After enduring four years under a government dominated by the party of strongman Desi Bouterse, journalists in Suriname breathed a bit easier when Ronald Venetiaan returned to power in August, as the leader of a coalition of ethnic parties that had won the popular election in May.
Soon after taking office on August 12, Venetiaan, who also led the nation from 1991 until 1996, held meetings with various media representatives, including editors from Suriname’s two dailies, De Ware Tijd and De West. “He stressed that he wants to have a very good relationship and that we would receive all the cooperation we need,” said Nita Ramcharan, editor of De Ware Tijd.
The meeting was significant, since journalists under the previous government were routinely harassed and subjected to Bouterse’s verbal abuse. In 1999, when widespread demonstrations and strikes erupted, the government pressured the press to tone down its coverage of the protests by calling media directors in for meetings that were perceived as intimidating.
At year’s end, Bouterse faced prosecution in both Suriname and the Netherlands for his role in a 1982 massacre of 15 political opponents. Meanwhile, another Dutch court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for cocaine smuggling. Despite the prosecution, Bouterse remains a political force in Suriname as an opposition member of the National Assembly.
Media observers noted less fear and better political coverage in the local press at year’s end, notably in De Ware Tijd and De West. Still, there is little or no investigative journalism in this country of 450,000 people, isolated from the rest of the continent by its official language, which is Dutch. Apparently, Suriname’s deep-seated culture of intolerance keeps muckraking off limits.