Soldiers, police take industrial action in Suriname

Chan Santokhi
President of the Republic of Suriname Chandrikapersad Santokhi speaks at the UN General Assembly 76th session General Debate in UN General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
John Angelillo/Pool Photo via AP

About four months ago, the administration of President Chan Santokhi in Suriname had faced withering protests over rising food and other prices, the appointments of friends and families of top politicians to senior state positions and a declining dollar among other hot button issues.

Now, authorities are preparing to face off with disgruntled soldiers and police officers over a range of issues, including demands by the military for a hefty increase in salaries, free and better medical care for serving and ex-soldiers among other issues. For the local police, the ordinary and officer ranks are railing against the dismissals of two of the most senior of their crew and have vowed to take strike action to force the government to reverse the firings.

Officials are adamant that the soldiers, for example, are not as yet being directed or influenced by any opposition party or anti-government forces as was the case back in the 80s when the military had staged two destructive military coups-1980-90-toppling the then elected administration over a range of issues. Among them were demands to be represented by a union, an unusual development in the western hemisphere.

The army union has laid demands on the table for a 150 percent increase on salaries averaging about $1,500 monthly, a ceiling authorities dismiss as highly unreasonable.

On Thursday, soldiers and their union voted to continue pressuring the government to meet their salary increase demands and to ensure they get free medical attention through special cards issued to various state workers. The cards for soldiers have expired. The Union for the Legal Status of the Military says authorities have not responded to letters asking that the cards be made active again.

“We are going to demand what we are entitled to,” De Ware Tijd newspaper quoted union chairman Rodney Cairo,” as saying as the union wrapped up plans on a march to parliament later on Friday to serve authorities with demand letters to meet their mandates. Just back from global climate change talks in Egypt, Santokhi said he was preparing for urgent meetings with the military and the police.

Officers had downed tools this week in the wake of the dismissals of chief inspectors Sergio Gentle and Raoul Hellings in recent weeks. The officers want their immediate reinstatement as they say that their dismissals have nothing to do with performance-just raw partisan politics. Authorities accuse them of serious neglect of duty of being unreliable.

Discontent in the Dutch-speaking CARICOM nation is on the rise, largely because of the perception that the government is inept, because of rising inflation and a decline in the local dollar against the US from US$7-1 in August of 2020 to $31-1US this week, making imports expensive among other ills.

The governing coalition is also being wracked by internal discontent with the leadership of the National Party of Suriname barely winning a recent party vote to remain in the government.

In the meantime, army commanders have said they will not tolerate insubordination among rank and file soldiers as they have ordered them to be at their posts as is constitutionally required. Dialogue is the way forward, the group said in a statement.

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