And despite the continued cold shoulder by some, Bouterse remains active on the foreign scene. With the country bordered by Brazil, French Guiana and Guyana, Suriname has improved relations with Guyana despite a long-running border dispute; reached out to Europe by opening an embassy in France and joined UNASUR – Union of South American Nations. Next year, it will serve as chair of the trade bloc. At the backdrop is an “economic diplomacy,” focused on domestic investments in health, education, agriculture and bringing “value added” to natural resources.
“We are looking for partners in development, we are tired of people and companies coming and act like investors and they want to take away your natural resources,’’ Suriname Foreign Minister Winston G. Lackin said. “We want to change the attitude of the Surinamese people, “Believe in yourselves.’ We want to have our own natural resources-based industries.”
Meanwhile, Bouterse has taken a personal interest in Haiti, leading the largest delegation – 17 individuals including his personal physician – to President Michel Martelly’s May 14, presidential inauguration. In February, he lead another delegation, this time as chairman of Caricom. “A strong and recovered Haiti will immensely strengthen our community,” he told leaders gathering here.
One relationship that hasn’t improved is that with the Netherlands, where he was convicted in absentia in 1999 for cocaine trafficking. After his election, the country’s foreign minister said he wasn’t welcomed unless he was coming for 11 years -- the amount of his sentence, which he avoided despite an Interpol arrest warrant because Suriname doesn’t have an extradition treaty with its former colonizer.
But neither that nor what his detractors think seem to bother Bouterse. After successfully chairing his first Caricom meeting, he turned on the charm, laughing with friends and visitors, and winding on the dance floor with his wife. He then grabbed the Mic and started belting out what onlookers say has become his theme song: Frank Sinatra’s I did it My Way.