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Suriname: The National Army in Politics  

Dirk Kruijt

Suriname is a multiethnic society (from African, Asian, and European countries, and smaller contingents of the original indigenous peoples) formed in colonial times. After 1863, a small colonial army detachment with conscript Dutch soldiers was stationed in Suriname. The colony was provided autonomy in 1954, except for defense and foreign affairs. The same army detachment was now open for Surinamese noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Independence was obtained in 1975; the Dutch transferred all infrastructure of the colonial detachment. Suriname’s political culture was (and partially still is) based on ethnic belonging and clientelism. After independence, the government started spending big money and rumors of corruption arose. The NCOs, headed by Sergeant-Major Bouterse, staged a coup in 1980. They appointed a new civilian government but remained in control though a Military Council overseeing government. After two and a half years it generated a strong civilian opposition, supported by the students, the middle classes, and the trade unions. In December 1982, the military arrested the leaders and tortured and killed them. Between 1980 and 1987, Bouterse, now a colonel, was the de facto president as leader of the Military Council. The generally leftist but zig-zagging military government disrupted the economy. “Colombian entrepreneurs” assisted with financial support. Economic and political bankruptcy prompted the government to organize elections. The “old ethnic parties” won the election in 1987, but the army leadership remained in power. A second coup, in December 1991, was settled by general elections six months thereafter; the same ethnic parties returned to power. Armed opposition had emerged in the Maroon region. The Army, backed by paramilitary forces, organized a counterinsurgency campaign during several years of civil war. The civilian government brokered a preliminary peace agreement, but Army Chief Bouterse continued the war. Eventually the Organisation of American States mediated, resulting in a formal peace. Bouterse and his staff were discharged and became businessmen and politicians. Consecutive civilian government strongly curtailed military budgets, personnel, and equipment. Instead, they strengthened the police. In 2005, Bouterse participated in the elections with a pluriethnic political platform. His party became the largest one in parliament. He won the presidential elections in 2010 and was reelected in 2015. A Military Tribunal initiated a process against the actors of the December 1982 murders. In November 2019, the Tribunal convicted him of murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison, without ordering his immediate arrest. The National Army, after decades of neglect, was reorganized. It is in fact an infantry battalion equipped with Brazilian armored vehicles. Brazil, Venezuela, and India supplied some assistance and training. The Coast Guard is part of the Army, as well as the Air Force which has a couple of Indian helicopters. Of the 137 countries ranked in military strength by Global Firepower (2019), Suriname is positioned at place 135. On the other hand, the country has no external enemies, although there exists a dormant frontier dispute with Guyana since the late 1960s.

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Zapatistas and New Ways of Doing Politics  

Richard Stahler-Sholk

Scholars of Latin American social movements since the 1980s have sought to explain the apparent upswing in cycles of contentious politics, the innovative characteristics of these new movements, and variations in how they interact with or sidestep conventional institutional politics. The regional context for these developments is very different from the postmaterialist conditions said to have spawned European “new social movements” since the 1970s revolving around identity and values, such as ecology, peace, gay rights, and women’s movements. Relevant causal factors for Latin America’s contemporary movements include popular reaction against neoliberal policies imposed by international financial institutions and brokered by national governments. Another factor was the transition from military authoritarianism in much of the region, inaugurating a struggle between political elites with a liberal-representative vision of democratization and social movements favoring radical/participatory democracy. The era of globalization also brought reexamination of the citizenship pact and of the hegemonic (mestizo) construction of the nation-state, fueling a reinvigoration of indigenous movements, some with their own cosmovisions of buen vivir (living well) that destabilized mainstream notions of the political. The interplay between party-electoral politics and grassroots movement activism took place against the backdrop of the “pink tide” of elected leftist governments, which swept much of the region in the first decade of the 21st century and subsequently appeared to recede. Throughout this period, scholars and activists alike debated whether fundamental change could best be achieved by movements pushing parties and governments to use state power to enact reforms or by movements themselves adopting radically horizontal and inclusive patterns of organizing—“new ways of doing politics”—that would transform society from below. The January 1, 1994, Zapatista uprising among mostly Maya peasants in the poor southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, launched the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, became emblematic of new ways of doing politics from below. What began as a rebellion of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional [EZLN]) quickly morphed into a social movement that both criticized national and global power structures and sought to empower local communities through everyday practices of de facto autonomy. Negotiations with the state over indigenous rights and culture quickly broke down, but the Zapatistas proceeded anyway to develop their own structures of self-government, autonomous education, healthcare, justice, and agrarian and economic relations, among other innovative practices. The Zapatista movement continues to raise important issues such as the role of culture and identity in popular mobilization, the social spaces for organizing in an era of globalization, the new characteristics of movements that practice alternative forms of prefigurative politics, and the possibility of redefining power from below. Scholars of the Zapatista movement have also posed probing self-reflective questions about the adequacy of conventional definitions of politics and Western positivist epistemologies and about the need for decolonizing research in indigenous and other oppressed communities.