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EDITORIAL – Suriname’s bouterse and Caricom

marciadottin, [email protected]

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THERE IS a mixture of silence and expressions of concern within the Caribbean Communty (CARICOM) about the emergence last week of the former controversial military ruler of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, as the new presidentof that former Dutch colony which became a CARICOM member state 15 years ago this month.Bouterse’s Mega-Combination (M) party won the single largest bloc of votes and seats (23) for the 51-member parliament at Suriname’s May 25 general elections.This achievment came against the background of Bouterse’s sensational history as leader of a military coup in 1980 that toppled a legally elected civilian government. Subsequently there followed his conviction, in absentia, by a court in the Netherlands on cocaine trafficking and sentencing to 11 years in jail. The May 25 general election took place while he was still awaiting the decision of a military court in Suriname for alleged involvement, along with 11 others, for the murder of 15 political opponents in 1982. Another “hearing” was fixed for last Friday but Surinamese have become quite cynical about the outcome some 18 years after the 1982 killings. However, with his party’s electoral victory and success in gaining negotiated political support from other parties, the 64-year-old Bouterse managed to win the required two-thirds parliamentary endorsement on July 19 to emerge as Suriname’s new Head of State. He is scheduled to formally take the oath as president a week from today, August 3. In the face of official public silence by CARICOM governments on having to deal with Bouterse as Suriname’s president, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo last week became the first to congratulate him on his rise to the presidency. It so happens that Guyana is the only CARICOM state with a lingering territorial dispute with that border neighbour.   But seemingly voicing the reservations of  others, the Jamaica Gleaner for one, went public last week with its warning to CARICOM against “seating” Bouterse in the councils of the 15-member community.  That will be a very hard row for CARICOM to hoe. For a start, there is no precedent in its now 37-year history to guide such a decision.  Indeed, CARICOM’s acceptance, after some agonising deliberations, of what had emerged as a People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) in Grenada in 1997, following the March 13 overthrow of the controversial government of then Prime Minister Eric Gairy, would make it extremely difficult to exclude Bouterse, an elected head of state and, by extension Suriname, from being seated.Consequently, it is simply difficult to imagine CARICOM finding a plausible rationale in 2010 to exclude Bouterse, the legally-elected President of Suriname, from being seated as his country’s Head of Government and Head of State.