Mr Bouterse wrong choice for Caricom chairman

Mr Bouterse wrong choice for Caricom chairman

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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IT will be interesting to see how Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) leaders interact with the new chairman of the regional body, President Desiré Delano Bouterse of Suriname.

President Bouterse began his six-month tenure in the chair on January 1 and, in his New Year’s message, has signalled his intention to push for even closer ties within the region, using as his springboard the global economic crisis.

Quite correctly, President Bouterse acknowledged that this crisis "shows no signs of abating" and that it has created challenges of unemployment, low or negative growth, and increasing disparity between the rich and the poor.

"Given the relationship between the economic health of the major nations and its effect on us in Caricom, it would require a major effort on our part to overcome the challenges presented by this ongoing situation. It also requires that we take a hard look at the way we operate, and accept changes that may be necessary," he said.

"We have before us an opportunity to bind ourselves even closer together. For, surely, we stand a better chance to confront these challenges as a group united, than each swimming alone against the tide."

True words indeed from Mr Bouterse.

However, we wonder where his respect for the role of the regional institution was in 1980 when he led a military coup against the elected Government of Suriname. From then, until 1988, he basically ran the country, installing titular presidents as a sham to mask his dictatorial rule.

After democracy was restored in 1988, with the election of Mr Ramsewak Shankar, a former agriculture minister, as president, Mr Bouterse rejected an accord reached by the Government with the Surinamese Liberation Army, and by 1990 President Shankar was ousted in a military coup masterminded by Mr Bouterse.

In 1999, Mr Bouterse, who had been repeatedly accused of involvement in cocaine smuggling, was convicted, in absentia, in The Netherlands of drug trafficking. He never served the sentence because under Surinamese law nationals cannot be extradited to any foreign state.

He still has pending a military court trial for his alleged involvement in the killings of 15 political opponents, including five journalists in 1982, and while he has consistently denied direct involvement in the murders, he has accepted responsibility as the then military ruler of Suriname.
What amazed us totally was that after he managed to form a Mega Combination coalition to win last May’s general election, and was then endorsed by 36 votes — two more than the required two-thirds — as Suriname’s new head of state, Mr Bouterse was embraced by Caricom leaders.

His checkered, undemocratic past appeared to have been ignored.

We do not challenge the right of the Surinamese people to elect a leader of their choice. Neither do we advocate that Caricom shun Suriname. However, we do not believe that President Bouterse should have been given the honourable position of chairman of the regional body.

Given his past, and the fact that his trial has been suspended because of his ascension to the presidency, Mr Bouterse, we hold, does not have the moral authority to lead the region. Neither will he be able to advance, with any credibility, Caricom’s interests abroad, especially in Europe where he has a criminal conviction in an EU member state.

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