Nancy de Randamie | Bouterse’s vice grip strangling Suriname
The start of the summit on Friday, December 8, where Cuba and CARICOM nations affirmed their path to peace by demanding the United States lift the ban on Cuba, fell on the very day Suriname had an entirely different anniversary. The remembrance of the December murders 35 years ago.
On December 8, 1982, 15 critics of the military junta led by current Suriname head of state, Desi Bouterse, were brutally murdered by military men. The main suspect in a court case against the perceived killers is Bouterse.
Each year, the families of the December murder victims hold a remembrance ceremony at the very same spot where their loved ones were first tortured, than killed: Fort Zeelandia.
This year's wreath-laying of flowers by the December 8 victims' relatives had a particular bitter connotation. On December 1, Ruben Rozendaal, the sole December murder suspect who picked up the habit of attending the remembrance service in memory of the victims, had committed suicide.
Ruben Rozendaal, Bouterse's former best friend, saw no other option than to take his life in order to bring to attention the injustice he perceived as a murder suspect in the December murders court case. A month before his death, on October 31, he heard that the public prosecutor wanted his head. Rozendaal had expected acquittal, as he had been stating for years that he committed no crime.
On March 23, 2012, Rozendaal testified in court against Bouterse, saying Bouterse himself had murdered two of the victims: union leader Cyrill Daal and a military man who turned against Bouterse months before the December murders, Surindre Rambocus.
Rozendaal's Life Changed
As of that moment, Rozendaal's life changed. A lot of his friends and family turned their backs on him. Rozendaal had dared to take it up against Bouterse, who at that point in time was very popular among the majority of the Surinamese. And if that wasn't enough, Rozendaal's illness, being a kidney patient, made him a social outcast even more.
Rozendaal started attending the annual December 8 remembrance service, where his presence there was perceived ambiguously by many. In the past five years, he thought he had won the trust of the families of the murder victims, but the day he heard that the public prosecutor wanted him to spend 10 years in prison, he realised where he really stood.
The December murders trial, till now, has been a test of how strong Suriname's democracy really is. The trial has survived several attempts by the main murder suspect, President Bouterse. After Rozendaal's testimony against him, Bouterse passed a law on April 4, 2012, that granted amnesty to all murder suspects in the trial.
In 2015, a Surinamese court ruled that this law was inapplicable in this court case, as it came to pass after the start of the murder trial. Bouterse then attempted, by decree law, to halt the trial, but this bid failed as well.
He successfully managed to stop protests against his failing government by using intimidation by the armed forces. But the most effective way Bouterse is holding his 'enemies' down is by isolating them, by making them social outcasts.
Of course, it's not Bouterse on his own. The president of Suriname has the backing of many supporters.
Bouterse and his government have been trying to point out that for as long as they're in power, outside forces - meaning the West and the Netherlands, especially - have tried to destabilise his regime.
The president of Suriname has been using these arguments for ages, but more and more Surinamese recognise these claims for the lies they are.
Bouterse is probably right to state that imperialistic, Western forces are trying to undermine his government's economy. Big multinationals like the Canadian Rosebel are earning more than the state on one of Suriname's precious resources, gold.
And with Rosebel, there are many multinationals and foreign governments like China that are getting a stronger grip on Suriname's economy. But what's new? How different is this really when you compare it to fellow Caribbean states?
It really seems that a true political-economic unification is the only way forward and upward for CARICOM and Cuba. At the same time, populations should hold their leaders accountable when they act like, or actually are, demagogues.
The behaviour of leaders such as Bouterse resembles that of rulers of the colonial past. They not so much dictate their will to the populace - there is democracy in Suriname, but only as long as the personal interest of the leader isn't sabotaged.
Is this Bouterse's fault? No. It's a people unsure of their true power because of fear built up during many years of suppression, which began with the transatlantic slavery. Until this notion sinks in, Caribbean leaders can continue to exercise their will to become a political-economic union as much as they want to, but the truth is, they will only be able to lead their people to prosperity after they themselves change first. And that will happen when Caribbean leaders no longer mimic the manners of the former colonial oppressors.