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Bouterse, Desi (1945–)

Bouterse, Desi (1945–)

The military dictator of Suriname between 1980 and 1987 and the most important offstage politician afterward, Desi Bouterse was born on October 13, 1945, in a small village in that nation. Educated by Catholic friars, he became a sergeant-major in the Dutch army. He returned in 1975 to Suriname to become a leading noncommissioned officer in the small national army. Involved in a labor conflict about the rights of the union of NCOs with the post-colonial government, he staged a coup in 1980 Bouterse became the army leader, a full colonel, and the de facto ruler of Suriname with a series of façade civilian cabinets. In 1981 he proclaimed himself the leader of a socialist revolution. He gradually was implicated in illicit business activities.

In December 1982 the military murdered fifteen civilian opposition leaders, a watershed in Suriname politics. A growing civilian opposition produced a period of transition governments, followed by free elections in 1987. However, a guerrilla movement of the Maroon population (descendants of former runaway slaves) in Eastern Suriname created a rationale for the involvement of the army and the continuance of Bouterse as army commander. Around Christmas 1990, Bouterse staged a second coup. In 1993 a new civilian government found the courage to dismiss him as army commander and discharged his supporters as well. Bouterse, now a born-again Christian, is the leader of a multiethnic party that won 25 percent of the votes in May 2005. He lives the comfortable life of a millionaire entrepreneur and senior politician. In early 2007 the Surinamese government announced a process against Bouterse and his former allies who were allegedly involved in the 1982 murders.

See alsoSuriname and the Dutch in the Caribbean .


Bouterse, Desi, and Ludwich van Mulier. Dekolonisatie en nationaal leiderschap [Decolonization and National Leadership]. Nijmegen: MASUSA.

Hoogbergen, Wim, and Dirk Kruijt. De oorlog der sergeanten. Surinaamse militairen in de politiek, 1980–1992 [The Sergeant's War: The Surinamese Military in National Politics]. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2005.

                                            Dirk Kruijt

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