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President Desi Bouterse: convicted in absentia for his part in smuggling 474 kilograms of cocaine.

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Dino Bouterse thought hed struck the deal of a lifetime. It was July 31, 2013, and the head of
Surinames counterterrorism force - who also happened to be the presidents son - had been
carefully cultivating what he hoped would become a lucrative relationship with a pair of Mexican
drug smugglers. They had already piloted a line for shipping cocaine from Suriname, through
Trinidad and Tobago, and on to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but the Mexicans had in mind a vastly
more profitable side venture: building a Hezbollah base in Suriname and arming the Lebanese
militant organisation against the Americans.
At a meeting in Greece, the 40-year-old Surinamese scion hashed out the details with one of the
Mexicans and two purported representatives from Hezbollah. For $US2 million cash upfront,
Bouterse would provide secure facilities in Suriname where the Shiite militant group could train
30 to 60 men. He would also supply rocket launchers, land mines and other weapons that could
be used to strike US targets.
Youll [expletive] the Dutch, and we will [expletive] the Americans, one of the Hezbollah envoys
said at one point.
Im totally behind you, Bouterse responded.
Later, he sent a text message to an associate
back in Suriname: we hit the jackpot.
That couldnt have been further from the truth.
A little more than a month later, Panamanian
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Dino Bouterse: facing a life sentence plus 15 years.
Photo: YouTube
Desi Bouterse while head of the military in 1985.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
police arrested Bouterse at the airport in
Panama City and extradited him to New York,
where he had been indicted on drug-trafficking
charges. Then, in November, US authorities
unsealed a second indictment that charged
Bouterse with providing material support to a
terrorist organsation. The Mexican narcotics
smugglers, it turned out, were US Drug
Enforcement Administration informants who
had been wearing wires the whole time. Their
conversations and text messages with
Bouterse were later made public in the
unsealed indictments.
The episode was more bizarre than sinister.
But it serves as an unsettling reminder that
Surinames leading political family has long
been involved in unsavoury, seedy and outright
criminal activities. The Hezbollah threat may
have been entirely concocted by the DEA - a clever ploy to bring down the reckless younger
Bouterse - but the willingness of Surinamese officials to accommodate a terrorist group so
close to the United States should serve as a wake-up call for Washington, which still maintains
military ties with Paramaribo. That Suriname is also a thriving narcostate ought also to be cause
for concern.
Located on South Americas north Atlantic
coast and bordering Brazil to the south, the
Republic of Suriname is nestled between
Guyana and French Guiana, a French
overseas territory perhaps best known today
for its European spaceport and as the
former site of the Devils Island penal colony. It
is South Americas smallest country and is
suffocatingly isolated from the rest of the
continent. As noted travel writer John Gimlette
wrote in 2011, Suriname, Guyana and French
Guiana have never felt part of South
America. The [three] are the odd ones out;
theyve never been Spanish or Portuguese;
theyve never known machismo, or Bolvar, or
liberation theology; and theyre so isolated that
theres only one road that links them to the
rest of South America.
But barriers - physical or cultural - have not
kept the former Dutch colony entirely cut off
from the outside world. During the Cold War,
the United States, on high alert for communist
mischief-making in the Western Hemisphere,
worried that Suriname would enter the
Caribbean Marxist-Leninist firmament
headquartered in Fidel Castros Havana. More
recently, the country has been a
transshipment point for drugs bound for
markets in Western Europe. Porous borders,
a vast interior with little government presence,
and significant corruption have helped secure Surinames position as a criminal entrepot.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, it ranks among
South Americas top five transshipment points for European-bound cocaine.
If any single figure can be held responsible for the countrys recent troubles, it is Dino
Bouterses father. Desire Delano Desi Bouterse has ruled Suriname intermittently for more
than three decades - twice as a result of coups he led and now as the countrys quasi-
democratically elected leader. Dinos criminal escapades have been a reliable nuisance for the
United States. But his transgressions pale in comparison with his fathers long history of drug
trafficking, political violence and human rights abuses.
The elder Bouterse, a former army sergeant who peddled imported pornography on the side,
first came to power in a coup on February 25, 1980 - an occasion commemorated this week in
Suriname with a national holiday, the Day of Liberation and Innovation. Promoting himself to
colonel, Bouterse set Suriname on a revolutionary course influenced by Marxist-Leninist notions
then in circulation across the developing world.
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then in circulation across the developing world.
As he consolidated his dictatorship, Bouterse carried out a series of extrajudicial killings, the
most notorious of which were the December murders of 1982. Early on the morning of
December 8, army personnel rounded up 16 prominent critics of the regime and brought them
to Fort Zeelandia, near the capital, Paramaribo. A hastily assembled tribunal led by Bouterse
quickly found the prisoners guilty of anti-revolutionary activities. Drink-sodden soldiers then
carried out the death sentences in the forts courtyard. According to one account in the Dutch
press, Bouterse joined the mayhem, using a bayonet to castrate one man and shooting another
in the back.
Suriname in the 1980s had all the raw ingredients for a Frederick Forsyth thriller: a sweltering
climate, corrupt despotism, guerrilla war and Cold War geopolitical intrigues. An armed ethnic
uprising in the hinterlands, led by Ronnie Brunswijk, a former bodyguard of Bouterse, was met
with savage government repression - including the killing of 19 women and children in the
remote village of Mooi Wana, an atrocity that has been called the My Lai of Suriname''.
But it wasnt what Bouterse was doing in his own backyard that worried the United States. It was
his links with the Castro government, Nicaraguas Sandinistas, and the New Jewel Movement in
Grenada. As early as 1982, the top CIA analyst for Latin America, Constantine Menges
(nicknamed Constant Menace by bureaucratic enemies who had tired of his noisy anti-
communism), warned his superiors in Langley of the growing danger posed by Surinames
leftward drift into the Cuban orbit.
US President Ronald Reagan came to share this anxiety about Surinames apparent descent
into Castroism. In a letter to Brazils president in 1983, he pointed to Bouterses longstanding
predilections toward Cuba and Grenada and his entrance into the Cuban/Soviet sphere. At
the same time, senior members of his administration were mulling various schemes to remove
the bothersome Surinamese leader from power. One such plan, developed by the CIA and later
dismissed as harebrained by Secretary of State George Shultz, would have used South
Korean commandos to overthrow Bouterse. Another would have deployed US-based
Surinamese exiles and was reportedly described by Senator Barry Goldwater, no slouch when it
came to anti-communist intrigues, as the dumbest [expletive] idea I ever heard.
The US invasion of Grenada in October 1983, aimed at removing a purportedly pro-Cuban
regime, had a powerful knock-on effect. Almost immediately afterward, Bouterse broke all ties
with Havana. Washingtons fears of a communist toehold on the South American mainland
abated and relations improved, though Libyan meddling in Suriname continued to trouble
Reagan officials.
Not everyone shared Washingtons belief that Bouterse was more of a farce than a threat.
Surinames former colonial rulers, for one, still thought he was a menace - both to the Dutch
residents of Suriname and because of his growing role as a drug trafficker. In 1986, the Dutch
government, led by Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, went as far as planning an invasion of
Suriname. Eight hundred and fifty Dutch soldiers, with US air and naval support, would arrest
Bouterse on drug-related charges. But as with earlier plots, this one fizzled out. Ultimately,
Dutch leaders considered the risk of casualties to be too high. More importantly, the Americans,
embroiled elsewhere in Latin America and sceptical about the missions prospects, rejected the
Dutch request to provide ships and aircraft.
In 2000, Bouterse was convicted in absentia by a Dutch court for his role in shipping a total of
474 kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands via diplomatic pouches. Although out of power at
the time - and therefore without official immunity - Bouterse never served his 11-year sentence
because the two countries have no extradition treaty. In 2010, Bouterses Mega Combination
bloc won the largest number of parliamentary seats, and the former army sergeant came to
power for the third time, offering the electorate sugary promises for easy jobs and cheap
housing'', according to one unsympathetic Guyanese editorial writer.
Following the 2010 election, the Dutch promptly cut off security assistance, and the Dutch
foreign minister declared indignantly that the new leader was not welcome in the Netherlands
unless it is to serve his prison sentence. Technically, Bouterse remains a wanted man. But the
lack of an extradition treaty - and now, Bouterses immunity as a head of state - makes it unlikely
the Netherlands will get its hands on him anytime soon.
Few others seem to share the Dutch loathing of the Surinamese premier. Interpol withdrew its
arrest order after his election in 2010, and Bouterse has traveled to Brazil, Guyana, South Africa,
and the United States (for the UN General Assembly meeting in New York). With the exception of
the recent Dino Bouterse rumpus, developments in sleepy Suriname only rarely attract the
worlds gaze.
No one seems to have paid any particular notice, for example, to the April 2013 announcement
by Brunswijk, Desis old nemesis, that he will run for president in 2015. Bizarrely, Brunswijk
revealed his candidacy on stage during a concert featuring Rick Ross, the bald, heavily
bearded, American hip-hop star. Brunswijk reportedly passed out $US100 bills - and less
enthusiastically received Surinamese notes - to the audience. An influential figure within the
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Mega Combination, Brunswijk has more than politics in common with the elder Bouterse. Like
Desi, Brunswijk was convicted in a Dutch court in 1999 for cocaine trafficking.
Dino, meanwhile, has spent one Christmas behind bars in New York awaiting trial, and it doesnt
seem likely that he will be a free man anytime soon. If ultimately convicted, the younger
Bouterse could face a life sentence plus 15 years. But so far, neither Dinos exploits nor his
fathers unsavoury past seem to have done any harm to Paramaribos relationship with
Washington. In 2012, the US military supplied $US400,000 in naval training, and last March, the
Pentagon agreed to provide $US500,000 to strengthen the Surinamese army - support the
United States shows no sign of withdrawing.
Foreign Policy
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