacombinatie (Megacombination) and the leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), which is part of the Megacombination. On 19 July 2010, Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname with 36 of 50 parliament votes and on 12 August 2010 he was inaugurated.
Bouterse is probably Suriname's most controversial figure. He is held responsible for the numerous human rights violations committed under his dictatorship such as the December murders (he is still the main suspect in this trial) and the Moiwana massacre.
In 2000, he was sentenced in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment because he was found guilty of trafficking 474 kilos of cocaine. Bouterse always denied being guilty and defended his conviction by claiming that the star witness in the case, Patrick van Loon, was bribed by the Dutch government. According to Wikileaks cables released in 2011, Bouterse was active in the drug trade till 2006. Europol has issued an arrest warrant for him, but since he is president he enjoys immunity.
Bouterse's father, whose mother was Amerindian, was a prominent member of the National Party of Suriname and a confidant of Johan Adolf Pengel. Bouterse's mother was of Creole and Chinese descent. As a young boy he moved from Domburg to Paramaribo, where he was raised by an aunt. He attended the St Jozef boarding school and later the Middelbare Handelsschool (roughly equivalent to junior secondary general education), which he didn't finish. In 1968, he moved to the Netherlands where he was conscripted in the armed forces of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Krijgsmacht). After completing his military service he signed up to train for non-commissioned officer at the Koninklijke Militaire School in Weert. In this period Bouterse distinguished himself as sportsman and he was chosen as head of the basketball and football team.
In 1970, Bouterse married Ingrid Figueira whom he already knew as a teenager in Suriname. In this marriage two children were born: Peggy and Dino. Shortly after the marriage, Bouterse moved to the Dutch military base in Seedorf, Germany.
On 11 November 1975, Bouterse returned to Suriname because he wanted to help build up the Surinamese army (Bouterse returned to Suriname exactly two weeks before the country received its independence from the Netherlands). In 1979, Bouterse accepted a request by Roy Horb to become chairman of a new Surinamese military union (union BoMiKa; Bond voor Militair Kader).
On 25 February 1980, Bouterse, Horb and fourteen other sergeants overthrew the Henck Arron government with a violent coup d'état, which is now known as Sergeants Coup. This marked the beginning of the military dictatorship that reigned in Suriname from 1980 to 1991. The sergeants who accomplished this coup were known as the Groep van zestien (group of sixteen). Bouterse was the leader of the Groep van zestien and after the coup Bouterse became chairman of the National Military Council of Suriname, which replaced the democratic government.
On the day of the coup, Bouterse's soldiers shot and burned down the Central Police Station of Suriname. The remains of this building now form the monument of the Revolution where every year on 25 February the coup is commemorated.
The military dictatorship featured the presence of an evening curfew, the lack of freedom of press (only one newspaper, de Ware Tijd, was allowed to continue publishing, but they were subject to heavy censorship), a ban on political parties (since 1985), a restriction on the freedom of assembly, a high level of government corruption and the summary executions of political opponents. After the December murders (1982), Bouterse also closed the University of Suriname.
From the beginning of the dictatorship until 1988, the titular presidents were essentially army-installed by Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto leader of Suriname.
In July 1999, Bouterse was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands to 11 years in prison for trafficking 474 kilograms of cocaine. Bouterse always denied being guilty and reacted to the verdict by stating that the star witness in his case, Patrick van Loon, was bribed by the Dutch government. Bouterse is also believed to be the leader of the so-called Suri kartel which is held responsible for the trafficking and smuggling of large amounts of cocaine from Suriname and Brazil into Europe (especially into the Netherlands) in the 80s and 90s. Since 1999 there is an international warrant for his arrest ordered by Europol. According to the United Nations Convention against illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, since Bouterse was convicted before his election as Head of State in 2010 he has no immunity. This was confirmed by various specialists in International law.
In 2011, Wikileaks published a few cables in which the American embassy confirmed Bouterse's involvement, together with that of top Guyanese criminal Roger Khan, in the drugs trade. The opposition in the Surinamese parliament demanded that President Bouterse gave an explanation for the reports in the cables, but President Bouterse said that he will not respond to "rumours from Wikileaks".
In April 2012, former fellow soldier of Bouterse and also suspect in the December murders Ruben Rozendaal said that in the 80s and early 90s Bouterse supplied the FARC of Colombia with weapons in exchange for cocaine. In a document from 2006 from the American embassy (published by Wikileaks) there are reports of a possible connection in the past of Bouterse and the FARC.
Bouterse's son, Dino Bouterse, was sentenced in 2005 to eight years imprisonment for international drug and arms trafficking.
On 7 and 8 December 1982, 15 young prominent Surinamese men who criticized Bouterse's military dictatorship were snatched from their beds and brought to Fort Zeelandia (then headquarters of dictator Bouterse) where they were tortured and shot dead. These killings are known as the December murders.
The 15 victims are:
- John Baboeram, lawyer
- Bram Behr, journalist
- Cyrill Daal, union leader
- Kenneth Gonçalves, lawyer
- Eddy Hoost, lawyer
- André Kamperveen, journalist
- Gerard Leckie, university teacher
- Sugrim Oemrawsingh, university teacher
- Lesley Rahman, journalist
- Surendre Rambocus, military
- Harold Riedewald, lawyer
- Jiwansingh Sheombar, military
- Jozef Slagveer, journalist
- Robby Sohansingh, businessman
- Frank Wijngaarde, journalist (with Dutch citizenship)
On December 10, Bouterse stated on STVS television channel that 15 arrested "suspects who were plotting to overthrow the government later in December were shot dead while trying to flee Fort Zeelandia". Years later Bouterse said that he was not present at the moment of the killings. And in 2000 he said that the decision for these killings was made by the commander of the battalion, Paul Bhagwandas, who died in 1996. Bouterse did, however, accept political responsibility, but still denied any direct involvement.
The December murders trial began on November 30, 2007. Among the 25 suspects Bouterse is the only main suspect. Since the commencement of the trial, Bouterse never went to court. In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2009 Bouterse said that the trial is being used by his political opponents to prevent him from running for office again and for their own political gain. In April, 2012, two months before the verdict in the trial, Bouterse's party member Andre Misiekaba said, during a debate in the Surinamese parliament, that: "The December Murders trial is a political trial which has the purpose to eliminate Bouterse from the political arena and therefore the Amnesty Act is needed".
Amnesty for December Murders
On February 1, 2012, Ruben Rozendaal, one of the military suspects, announced in local media that he felt that it was time for him to come forward with the truth about the December Murders because he wanted to clear his name before he dies (suffering from a severe kidney disease, the doctors told him he did not have much time left to live). After consulting with his lawyer, he decided to withdraw his first evidence which he had given in 2010. After the last suspects and witnesses in the December Murders case were heard, the court-martial decided to hear Rozendaal again and this hearing was set for March 23, 2012.
On March 19, five members of Bouterse's political party Megacombinatie and one member of Paul Somohardjo's party Pertjajah Luhur proposed a law in the parliament, which in effect would grant amnesty for the suspects in the December Murders, including main suspect president Dési Bouterse. The amnesty law would also cause immediate termination of the trial. The parliamentary voting was to be held on March 23, the same day Ruben Rozendaal testified in court that Bouterse himself killed 2 of 15 victims of the December Murders: union leader Cyrill Daal and military Soerindre Rambocus. That day there was no quorum in the parliament and therefore the voting did not continue.
On April 4, 2012, after three days of heavy and emotional debate, the amnesty law was passed with 28 votes in favor and 12 votes opposed. The political parties Nieuw Suriname and BEP, both members of Bouterse's coalition, left the room when the voting started because they "did not believe that they should support a law which is being opposed by a large part of the Surinamese community". The chair of the Surinamese parliament, Jennifer Simons, who is also a member of the party of Bouterse, voted in favor of the law as well. The controversial law now grants Bouterse and the 24 other suspects of the December Murders amnesty. This could also mean that the ongoing December Murders trial will face an immediate stop.
On April 13, 2012, the public prosecutor in the December Murders trial would formulate the demanded sentence against 5 suspects including main suspect Bouterse, but Bouterse's lawyer, Irwin Kanhai, requested that the trial would be declared inadmissible because of the amnesty law. On 11 May 2012, the court will decide whether the trial will continue or not.
Edgar Ritfeld, one of the 25 suspects, said that he does not want amnesty because he knows he is innocent. He wants the trial to be continued so that his guiltlessness can be proven. Ruben Rozendaal and Wim Carbiere, both suspects, also asked for continuation of the trial.
The controversial amnesty law received a lot of national and international protest. Organizations such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the law and urged the Surinamese judges and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to continue the trial. On 19 April 2012, Human Rights Watch even demanded an immediate retraction of the law.
Reaction from The Netherlands
The reaction from The Netherlands on this controversial amnesty law was that they immediately stopped the 20 million euro aid that was planned to flow to Suriname. President Bouterse was unmoved by this decision and reacted by saying: "I never asked you 20 million euro, we have economic reserves of almost 800 million dollars". The Dutch Labour Party and the then ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) believed that this sanction was not enough and they called for more penalties such as economic sanctions, expulsion of the Surinamese ambassador (who is the daughter of MP Rashied Doekhi, one of the 28 MP's who voted in favour of the law) and a European travel ban for all the parliamentarians who voted for the amnesty law. But Dutch minister of foreign affairs Uri Rosenthal did not agree with these requests.
On 8 April 2012, the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said it was "indigestible" that amnesty is granted to the suspects in this stage of the trial (the amnesty law was passed two months before the verdict in the trial).
Moiwana massacre of 1986
Moiwana is a Maroon village in the Marowijne District in the east of Suriname. During the Suriname Guerrilla War (1986–1990) between the Surinamese military regime, headed by Dési Bouterse, and the Surinamese Liberation Army, a guerrilla group better known as the Jungle Commando, led by Bouterse's former bodyguard Ronnie Brunswijk, soldiers of Bouterse executed on 29 November 1986, at least 39 villagers of Moiwana. The victims were mostly women and children. The soldiers also burned the village of Moiwana, including the house of Ronnie Brunswijk. The survivors fled with hundreds of other inland inhabitants over the Marowijne river to neighbouring French Guiana.
The human rights organisation Moiwana '86 has committed itself to justice with regard to this event. A chief inspector of the police, Herman Gooding, was murdered in August 1990 while carrying out an investigation of the massacre. Reportedly he was forced out of his car near Fort Zeelandia and shot in the head, with his body left outside the office of Desi Bouterse. Other police investigators fled the country, stalling the investigation.
The government has stated that it is still continuing its investigation of the massacre, but that prospective witnesses had either moved, died or were uncooperative. It has also said that an investigation of the murder of Herman Gooding was continuing. In August 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Suriname to pay 3 million USD in compensation to 130 survivors of the massacre, and to establish a 1.2 million USD fund for the development of Moiwana. The Inter-American Court of Human rights has judged that the responsible persons have to be prosecuted and punished, however previous governments, and Bouterse’s current government have failed to do so.
President of Suriname
After the return of democratic government, led in succession by Ronald Venetiaan, Jules Wijdenbosch, and Venetiaan again, Bouterse tried repeatedly to return to power through elections. In the 2010 Surinamese legislative election, Bouterse and his coalition, the Mega Combination (Mega Combinatie) were voted to become the biggest party in Suriname with 23 of the 51 seats in the parliament. The coalition failed to gain an absolute majority in the parliament by three seats (the half of 50 plus 1 was needed). In order to secure the votes necessary to become President, Bouterse cooperated with the party of his former archenemy, Ronnie Brunswijk, which had 7 seats and the Peoples Alliance party( Volks Alliantie) of Javanese leader Paul Somohardjo (6 seats), who had left the ruling New Front party before the election. On July 19, 2010, Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname with 36 of the 51 votes; he was installed to the office on August 12, 2010. His running mate is the current Vice-President of Suriname, Robert Ameerali.
The current cabinet consists of the following cabinet members:
Labor, Technological Development & Environment
Soewarto Moestadja (PL)
Winston Lackin (NDP)
Lamure Latour (NDP)
Finance & Planning
Adeline Wijnerman (NDP)
Trade & Industry
Raymond Sapoen (PL)
Justice & Police
Edward Belfort (ABOP)
Hendrik Setrowidjojo (PL)
Jim Hok (PALU)
Public Works & Traffic
Ramon Abrahams (NDP)
Stanley Betterson (ABOP)
Spatial Planning, Land- & Forest Management
Ginmardo Kromosoeto (NDP)
Social Affairs & Housing
Alice Amafo (ABOP)
Sport- & Youth Affairs
Ismanto Adna (KTPI)
|Transport, Communication & Tourism|| |
Falisie Pinas (ABOP)
The first minister of Spatial Planning Martinus Sastroredjo (KTPI) had been relieved of his duties at the end of 2010 due to his life partner asking for a piece of land with the help of a ministry official. He was succeeded by Simon Martosatiman, also a member of the political party KTPI. The second minister to leave officice, due to personal reasons, is the first minister of Finance & Planning at the entrance of this cabinet, miss [Wonnie Boedhoe]]. At the end of April of 2011 several ministers have been dismissed due to political changes in the cabinet. Among these ministers were Paul Abena (Sport- & Youth Affairs), Martin Misiedjan (Justice & Police), Celsius Waterberg (Public Health), Linus Diko (Regional Development) and Simon Martosatiman. The ministers Raymond Sapoen, Michael Miskin and Ginmardo Kromosoeto had to change posts. In addition to the new formed cabinet, two deputy ministers have been installed. Mahinder Gopie served as the secretary of the president and is now the deputy minister of Regional Development. Abigail Lie A Kwie a loyalist of Pertjajah Luhur chairman Paul Somohardjo started as the deputy minister of Public Works & Traffic, but has moved to the ministry of Agriculture in october 2012.
Alongside the president are his four top advisors: Jules Wijdenbosch handles the country's administrative- and constitutional affairs, Errol Alibux advises the president about foreign affairs and international laws, Eddy Jozefzoon deals with the country's social and educational issues and Andy Rusland takes the nation's economics for his account. Furthermore the president has appointed his longtime propagandist and talkshow host, Cliffton Limburg, as his press secretary and cabinet's spokesman. Bouterse installed a IMF official Gilmore Hoefdraad as the new governor of the Central Bank of Suriname. His salary came upon major critic of the opposition.
Controversial honouring of the coup
After his inauguration, Bouterse immediately honored all nine still living conspirators, who together with Bouterse were involved in the violent 1980 Surinamese coup d'état, with the Grand Cordon of the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star, the highest honor of Suriname. This led internationally to great controversy, since all nine are accused of involvement in the December murders of 1982, when 15 prominent young Surinamese men were tortured and murdered because they criticized the then military dictatorship in Suriname.
After becoming president, Bouterse also designated February 25, the anniversary of the coup d’état, as a national holiday. According to former president Ronald Venetiaan, 25 February should not be a holiday, but a national day of mourning.
Controversial Presidential Pardons
In December, 2011, President Bouterse granted a pardon to his foster son Romano Meriba who in 2005 was convicted to 15 years imprisonment of murder and robbery of a Chinese trader in 2002. Meriba was also convicted for throwing a hand grenade at the house of the Dutch ambassador. Judge Valstein-Montnor, also the judge in the December Murders-case, considered proven by evidence that Meriba tried to commit a similar robbery at a later stage. This was however prevented by guards from the Dutch embassy. In response, Meriba then threw a hand grenade from a car to the residence of the Dutch ambassador.
The pardon caused a lot of commotion in the country, as it is the first time a Surinamese President pardons a murder with robbery. "People that have committed such heavy offends, should not get a pardon" said former justice minister Chan Santokhi. "Besides, the requirement that a thorough investigation must be conducted and that the decision should be based on the advice by the judge who passed the sentence was ignored". Bouterse’s staff denied that the fact that Meriba is the foster son of President Bouterse played a role in the decision to grant the pardon, as there were strong legal arguments for the pardon. According to rumors, after Meriba went out of jail he got employed at the heavily armed Counter Terror Unit (CTU), which is being led by Dino Bouterse, son of Desi Bouterse.
This would not be the first time that Bouterse accepted former convicts near him. In Bouterse’s delegation that visited a South American summit, two other members apart from Bouterse, had a criminal drug record: former military Etienne Boerenveen and Hans Jannasch. "Such people now circulate around the state power", said Venetiaan, former president of Suriname.
Meriba was arrested on March 23, 2012 in Paramaribo because he was accused of assaulting and beating up a citizen and police officer the night before in a nightclub. He was not in custody of the police for long because the accusation was retracted the following day.
Wikileaks cables released in 2011 reveal that Bouterse was involved in drug-trafficking till 2006. The cables report the connection between Bouterse and top Guyanese criminals Roger Khan and Eduardo Beltran. Khan was believed to help Bouterse's financial situation by giving him the means to supplement his income through narcotics trafficking. According to the cables Bouterse met Roger Khan several times in Nickerie at the house of MP Rashied Doekhi, who is prominent member of Bouterse's political party. The cables also report that Bouterse and Khan were plotting to assassinate then minister of Justice Chan Santokhi and attorney general Subhaas Punwasi.
Khan who is known as the Guyanese Pablo Escobar and whose name is mentioned in almost 200 murders in Guyana was arrested in Paramaribo in June 2006 in a sting operation by the Surinamese police. By order of then minister of Justice Chan Santokhi he was deported to the United States of America where he was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment on charges of smuggling large amounts of cocaine into United States of America, witness tampering and illegal possession of firearms. Eduardo Beltran is a major regional narcotics logistics/transportation handler currently operating out of Venezuela. Beltran reportedly traveled to Suriname on a monthly basis.
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