The discovery of a significant oil field off the coast of Suriname has grabbed headlines in the past few weeks. With less than a million inhabitants and a GDP per capita of $6,310, the new discovery could be a game changer small South American nation. It was Guyana’s offshore success that sparked interest in the adjacent waters of Suriname due to its similar geological characteristics. The gamble now appears to have paid off after American Apache and French Total discovered the country’s first offshore energy resource. The newfound oil wealth couldn't have come at a better for Suriname and its stagnating economy.
The changing geopolitical landscape is a consequence of the South American country’s relative lack of options. Although there is a strong social connection with the Netherlands, political and economic activities between the countries have deteriorated. Many Surinamese have relatives in Europe who moved there after the country’s independence in 1975. However, The Hague has become a staunch critic of Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse due to the massacre of 15 political opponents of his military regime in 1982.
A recent verdict by the country’s court, made public during the President’s official state visit to China in November 2019, directly held him responsible for the killings. Bouterse, however, enjoys immunity due to his Presidency. He is also running for a third term in May. His popularity among young people, who didn’t witness the political turmoil of the 1982 period, and a potential economic boom due to the recent oil finds will likely ensure him a victory.
What is certain is that the energy wealth will strengthen Bouterse’s position which will further deteriorate Suriname’s diplomatic relationship with The Netherlands and Europe. Also, the country’s relationship with the U.S. has somewhat cooled due to the arrest and conviction of the President’s son in 2015 in the U.S. for offering Lebanon’s Hezbollah a base of operations in Suriname for $2 million. This means that Beijing’s position will remain strong for the foreseeable future.
China is the only country with the ability and willingness to offer a wide range of services that Suriname and its leadership need. Washington, however, will definitely be wary of another incursion by China into ‘its backyard’. Therefore expect 2020 to be the year that Suriname will be courted economically and politically by several major powers.