Despite urgings from the cabinet, dozens of shop and store keepers kept their facilities closed on Tuesday, less than a week after protests over alleged incompetent political leadership, rising food prices, a weakening currency and the lifting of key government subsidies triggered riots in Suriname’s capital Friday.
Responding to calls from labor unions to take to the streets to force the administration of President Chan Santokhi to reverse tough economic austerity measures, large groups of angry locals stormed parliament, invaded and looted stores in the commercial area leading to a shutdown of economic life in the city. Some of the demonstrators have even called for the government to be forced out of office, just two and a half years after winning general elections.
The protestors damaged windows and other facilities at parliament as they railed against rising food prices, higher rates for imports because of a steadily weakening Surinamese dollar and pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity program to remove subsidies on cooking gas, other items and to slash the government’s wages bill by dumping thousands of workers. The local dollar has plunged from US-7-1 in mid-2020 to $36-1 this week carrying up the prices of food and other key imports.
Police have arrested more than 130 people. There were no deaths even though officers fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at demonstrators. Opposition parties including the main National Democratic Party (NDP) with its 16 of the 51 parliamentary seats, have called for dialogue with labor and other stakeholders, saying any failure to do so by the coalition government would result in future problems of a similar nature as the quality of life is clearly on the decline. The smaller PALU party said President Santokhi appears not to have any answers to what is happening in the Caribbean Community country of about 550,000.
“PALU believes, however, that these criminal acts of only a few divert attention from the super bad government policy of the past period, which was the direct cause of the popular protest. The country’s problems have become unbearable for many. And to make those problems worse, the government doesn’t seem to have a good response to the crisis created by a criminal impoverishment policy,” it said in a statement.
“With the tough language during his press conference, the president also indicated that he does not fully understand how to deal with the highly polarized situation in the country. There were no helping hands at all to the groups that took to the streets. Not even to the various trade unions that went on strike last Friday and whose members were also present en masse at Independence Square. Not to mention possible compensation to entrepreneurs who lost a lot during the looting.”
For his part, Santokhoi told parliament on Monday that the joint security services will do everything they could to maintain law and order. “The government has moved to normalization. However, on the understanding that the security services will remain on high alert for a longer period of time. The government is taking the crisis seriously. If extraordinary measures had not been taken by the government, we would now be even further away from home. All institutions of the rule of law are functioning. The house of democracy has been attacked, but democracy is functioning,” he said.
The former Dutch colony has been on an economic sliding slope in recent decades. Bauxite production, which had once accounted for up to 70 percent of the domestic product, has fallen off significantly with large-scale cutting back by American giant, ALCOA. Gold is on the upswing from large scale Chinese and Canadian producers. Onshore oil production of about 16,000 barrels of oil daily has brought in millions to the state coffers. As regards large commercial finds offshore Suriname in the past three years, actual production is not expected to commence until around 2027, leaving the government with fewer than expected revenue options.
People are struggling to put food on the table and to buy cooking gas among other necessities.Tension in and around the city remains high. Police have even sealed off the private residence of Santokhi in Lelydorp District following threats to his security thanks to flyers urging “everyone should come en masse. Bring your whole family. The people are stronger than the government. We will protest in the city and Lelydorp,” said the flyer.Just last week, the National Party of Suriname, one of the key governing coalition partners, walked away from the government saying it is unsure where the country is going and wants no association with the administration.