Bouterse inaugurated for 2nd term as Suriname's president

AP News
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Posted: Aug 12, 2015 5:21 PM
Bouterse inaugurated for 2nd term as Suriname's president

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) — Former coup leader and convicted drug trafficker Desi Bouterse was inaugurated Wednesday for a second consecutive term leading Suriname as the democratically elected president.

After being sworn in, Bouterse pledged to restructure the sparsely populated South American country's struggling economy away from its dependence on exporting commodities like gold, bauxite and oil.

"The time is right to develop new sectors which will guarantee a sustainable development for us," he said, adding that tourism, renewable energy and agriculture will be high on his next government's agenda.

Bouterse appointed a new 16-member Cabinet immediately after his inauguration, which was attended by a few foreign heads of state, including the leaders of Ecuador and neighboring Guyana.

The appointment of new ministers was welcomed by the opposition of the ethnically diverse nation of roughly 540,000 people.

"The fact that Bouterse chose to replace the ministers of his underperforming first Cabinet is promising," said Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the main opposition leader.

Bouterse led his National Democratic Party to victory in May elections, but fell short of the required 34-seat majority to automatically be re-elected as president. Last month, Parliament gave him a second term without a vote since there was no opposition.

His second five-year term will be dominated by economic issues. The country's economy has been hit hard by falling prices of oil and gold, and Bouterse's first term saw generous social programs for children and the elderly paid for with foreign reserves of the central bank. In December 2012, the bank's reserves stood at roughly $1 billion. Two months ago, $540 million was left.

Last month, Bouterse said Suriname faces "difficult times" and vowed to cut expenses and govern with fewer public employees.

But prominent political analyst August Boldewijn said he does not think Bouterse will have an easy time scaling down social programs.

"Thanks to his social spending, he was able to make the voters forget his checkered track record as a military dictator," said Boldewijn, a political science professor at the University of Paramaribo.

Bouterse has loomed over Surinamese politics for decades. He first rose to power in 1980, when he led a military coup just five years after Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands. He was accused of murdering political opponents in 1982. He led another coup in 1990, three years after allowing the return of civilian rule.

He stepped down as army chief in 1992, and was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands on drug trafficking charges in 1999. However, Suriname does not have an extradition treaty with its former colonial ruler and Bouterse also obtained immunity when he was first democratically elected as president in 2010.