Anxious to weaken his party’s influence ahead of the next general elections and reduce its political power, Suriname’s multiparty government appears set to bring charges against former military strongman, ex elected civilian president and two-time coup maker Desi Bouterse for allegedly threating violence against the Caribbean Community nation.
In the past week, the administration of President Chan Santokhi wrote the state prosecutor’s office asking them to review statements made by Bouterse at a recent National Democratic Party (NDP) rally where he called for the use of weapons to fight creeping oppression by the governing grouping.
His party quickly qualified and explained his utterances, noting through spokesman Ricardo Panka that the 75-year old former dictator and two-time civilian president was talking about the use of ideological weapons as he asked supporters to keep an eye on negative developments in the Dutch-speaking nation of just under 500,000.
Authorities reacted with horror to the statements, automatically harking back to two military coups in 1980 and 1990 that Bouterse had led while being head of state and military strongman and fearing that Bouterse was once again up to his old tricks, despite denials from the NDP.
“That is why the prosecutor general was asked to legally assess the judgments. The PG has yet to inform the president of the result of his assessment. We believe in law and justice for everyone. We believe in the separation of powers. The people must fulfill their duties without interference from anyone and their rights must be guaranteed,” government spokesman Alven Roosveld told the local Star News publication.
Bouterse’s NDP, which had grown from strength to strength since it first won parliamentary seats back in the late ’80s, stumbled badly in the last May general elections, dropping from 26 to 16 seats as it made way for the coalition to pick up more than 30 of the 51 seats, to easily form the government and win the presidency as the economy tanked and as authorities had struggled to pay state workers and control inflation.
The moves to impose some form of criminal punishment for Bouterse came days after he was forced to make his first court appearance in his criminal trial for the December 1982 mass murders of 15 government opponents.
The 15 that had included four journalists, clergymen, labor leaders and academics, were executed at colonial era Dutch fort for allegedly plotting with western nations to reverse the 1980 military coup.
A court a year ago had sentenced Bouterse to 20 years in prison but he appeared last week for only the first time in 12 years of hearings to read a statement denying involvement and blaming both investigators and the court for not calling the correct witnesses to testify on his behalf.
It is unclear if he loses his appeal if the court will move to ensure he goes to jail or if his team of attorneys will find another avenue to stall or to stretch proceedings out for months to come.
Bouterse and other NDP leaders had complained about the rise in racial tensions now that the country is being led by a Hindustani party, suggesting that the multiracial NDP was the only answer to deteriorating race relations.
“They are in the process of throwing the people back 50 years. We have a historic task. If we don’t do it and don’t use our common sense, we will throw this country far back and the youngest among us will not benefit from it. You will only be able to remove these kinds of things with weapons, “said Bouterse to the angst of authorities.
His frustration with the system also appears to be linked to the recent arrest and more than a weeklong detention of former vice president Adhin Ashwin for allegedly condemning media and other equipment that was used by his office to the elections in May.
A special parliamentary committee will try Ashwin this week and later determine what charges they will bring for illegally removing and condemning state equipment.