THE RETURN OF BOUTERSE AND CARICOM
THE INAUGURATION ceremony is over. It is official: Desi Bouterse, Suriname’s 64-year-old former military commander who first seized political power in a coup 20 years ago, is again controlling the reins of state power. As of yesterday he is functioning as the new constitutionally and ceremonially sworn president of that former Dutch colony. According to reports out of the capital Paramaribo, the only Caribbean Community representative, at prime ministerial level, to attend the inauguration would have been Prime Minister Samuel Hinds of Guyana, representing President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had lost no time in congratulating Bouterse.
Suriname and Guyana are the Caribbean Community’s two mainland states located on the continent of South America. They are multi-ethnic and multicultural and have a colonially-inherited territorial dispute, arising from Surinamese claim to Guyanese demarcated territory in the New River triangle area, reputedly with hydro-power potential. Both the secretariats of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and CARICOM were reportedly invited to have an official presence for the inauguration of Bouterse, who succeeded the three-term elected mathematician Runaldo Venetiaan. Among CARICOM states not represented, at any level for Bouterse’s inauguration, were Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, as confirmed by this columnist; and related to stated absence of any official invitation.
As one experienced foreign service official explained, that may have more to do with Suriname’s preference for a Latin American-style head of state inauguration ceremony, than an attempt to ignore the Community partner countries.. Of course, while there are objective factors to exlplain anxieties in both Suriname and Guyana to foster good neighbourly relations, the rest of CARICOM (including the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago which has a non-executive head of state), have no known pressing reason to turn up yesterday for Bouterse’s inauguration ceremony. However, Suriname, under Bouterse’s leadership will be on watch within CARICOM on how it relates to Guyana. For their part, all member countries have a shared obligation to foster good relations with Suriname, irrespective of reservations some may have over the political past of its new president.
They have to keep remembering that Bouterse had secured the single largest bloc of votes and seats (23) for the 51-member parliament at last May 25 general election and, subsequently was endorsed, through a coalition arrangement, as president with the required two-thirds parliamentary majority, plus an additional two votes. He is, therefore, the “chosen” voice of a decisive majority of the Surinamese people and CARICOM has no alternative but to work with him in the councils of – as we are so often expediently reminded about – 14 independent countries constituting a “Community of sovereign states”.
I used the word “expediently” if only to remind myself and readers that the “sovereignty” notion surfaces largely to impede progress by member states that remain either not ready, or unwilling, to act collectively for the greater good of the one “Caribbean family”. A good example is the agony over the ongoing failure to introduce an effective management system for better governance of CARICOM. l Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.