Suriname Defense Ministry Boosts Spending, Cooperation with Pentagon
By Dialogo May 20, 2013
PARAMARIBO — Suriname has announced the $2.4 million purchase of 75 armored and luxury vehicles for the nation’s army, police, customs and intelligence departments.
“When this government was sworn in, we encountered an outdated, ragtag fleet of vehicles for the departments charged with security services,” said Melvin Linscheer, director of national security in the Dutch-speaking country of 450,000. “There was nothing; no boats, no aircraft, not even cars that work properly. And meanwhile, more than 150 known criminals are walking around free. So we purchased these cars and we’ll also be purchasing helicopters soon.”
Linscheer added: “There will be complaints against them, but you simply can’t put a price tag on guaranteeing safety. When the responsibility is yours, you have to make decisions.”
In fact, Suriname’s current government — led by former army leader-turned-president Col. Dési Bouterse — is spending considerable resources to beef up the country’s armed forces, in contrast to his predecessor, Ronald Venetianne.
Bringing back the draft
Bouterse, inaugurated in August 2010, will reintroduce the military draft by year’s end. He is also forming specialized units, including a counterterrorism unit, to cope with modern-day threats to Suriname, whose National Armed Forces is now comprised of 2,200 personnel.
In November, Home Affairs Minister Soewarto Moestadja purchased three go-fast patrol vessels for the new Surinamese Coast Guard, which should be operational within a year. The boats, which cost $20 million, are aimed at fighting maritime violations such as illegal fishing and pirate attacks on local fishermen.
Suriname is receiving U.S. assistance in this regard. Last year, Washington and Paramaribo signed a $400,000 accord to train the Surinamese Navy.
“Thanks to that agreement, two mobile training teams from the U.S. Navy will travel to Suriname and train 55 students in maintenance and operational skills,” then-U.S. Ambassador John Nay said in a press release. “Five Suriname Navy personnel will also be sent to the United States for training.”
Suriname, a former Dutch colony that received independence in 1975, is noted for ethnic and religious tolerance. Its people speak Dutch as well as the local Sranantongo, and Paramaribo is one of the few places on Earth where a large Islamic mosque and a prominent Sephardic Jewish synagogue sit next to each other, along the same street, with no history of problems.
Suriname ramps up U.S. cooperation efforts
Last December, Suriname participated in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), which took place at U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami. The country’s chief of defense, Col. Hedwig Gilaard, represented Suriname at the event.
In March, the Pentagon agreed to provide another $500,000 in training for the Surinamese Army and Military Police. Soldiers from Suriname will also be invited to attend training at U.S. military installations including the U.S. Army’s Logistics Captains Career Course in Fort Lee, Virginia. In addition, small U.S. teams will fly to Suriname to train local soldiers at facilities throughout the country, which borders Guyana, Brazil and French Guiana.
Funding will also be used to conduct military training for the Infantry and Military Police next year. That’s on top of the $225,000 granted to Suriname under the Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program in 2013.
The Bouterse government argues that bringing back the draft will help halt the aging of army personnel while keeping young people off the streets. It says the number of people retiring and leaving the army outweighs — by far — the number of people applying for a job.
Beginning in 1970, military service became mandatory for men between 18 and 35. The rule was shelved in 1992 in the aftermath of Suriname’s civil war.
Draft will also apply to females
Bouterse indicated early on in his tenure that he’d push for mandatory military service, for a minimum of 18 months. The adjusted version of the 1970 legislation, which will apply to both men and women, will keep them from getting involved in criminal activities, he said.
“Draftees would also have the opportunity to follow advanced training in technical and technology subjects,” Bouterse recently told local media. The president said that besides curbing the youth delinquency problem, the draft will give idle youth a shot at success in life.
Lt. Col. Justus Hew A. Kee, an advisor at the Ministry of Defense in Paramaribo, said Suriname’s plans to reinstate the draft follow international trends in which armies serve as social institutions that teach young people discipline as well as useful skills. He compared Suriname’s new policy to those of former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, who in the 1970s established military work and training camps for young people in the Netherlands.
“We have to be careful," said Derryl Boetoe, president of Suriname's National Youth Parliament. "On one hand, it is good that young people are kept from the streets and dropouts are put back on the right track, but it could also lead to problems if certain young people are taught how to handle guns. We will follow these developments closely.”
Congratulations, I wish that this nation grows, may its people be strong and its President governs for the people, with great wisdom. Happy is the nation that fears the Lord, our God.