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Fractious politics, corruption, and drug smuggling

Suriname has a narrow, marshy coastal plain, but most of the country consists of a vast plateau along with ranges of mountains covered with dense tropical rainforests.

Suriname's complex ethnic mix reflects its colonial history. Today's creole population are descendants of African slaves whom the Dutch brought to work on the sugar and coffee plantations. They were subsequently replaced by indentured workers from India and from Java—whose descendants now make up the majority of the population. Others include the Bosnegers, descendants of escaped slaves, and Amerindians.

Suriname is well endowed with natural resources. The most important of these is bauxite, which is mined by US- and South African-owned companies. All of this is processed within Suriname into alumina, and some into aluminium, taking advantage of cheap hydroelectric power at Afobaka, where the dam has created a huge artificial lake.

Bauxite provides around half of export income. In addition, there are reserves of gold, nickel, and silver that have attracted the attention of Canadian companies.

Only 12% of the labour force work in agriculture, producing rice, fruit, and vegetables. But Suriname's vast tropical hardwood forests have attracted Asian logging companies, to the alarm of environmentalists.

A less official export is cocaine: Suriname is one of the main drug transit routes to the Netherlands.

Politics in Suriname has frequently been marked by violence and overshadowed by the military. In the 1996 National Assembly elections, the largest party was the pro-military National Democratische Partij, led by former military dictator Desi Bouterse. Later the National Assembly elected Jules Wijdenbosch as president.

The general election of May 2000 was won by the National Front (NF), a coalition of three ethnic parties, which used its majority to elect as president Ronald Venetiaan of the Nationale Partij Suriname.

Venetiaan discovered that the country's gold reserves had disappeared. He managed to stabilize the economy but had little impact on reducing poverty or corruption.

In the 2005 general election the NF lost some seats but allied itself with other parties and just managed to have Venetiaan re-elected president. It seems likely, however, that Bouterse will return as president in 2010.

www.kabinet.sr.org/ President's office, in Dutch

www.surinam.net/ Surinam.net - News portal

Land area:163,000 sq. km.

Population:0.5 million—urban 76%

Capital city:Paramaribo, 243,000

People:East Indian 37%, Creole 31%, Javanese 15%, Bosneger 10%, other 7%

Language:Dutch, English, Sranang Tongo, Hindustani, Javanese

Religion:Hindu 27%, Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 23%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 5%


Life expectancy:69 years

GDP per capita:$PPP 7,813

Currency:Suriname dollar

Major exports:Alumina, aluminium, rice

Subjects: World History.

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