COLOMBIA - Diplomacy
President, the Republic of Suriname
Desiré Delano Bouterse was born in 1945 and became the President of the Republic of Suriname on August 13, 2010. He is the political leader of the National Democratic Party. His various successes include the transformation of the University of Suriname, the introduction of National Health and free healthcare insurance for children under 16 and people over 60, as well as various other work and social projects.
Having been isolated on the continent over the past 400 years because of our colonial history, being a member of UNASUR today means that we are working tirelessly to integrate into the South American community in all sectors, and thereby contributing to the strengthening of its unity. During our pro tempore presidency we continue to encounter challenges in the process of unification. As an organization we try to overcome these by focusing on democratic principles and a shared vision about our joined future, through dialogue. This demonstrates the level of maturity of the integration process. At every UNASUR meeting, it is noticeable how all heads of state are permeated with the significance of their mission. And I am so proud that Suriname was able to not only chair the organization, but also share some of its virtues with the rest of the continent. UNASUR is a young organization and I see a lot of similarity associated with the stages of development present in our own young country. At this stage it is necessary to reach higher levels of coherence, as well as greater political convergence, in order to build our path to sustainable development in harmony with mother nature. Among the strategies we are implementing are a renewed vision on the use of natural resources, the strengthening of our democracies, and the establishment of South America as a nuclear weapons-free zone. Suriname offers the world a unique example of how a multicultural people can live in harmony, by unifying around common interests and adhering to tolerance toward each other’s differences. I also remain committed to my views as expressed at the last CELAC Summit, namely that inclusive and equitable social and human development is pivotal for the whole of our region in order to eradicate poverty and to overcome inequalities. Therefore, the issues pertaining to culture, social development, and inclusion, as well as health issues have been high on the agenda of my presidency. One of the goals of UNASUR that I am passionate about is achieving stronger participation from young people. After all, our generation is taking decisions today that will for a large part shape our youth’s perspective for tomorrow. I strongly believe it is a logical step to involve our youth in the South American integration process, so that they may start building their own future. We are therefore very pleased with the First UNASUR High Level Youth Exchange, held in Paramaribo in November 2013, in which both CARICOM and UNASUR youth leaders participated. It is necessary that we continue to take new initiatives that promote the interaction and cooperation between our peoples. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is an ongoing process of shared responsibility, whereby success will always be the result of the shared commitment and input of all member states.
Cooperation among UNASUR member states is further implemented through councils. For the first time in the history of the union, Suriname and Colombia hold the chairmanship of the UNASUR Defense Council simultaneously. One of the key issues that the co-chairs have focused on is the protection of natural resources. It is widely known that the South American continent harbors a vast amount of the world’s natural resources. UNASUR has a clear vision about utilizing its natural resources for the wellbeing and welfare of its peoples and the achievement of national development goals. The co-chairmanship of the Defense Council with Colombia has proven useful already. Through the process of consultation required on a constant basis, which results in frequent communication on a wide range of issues and the sharing of knowledge, more information about Colombia now exists. Insight into the interests and circumstances that are underlying Colombia’s policies is aiding to increase the collaboration between the two nations in other sectors as well, such as health, energy, and finance. The cooperation between Suriname and Colombia within the Defense Council is conducted on the basis of complete parity. As co-chairs, both Ministers of Defense chair the meetings and are very much aligned. It is inspiring and revealing to observe that two countries with such disparities in their histories of national defense—and subsequently, different national security needs—have been able to apply themselves in such a way so as to support and achieve a common security policy for the region. Meetings at the technical level have been concluded, and it is expected that proposals with regard to the protection of natural resources and cyber crime will be presented at the ministerial level by the end of this year.
Our native language is Dutch, with English as a second language. Anticipating our chairmanship of UNASUR as of August 30, 2013, and with a view to the strengthening of our South American relations, the training of government officials in the Spanish language was of practical importance to encourage smooth communications between Suriname and our sister nations. Suriname gratefully accepted the offer of the Directorate of Culture of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia to appoint the Centro de Espanol para Extranjeros of the Universidad Externado de Colombia to develop and teach a special Spanish language course for Suriname. Subsequently, five Spanish language professors were dispatched to Suriname, who were able to train 123 participants. Because of the success of these courses, we are now, together with Colombia, working toward follow-up training. I was delighted, also, to learn that the classes have stirred general interest in the Spanish language in our country so much so that my government is currently researching the feasibility of reintroducing Spanish language classes in our primary schools.
Improved air connectivity is of utmost importance to our growing economy. In 2010, Suriname deliberately chose to no longer focus on two singular destinations due North, but to broaden its horizon both politically and geographically. We started by increasing our existing connections with direct flights to Belem, Miami, Cayenne, and (via Georgetown) New York over the last two years. In addition, Suriname has embarked upon creating better connections with Latin America by presenting draft Air Transport Agreements to Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela; negotiations with Ecuador and Chile are well underway. Given the importance of improved connectivity for its integration in the Latin American region, Suriname is doing its utmost to secure the signing of the final version of an Air Transport Agreement with Colombia in 2014. In the meantime, our own International Johan Adolf Pengel Airport is undergoing reconstruction to increase services to the traveling public. The first phase, constructing a new arrivals terminal, is already finalized and the departures terminal will be next.
Suriname is strongly focused on both diversifying and balancing its economy. The country is known for its abundance of natural resources, and now that we are truly providing for ourselves, we are striving for a more balanced economy with the objective to attain greater sustainability in our development. Suriname is also the guardian of some of the purest parts of the Amazonian rainforest, earning us the title “the greenest country on Earth.” That is something to treasure, both for our peoples and the world. It plays an important role in our investment policies through which we want to meet the needs of all segments of our population, undertake an accelerated exploitation of some of our non-renewable resources, and fulfill our duty toward preserving healthy ecosystems. Balancing these three objectives will be key. Recently, we have registered some interesting developments in our private sector regarding Colombian investors. A Colombian cement production company has invested in a joint project in Suriname and is now producing quality cement for our booming housing sector. Also, the State Oil Company is on the brink of cooperating with Ecopetrol to explore and exploit oil, one of the main commodities of our economy. In addition, we are striving to become a hub for the region, both through our air and sea connections. Noteworthy is that after major investments by Dubai’s DP World, Paramaribo’s port actually won the CSA Port Award three times in a row. In short, at this stage Suriname is intentionally investing in the extractive industries in order to gain returns that can be invested in the more sustainable sectors like agriculture, tourism, and services.
© The Business Year – June 2014
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