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South America, Suriname

Suriname economy, Dutch Guiana, Dutch government, aluminum ore, military coup

Suriname, republic of northeastern South America, bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by French Guiana, on the south by Brazil, and on the west by Guyana. Before 1975 Suriname was a dependency of The Netherlands and was called Dutch Guiana or Netherlands Guiana. Also called Surinam, the country has an area of 163,265 sq km (63,037 sq mi). The capital and only major urban area is Paramaribo.

English, French, and Dutch traders first arrived in Suriname in the mid-17th century. The Dutch gained control of the colony later in the century and began gradually displacing the indigenous people. Using slave labor, the Dutch cultivated sugarcane, which became the major source of income, and large agricultural estates developed. A Dutch governor ruled the colony. In 1949 citizens were allowed to elect a parliament to pass legislation on domestic matters, but the Dutch government continued to control defense and foreign affairs. Shortly after independence in 1975, a military coup overthrew Suriname’s democratically elected government. Although democracy was restored in 1987, the military continued to hold the ultimate power in the country through the 1990s.

Because of its long history as an agricultural colony, Suriname has a diverse population representing ethnic groups from four major continents. Very few of the indigenous groups who originally inhabited the area remain. Most people are descendants of African slaves and Asian indentured servants (from India, Indonesia, and China) who were brought to the colony to work as agricultural workers. Although agriculture long formed the backbone of the Suriname economy, the mining of bauxite, an aluminum ore, generated the greatest amount of national income in the late 20th century.

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