“We can learn a lot. We can benefit a lot and also we can be of strategic importance,” he said.
Bouterse is lauded for uniting a multilingual, multiethnic Suriname, remaking his party into the country’s most ethnically diverse and playing up his own Amerindian and Creole roots. “I have a different style of working. My nickname is the ‘People’s President,’ ” he said. “I feel what the people feel. I can smell them. I know what they eat. I can do everything with them.”
“You’ve seen things in the past and know that you can do things better,” he added. “When somebody’s chosen, it’s not a question of now I have power; it’s a very difficult task. The moment that people make a choice you must know that you have a task to be a servant of them. That’s what I want to do with my presidency. People who work with me, ministers and so on, we have a total different approach.”
That approach, coupled with his populist appeal and charisma, are striking a chord.
“He’s doing good, and we see that he has another mindset to do thing differently,” said Namon Bernard, 48,a grocery store worker.
Others, however, are more cautions, waiting to see how all of Bouterse’s efforts will help Suriname -- rich in oil, bauxite, gold, potable water and fertile land -- reap economically and end dependence on international aide.
“More can be done. I want prices to go down,” said Rose Dubois, 50, a nurse’s aide.
Foreign observers say Bouterse’s government is working despite talk of a coming reshuffle. He has built a fairly stable coalition through partnerships with his Mega Combination and smaller parties. One partner is former archenemy and convicted cocaine trafficker, Ronny Brunswijk. A member of the Maroons, descendants of runaway slaves, Brunswijk led a civil war against Bouterse’s 1980s regime.
And while Bouterse has been criticized for putting his wife and others on the government payroll, and having friends as influential advisers, his government is credited with being much more polished and good at setting and reaching goals.
Still the administration has been tainted with allegations of corruption and has been criticized for blacklisting journalists. At the United Nations General Assembly last year, Bouterse “reaffirmed the right of Palestinians to self-determination, including the right to an independent State” in his remarks.
Such declarations from a nation with a synagogue and mosque separated by a parking lot, and a meeting with Iran’s President have elicited quiet warnings to Bouterse that such actions will not continue to win him powerful foreign friends.
“He wants to show himself as a leftist,” said August Boldewijn, a local political analyst. “So he will abstain from voting against Iran, he will take a positive stand with Palestine not withstanding the fact we have a lot of Jews.” Still, Boldewijn said since stepping down from the military in 1992, Bouterse “has learned a lot.”
“What we know up until now is Mr. Bouterse has totally changed. His attitude is not that of a military official but that of a reborn Democrat. Maybe he’s pulling a game but, up until now, we cannot see any signs of a military dictator,” Boldewijn said.