Suriname was a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands between 1954 and 1975.
Whereas the Dutch government initially tried to keep the former colonial possessions under Dutch sovereignty with far-reaching autonomy, this attitude changed in the 1960s, especially after the Netherlands New Guinea crisis of 1962, and the riots in Curaçao in 1969.
Consensus in Dutch parliament became that the costs of colonies in the Caribbean, had to get fully carried by the colonies and subjects themselves, thus the territories were to get independent governments as soon as possible. The Dutch Labour Party added to the economic reasonings an ideological political argument: it could pretend to deem all remnants of colonialism wrong and a thing of the past.
When the Den Uyl cabinet took office in May 1973, it declared that it wanted the Caribbean countries within the Kingdom to become independent during its term in office. The Netherlands Antilles refused to cooperate, but Suriname proved to be a more willing partner. Though the cabinet of Jules Sedney did not feel for independence, the newly elected government of Henck Arron [in office 24th Dec 1973] declared after Den Uyl’s invitation that Suriname would become independent by the end of 1975.
After long negotiations, and with a very substantial severance package amounting to 3.5 billion Dutch guilders of Dutch aid, Suriname became independent on 25 November 1975.
Although the colony and the constituent country have always been officially known as Surinam or Suriname, in both Dutch and English, the colony was often unofficially and semi-officially referred to as Dutch Guiana (Dutch: Nederlands Guiana) in the 19th and 20th century, in an analogy to British Guiana and French Guiana. Some consider using this term for Suriname a bit confusng, as historically Suriname was one of several Dutch colonies in the Guianas, others being Berbice, Essequibo, Demerara, and Pomeroon, which after being taken over by the United Kingdom in 1814, were united into British Guiana in 1831.
Before 1814, the term Dutch Guiana did not describe a distinct political entity, but rather all colonies under Dutch sovereignty taken together. While referring to post-1814 governors of Suriname as governors of Dutch Guiana seems harmless, it is a bit confusing doing the same for the pre-1814 governors, as that would imply that they had jurisdiction over the other Dutch colonies in the Guianas, which they had not.
1980 Surinamese coup d’état
The Surinamese coup d’état of 1980, usually referred to as the Sergeants’ Coup (Dutch: De Sergeantencoup), occurred on 25 February 1980, when a group of 16 sergeants (Dutch: groep van zestien) led by Dési Bouterse overthrew the government of Prime Minister Henck Arron in a violent coup d’état.
The February Coup marked the beginning of the military dictatorship that dominated Suriname from 1980 until 1991. The dictatorship featured the presence of an evening curfew, the lack of freedom of press, a ban on political parties (from 1985), a restriction on the freedom of assembly, a high level of government corruption and the summary executions of political opponents.
President Johan Ferrier was eventually forced out of office in August 1980, and several months after the coup d’état by Bouterse most of the political authority transferred to the military leadership. From then until 1988, the titular Presidents were essentially army-installed by Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto leader with few practical checks on his power.
December murders and Moiwana massacre
On 8 December 1982, a group of fifteen academics, journalists, lawyers, union leaders, and military officials, who opposed the military rule in Suriname were pulled from their beds. That night, they were brought to Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo, and they were tortured before they got executed by Bouterse’s soldiers. Fourteen of those executed were Surinamese, whereas journalist Frank Wijngaarde was a Dutch national. The events are known as the December murders.
Bouterse as military leader in 1985
In 1986 Bouterse’s soldiers killed at least 39 citizens, mostly children and women, of the Maroon village of Moiwana, as part of the Suriname Guerrilla War which was fought between the soldiers of Bouterse and the ‘Jungle Commando’ led by Ronnie Brunswijk.
Transition to democratic rule
Elections were held in 1987 and a new constitution was adopted, which among other things allowed Bouterse to remain in charge of the army. Dissatisfied with the government, Bouterse overthrew them on 24 December 1990, by another coup. This event became popularly known as “the telephone coup”.
In 1991, elections returned to Suriname where the New Front party gained 41 of the 51 parliament seats. Ronald Venetiaan (a fierce opponent of Bouterse) became president. In 1996, Jules Wijdenbosch was elected as president of Suriname on behalf of Bouterse’s party, the National Democratic Party (NDP).
In 2000 and 2005 Ronald Venetiaan was elected as president of Suriname. Dési Bouterse returned to power as president in 2010.
After becoming president of Suriname, Bouterse designated February 25, the anniversary of the day of the coup d’état, as a national holiday. On the day of the coup, Bouterse’s soldiers 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.
Monument commemorating the coup.