Boutese’s election to office came as a result of his party’s recent success at the polls and his approval by the country’s parliament, to serve a fresh term, this time as a president elected through the ballot and free and fair elections. He previously ruled Suriname in the 1980s after he overthrew the then government in a military coup de tat.
He used his inaugural speech to call for national unity. He said that he will be a president for all of Suriname, no matter who they are.
As he took office as president, Mr. Boutese said that he wanted Suriname and neighbouring Guyana to become the bridge between the Caribbean and South America. Political observers are awaiting his first CARICOM meeting to gauge the true quality of relations that would characterize Suriname’s involvement in the regional grouping.
Guyana and Suriname have had a long-standing border dispute that at times has come close to military conflict.
Bouterse’s name is closely bound with the military regime that controlled Suriname from 1980 until the beginning of the 1990s. On 25 February 1980, the government of newly-independent Suriname underwent a military coup which declared the country to be a Socialist Republic and Bouterse became Chairman of the National Military Council. President Johan Ferrier was forced out of office in August 1980, and several months after the coup de tat by Bouterse most of the political authority transferred to the military leadership. From then until 1988, the titular Presidents were essentially army-installed puppets of Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto dictator with few practical checks on his power.
Bouterse was a leading figure in Suriname’s post-independence military coup, and is responsible for the infamous “December murders” of 1982 and events in the Maroon village of Moiwana in 1986. Since then he has been accused on various occasions of involvement in illegal drug trafficking. In July 1999, he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands for cocaine trafficking. Since 1999 there is an international warrant for his arrest ordered by Europol, however since 2010 he has immunity as Head of State, and is therefore not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution anymore, this according to international law.
Although he was convicted in the Netherlands, he has remained free in Suriname. The Surinamese government has said that it is preparing a case against the perpetrators of the December murders to be brought before a judge. The cases were ongoing as of April 2006. Bouterse has denied any involvement in the killings on 8 December 1982 at Fort Zeelandia, in which 15 prominent opponents of the military regime were shot dead. He has said that he wasn’t present and that the decision was made by the commander of the battalion, Paul Bhagwandas, who died in 1996. He did, however, accept political responsibility.