Suriname - Foreign policy



Suriname is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the nonaligned movement, and is associated with the European Union (EU) under the Lomé Convention. In 1995 Suriname became a member of CARICOM (Caribbean Community), the Caribbean common market. Suriname is making efforts to boost its political and economic ties with India and Indonesia. Relations with France became strained during the years of military rule because of the influx into French Guiana of 8,000 to 12,000 refugees from eastern Suriname and fears of Haitian refugees entering French Guiana via Suriname.

In the weeks following his inauguration, Venetiaan improved relations with neighboring Guyana. (Suriname and Guyana are the only CARICOM members with borders in common.) The two countries have ongoing conflicts over mineral rights that came to a head in June 2000. Surinamese warships approached a drilling rig owned by the Canadian firm, CGX Energy. The rig was preparing to explore for oil in a 5,985 sq mi (15,500 sq km) area, known as the Eagle field, under an exploration license CGX had negotiated with the government of Guyana. Suriname claimed the Eagle field was comprised of Surinamese territorial waters, but Guyana disputed that claim. Since then relations between the two countries have been strained.

Upon assuming the presidency, Venetiaan expressed willingness to discuss the border dispute and to work toward a resolution. In January 2002, the Suriname/Guyana Cooperation Council and a border commission were both meeting after years of inactivity. Also, on 31 January 2002, Guyana's president Bharrat Jagdeo visited Suriname for talks with Venetiaan; the two signed a document indicating their commitment to seek ways to cooperate for their countries' mutual benefit in oil exploration. Surinamese government officials assured the concerned parties (oil exploration companies, principally, and the government of Guyana) that they were committed to the exchange of ideas.

Under the leadership of Venetiaan and his counterpart, Guyana's president Bharrat Jagdeo, the two countries seemed to be moving closer to cooperation and resolving their disputes and expanding areas of cooperation beyond mineral rights to agriculture (including marketing of rice and other commodities), promotion of ecotourism, and technology sharing to improve export product quality. Their January 2002 meeting was generally regarded as a major step forward in warming their relations. Oil companies from Brazil, The Netherlands, the United States, France, Canada, and Korea have all expressed interest in gaining access to the deepwater exploration area, which the United States Geological Service (USGS) has identified as the second most promising of the unexplored world deepwater basins. Exxon has negotiated licenses for nearly all the exploration area off the shores of Guyana.

While seeking to improve relations with Guyana in areas where the two countries could pool resources for their mutual development—as in the promotion of ecotourism—Venetiaan and Jagdeo were cautious about allowing goods to travel too freely across their shared border. The two countries agreed to cooperate to quell the increase in cross-border smuggling, trafficking of narcotics, money-laundering, and other illegal activities, while ensuring that the appropriate duties and taxes be collected so that neither country's treasury suffers as relations improve. Venetiaan has stated that he hopes the free flow of goods and capital across the border between the two countries will eventually make smuggling pointless. He advocates close and continuous communication between the two countries to avoid misunderstandings and hostility. In October 2002, military authorities in Guyana charged that the smuggling of arms over the border from Suriname was contributing to a crime wave that had plagued their country for over half a year.

In 1999 diplomatic relations with the Dutch were damaged as the government of Venetiaan's predecessor, President Wijdenbosch, protected and defended former dictator Désiré Bouterse, who was convicted of cocaine trafficking by a court in The Hague. Wijdenbosch refused to extradite Bouterse, and his position caused a rift with the country's Dutch benefactors. Suriname has a lot at stake in its foreign relations with the Dutch since it relies on a substantial amount ( US $1 billion) of Dutch development aid. Upon taking office, Venetiaan indicated that he was less inclined to protect Bouterse and asked the Parliament in February to repeal the ban on extradition of Surinamese citizens. Asserting that constitutional protection should be applied judiciously, he told the Parliament, "When our citizens threaten other parts of the world with drugs, crimes, torture, or violation of human rights, then there is a question of whether you are using your Constitution to cover up for those concerned, to prevent their being called to account."

Venetiaan opened talks with The Netherlands to renew the flow of significant financial aid from that country, which had dried up over Suriname's lack of cooperation in prosecuting Bouterse for past criminal activity. Dutch aid to Suriname has resumed, paving the way for international development financing.

Suriname has also gained international attention with the commercial exploitation of 40% of its rainforest, under contract to three Asian companies. This has prompted international organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and European Union (EU), to offer financial assistance to maintain a healthy level of resources through replanting and managed harvesting.

In December 2002, the IDB announced a US $3.37 million loan to help finance Suriname's first census since 1980.

Expected to aid in the formulation of national and regional planning and policy by charting major population shifts over the preceding two decades, the census was scheduled for spring 2003.

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