The making of a mafia state: warning signs and omens ignored

Posted on | juni 23, 2011 | No Comments


In the late 1970s Paramaribo buzzed and bristled with innuendo and gossip after members of the elite became arrested on charges of narco-trafficking. Sordid detail was the fact that the center of business was a butcher shop in the center of the city. This story baffled but also intrigued society, because right under their very noses an epic tale of sex-drugs- rock and roll involving the elite had taken place, in total secrecy, no less! And of course, society bemoaned the fact that said crimes were committed by the happy few, those who thought that the world was their play-ground, their oyster. But this refitting story quickly became yesterday’s news as the main protagonists were jailed, serving their sentences. It seemed that society after that incident, forgot about this thing called drugs or the dealing of illicit substances. But the fact that society averted their attention did not make drugs trade and all its byproducts go away. Drugs-trade in hindsight became a very part of Surinamese society; it rippled and kicked, moving from the under-world to the upper-world and back, becoming incorporated in government after the new regime of junior officers took over power.

  • This essay argues: 1); that Mr. Bouterse and his cronies took over the drug smuggling activities after they came into power in 1980. Newspaper reports, and a myriad of other undisclosed sources paint a coherent and consistent picture of the proliferation of drugs and smuggling activities in Suriname, involving politicians, businessmen, people from the airlines and an undisclosed number of citizens stemming from all social classes and all ethnicities; 2) that Mr. Bouterse’s presidency is build on the fundaments of narco-traffico and that his primary objective is to use the state, and its resources to accommodate and possibly extent his illicit activities.
  • This essay is divided into three chapters; The Past (1980-1997); More Recent Times (1997-2010) and Today and the Future (2011 and beyond)

The Past: 1980- 1997: The Nationale Militaire Raad and its Ties with Latin American Narco-Mafia
The issue of Surinamese involvement in the drug trading came back in the vicinity of society after Etienne Boerenveen became arrested and convicted in Miami. Prior to his arrest, Surinamese society witnessed and speculated on the fact that many members from the Military Council typically from very humble milieus became rich overnight. Their sudden wealth was oftentimes attributed to large scale corruption and fleecing, the aspect of cocaine trade was an added aspect, unfamiliar to the Surinamese society. The suggestion that there is a connection between the earlier arrests and the later activities of the military, however plausible can however not (yet) be corroborated by the empirical.

The Washington Post of February 2, 1987 writes:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials posing as drug traffickers secretly taped Boerenveen offering to sell — at $ 1 million per load — landing rights in Suriname for drug-ferrying aircraft. He is now serving a 12-year jail sentence. (Title Article: Paramaribo’s Military Accused Of Abetting Rife Corruption, Bradley Graham 1987).

The attempts to sell the landing rights to the highest bidder are indeed symbols of fleeting corruption, but they also attenuated to the fact that 1) cocaine trading had entered the confines of government, and 2) that the NMR had forged a connection between upper and under-world because they controlled government. The case of Etienne Boerenveen also forefronted the massiveness of corruption and how the state in fact sustained criminal activities conducted by its leaders.

The case of Etienne Boerenveen, despite the 12 year conviction was rather weak, build on the word of police informants and messy footage (see Buro Jansen en Janssen: Verscholen achter de bamboestruiken, by: Eveline Lubbers, accessed 6/17/2011).

But the case of Etienne Boerenveen is not isolated, and his ties with Mr Bouterse position him as one of the key figures in Surinamese drugs cartel, called the Suri Cartel. Indeed the information obtained consistently points in the direction of individuals such as Desi Bouterse, Etienne Boerenveen, Dino Bouterse, Melvin Linscheer who occupy a prominent position in the organization. Sources at first did not consistently peg these individuals to the drugs-trade, but convictions by various courts in the world, and more recent, documentation disclosed by Wiki leaks, give rise to the notion that indeed members of the ruling party Nationale Democratische Partij (NDP) were up to their elbows involved in narco-trafficking. The assumption here is that they have tried to turn Suriname into a mafia state during the 1980s, thus turning government into a mafia organization, with the ruling elite as head honchos of illicit and criminal activities (#themakingofamafiastate);

In 1997 the Dallas Morning News again wrote:

Mr. Boerenveen’s job gives him direct control of the seaports, airport and customs-inspection facilities, which are described in a March U.S. State Department report as being at the center of Suriname’s drug-trafficking industry

The Dutch Prosecution Office (Het Openbaar Ministerie) did a lengthy and in-dept investigation on trans-Atlantic money-laundering and drug-trafficking , tying many members of the Wijdenbos government to illicit activities in the Netherlands:

Mr. Boerenveen and other top officials figure prominently in the 40 volumes of evidence amassed by Dutch prosecutor-general Arthur Docters van Leeuwen in a lengthy investigation of drug-trafficking and money-laundering activities in Suriname.

Intersting is that both Mr. Bouterse and Mr. Boerenveen have consistently declined to comment on these issues in the press, a senior Surinamese government spokesperson of the Wijdenbos administration however did comment, blaming the Netherlands, in an attempt to avert the attention away from the issue at hand.
The Dallas Daily Monitor also asserted in the aforementioned article that

Suriname government spokesman Andy Rusland dismissed the allegations made by the Dutch prosecutor as being based on hearsay and anonymous, confidential informants who have failed to provide any direct proof. He said the Netherlands has been attempting to defame Mr. Bouterse ever since he led a 1980 military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and installed an anti-Dutch junta. Suriname, whose population hovers around 440,000, won independence from the Netherlands in 1975. “Recolonization is one of the issues in this,” Mr. Rusland said of the Dutch investigation.

Also interesting is that the official opinion corresponded with opinions of for example, Frank Playfair, MP, and an avid supporter of Mr. Bouterse, who told a Dutch newspaper: “History has shown that the Netherlands always has a political score to settle with political leaders who want to make something of Suriname.”

Also noteworthy are the assertions by Buro Jansen en Janssen ( who on their website in 1992 also pegged efforts to investigate drugs charges and allegations against Mr. Bouterse and c.s, as neo-colonialist and meddlesome.

But the tenacity of the allegations, as well as the credibility of sources, that keep on alleging that Mr. Bouterse and his immediate circle are involved in narco-traficking, cannot be labeled “sordid gossip”, “meddlesome” or neo-colonialist. Tantamount is the fact that many aspects of drug-trade continue to remain obscured and cannot be researched and investigated as a regular phenomenon because of the dangers researchers and journalists face when treading these dangerous pathways.

But although very prominent, Mr. Bouterse and his immediate circle are not the only peoples involved in narco-trafficking. Many businesses in Suriname such as casino’s and used car dealerships have been brought in connection with drug trading and money laundering activities.

Other tendencies and phenomena that however demonstrate the proliferation of narco-activities in broader society and the blurring of the fringes between the under and the upper world, are for example ‘bolletjes- slikkers’, cocaine smuggling by so called ordinary, law abiding citizens who take great risk by carrying large quantities of cocaine in their body on flights from Suriname (later Venezuela, Curacao) to Amsterdam, and the fact that many citizens view narco-trafficking as a normal economic venture.

Foreign officials attribute Suriname’s geographic isolation, dense jungle cover and close commercial ties to the Netherlands to its notorious status as popular venue for South American traffickers to transship and export their illicit goods.

In March 1997 the Dallas Morning News also cited an important comment by the American State-Department

“Suriname is an increasingly important transshipment point for narcotics shipped from Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia to the Netherlands and the U.S.,” “International narcotics traffickers from Colombia and Bolivia ship cocaine primarily by air through Venezuela to clandestine airstrips outside the capital city of Paramaribo. . . . Traffickers reportedly transport cocaine shipments weighing up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) from Brazil by river.”

More Recent Times (1997-2010)
Both the U.S. and Dutch governments have been pressing the Suriname government to investigate Mr. Bouterse’s alleged role in the 1982 executions of 15 prominent opposition activists, including journalists, lawyers and politicians who had criticized his military rule. Investigation of the executions and a trial in the early 1990s would indeed have helped to restore trust and confidence in the state and its institutions, simply by elevating the massive sense of impunity that gave rise to massive societal decay. It is assumed that in a situation of social decay, drugs-trade thrives and proliferates. The case of Suriname is not isolated, other societies with proven weak (weakening) leadership have also fallen prey to criminals. Italy, Venezuela, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Argentina and Mexico are societies in which gangsters and mafioso elements have hijacked the state and its institutions for their own activities.

The inaction of consecutive Surinamese governments to take action against mafiosi, to curb the proliferates of cocaine trading, to re-organize and strengthen the police-force, to stop violence and other narco-related crimes is very odd, but typified the weakness of said administrations. At this point it is unclear if government could simply not take action because of unawareness or because of rampant ignorance. Fact of the matter is, that after the 2005 elections, the leeway of government became even smaller, specifically when it came to making an effort to curb corruption and punish crime and criminals. In order to maintain parliamentary majority, the Venetiaan Administration was forced to ask Ronnie Brunswijk, former jungle commando leader and convict to join the coalition. By doing so government in fact became de facto party in the drugs-trade, or at best, the government officially condoned that its highest ranking government officials were inundated in narco-trafficking.

Information channels became more abundant but also more reliable as internet communication channels became more advanced during the late 1990s.

Mr. Brunswijk just like Mr. Bouterse boasts an extensive (called the Brunswijk cocaine Diaspora) network in the Maroon community in the Netherlands; Somebody writes: Kastiel en Adjuba kun je ook zien als deel vd Ronnie Brunswijk cocaine diaspora in nederland. Adjuba schijnt trouwens meer rippartijen te hebben gedaan en ook roofovervallen misschien komt er wel meer naar buiten

Said technological advancement helped to unveil the extent and the massiveness of the cocaine- smuggling network that held Suriname captive in the late 1990s. Society has experienced the inundation of coca-cocaine and its dissemination throughout the broader Surinamese society. There is a connection between criminal activity, albeit drugs-trade and the economic downturn that started in the 1980s and climaxed in the 1990s, making victims among the already weak and poor. But the proliferation of narco-trafficking cannot solely be attributed to weak government and stagnant economy, factors such as urbanization, the media, the technological advancement of mobile phones, all part of globalization should also be factored into this equation.

During the 1990s, the Surinamese economy took a turn for the worst, as the government implemented a much needed structural adjustment program to tackle macro-economic instability.At the same time, citizens could on TV watch the increasing wealth of western societies. Surinamese living in Diaspora came to visit, hauling in the latest fashions, Mobile Phones, Game Boys, sneakers and of course disposable income.

It was during that period when many citizens, strapped for cash, but with a strong incentive to be part of global consumerism opted to be lured into cocaine-smuggling. The middle men of the organization were/ are pivotal in the recruiting of the so called drug-mules (Mulas), in this case people who chose to carry large quantities of cocaine in their stomach (bolletjes) during an eight hour long Trans-Atlantic journey from Paramaribo to Amsterdam.

The use of drug-mules was very successful venture during the 1990s, but the massive influx of cocaine into Europe, prompted Dutch legislators to take vigilant and invasive action to halt the clandestine import of cocaine through their ports. From 2004 onward, all flights coming from Paramaribo, Willemstad and later Caracas became subjected to what became colloquially known as ‘100% control’. But the harrowing tales of the mules depicted by Surinamese and Dutch newspapers, of the risk takers, who sometimes die mid-air, of the mothers taking risks sometimes accompanied by their small children, senior citizens and pensioners who seem to have no clue, tell the story of a human tragedy, of social decay.

These stories by the same token demonstrate the level of ingraining of cocaine and narco-trafficking in Surinamese (Curacao) society as well as in Diaspora.

Why is the connection between Paramaribo and Amsterdam so very lucrative, and why does it involve so many people? The explanation is that drugs transports have a better chance of reaching their destination when transported from Paramaribo to Amsterdam. There is typically less risk involved, in such an operation that not only involves humans (mules), but also involves the smuggling of drugs hidden in foodstuff, in aircrafts, in cargo-shipments, hauled overland from Paris, Brussels, coming from as far as Accra., accessed, 19 June 2011 provides important and detailed information on the extent of the coca-cocaine trade of Suriname.

The information provided by the website of the Militant Islam Monitor teaches that the Surinamese drug cartel is a well- oiled and well organized machinery that operates between the upper and under world, with contacts in South America, The Caribbean and Europe.

One of the most important Surinamese drug traffickers was Melvin Linscheer, former intelligence chief under Bouterse. He is described in Brazilian police documents as “Bouterse’s right hand man” (“mao dereita”), and “a leading member of the Surinamese mafia,” “owner of the Golden Dragon Restaurant.” Another Surinamese drug criminal was Bert Mangal, who is described “a radicalized Indian in Suriname.” Bouterse, Linscheer and Mangal were the leaders of the Suri Cartel. They were involved in a guns-for-drugs trade: trading arms for cocaine with the notorious Colombian FARC rebels. Brazilian planes landed in FARC territory in Colombia where cocaine was loaded on board and these planes then flied nonstop to Suriname to drop the cocaine. Leonardo Mendonça, described in police reports as “Dino Bouterse’s friend” coordinated the effort. He received weapons from Suriname and passed them on to the FARC. The FARC in turn supplied cocaine. One of the most important Surinamese drug traffickers was Melvin Linscheer, former intelligence chief under Bouterse. He is described in Brazilian police documents as “Bouterse’s right hand man” (“mao dereita”), and “a leading member of the Surinamese mafia,” “owner of the Golden Dragon Restaurant.” Another Surinamese drug criminal was Bert Mangal, who is described “a radicalized Indian in Suriname.” Bouterse, Linscheer and Mangal were the leaders of the Suri Cartel. They were involved in a guns-for-drugs trade: trading arms for cocaine with the notorious Colombian FARC rebels. Brazilian planes landed in FARC territory in Colombia where cocaine was loaded on board and these planes then flied nonstop to Suriname to drop the cocaine. Leonardo Mendonça, described in police reports as “Dino Bouterse’s friend” coordinated the effort. He received weapons from Suriname and passed them on to the FARC. The FARC in turn supplied cocaine.

I already mentioned that evidence on the involvement of then MP Desi Bouterse who together with family and friends is organized in the Suri-Cartel, evidence not based on incidental reporting but based on long term trending. In 2006 the notorious criminal Roger Khan was captured by the Surinamese police and extradited to the USA. There are ample and credible sources on the World Wide Web that established a link between Roger Khan, a family member of the President of Guyana Bharat Jagdeo, and Mr. Bouterse. According to said sources Mr. Bouterse set up an alliance with Mr. Khan to co-ordinate activities and to arrange protection for a myriad of illegal activities. Noteworthy in this instance is the mentioning of links between Mr. Kahn with FARC and plans made to commit murder and assassination in Suriname. Other sources by the same token, have mentioned the alliance between Mr. Bouterse and president Hugo Chaves of Venezuela, rather the financial contributions to the election campaign of Mr. Bouterse in 2010. Other sources (, dd. 12 June 2011) make mention of the involvement of Mr. Chaves in FARC, the fact that he accommodated FARC in Venezuela, and his role in the destabilization of Colombia and Ecuador.

The intricacies of the connections, the blurring between the formal, the political and bureaucratic institutions and the criminal, suggest the gradual decline of the state and democratic institutions, because the new government this time used the electoral acquiescence to transform existing institutions. In other words, through elections, criminals acquire legitimacy to commit crimes, to turn government into a criminal organization.

Recent Past, Today and the Future (2010 and beyond)
Mafia, State Terrorism and the Office of the President of Suriname

Similar instances of official privileges for favored middlemen abound in this former Dutch colony, with accompanying allegations that hundreds of thousands of dollars pass to government authorities in return. Stories circulate of large houses and expensive cars purchased for members of the military (……) For years, charges of corruption have been made against Surinamese administrations. When Desi Bouterse took power in a coup seven years ago, he promised to clean up the dirty dealings. But residents encountered here now voice astonishment and resentment at the levels corruption has reached.

This 1987 citing by the Washington Post has retained its value in the contemporary. Indeed in the 1980s then Commander-in-Chief Desi Bouterse consistently accused the toppled Arron Administration of corruption and nepotism and ineffective government.

It appeared that said accusations and attempts were part of a strategy to create a cloud of disrepute and incompetency, to gain absolute control of state institutions, the ports of entry, the police force and the military all necessary for contraband activity. It is ironic and macabre to at this point, draw the hypothetical conclusion that if the Suri cartel was losing and oozing money because of tightened controls at the ports of departure in Suriname than drastic measures to take over power and take over control of the state apparatus were indeed required. But, indeed it makes sense, to incorporate the state in clandestine and illicit activities, using de facto public consent as decoy to establish a ring of trafficking and criminal activities.

The piecing of the empirics on the electoral campaign, the occurrences leading up to the presidential election, conjured up the idea that the campaign was fueled by a sense of urgency, a sense that political power had to be secured at all cost’. Indeed Mr. Bouterse bribed voters and wooed floating voters with gifts, goodies and promises of a better future, but he has other masters, to whom he has to account his actions to. The fact that Mr. Bouterse does not operate independently puts matters in a different light.

It is at this point unclear how this situation will develop. What will happen with the political partners, two so called sworn enemies that helped Mr Bouterse secure parliamentary majority? In order to win the elections Mr. Bouterse promised them a large chunk of power, but he is currently recanting on his promise because their role has been played out…. The fact of the matter is that the presidency has fallen in the hands of criminals with a predatory disposition, with connections in international criminal and terrorist organizations and anybody who crosses them is at risk.

Today after more than 100 days in office, Mr. Bouterse seemed to have resorted to the same tactics used before to gain control over pivotal institutions to ensure the smooth running of his under-world operation. Dino Bouterse his son is head of some secret unit within the Central Detective Unit (CIVD; website: [1]. Scattered incidents that seem to have a different grounding, such as the stepping down of the police chief Delano Braam a capable professional, are all geared to weaken the police-force and to strengthen the role of the so called secret service agency, headed by Dino Bouterse.

Mutations in the highest ranks of the national carrier and other pivotal sectors, replacing capable officials with yes-men and allies, indicate that Mr. Bouterse and his clique are slowly but surely taking- over the state and its institutions. The manner in which office of the president, controls, overseas and monitors all decision-making has strong correlation with the 1980s style of governing by the NMR. Just like the 1980s, Mr. Bouterse gradually takes over control of the sectors needed to stay to in business, the currency exchange market and the Central Bank of Suriname, while at the same time demolishing institutions of democracy that can impede his business.

Mr. Bouterse and his allies also expressed keen interest in the natural resources of Suriname, gold and bauxite, he officially stressed the importance for economic progress, but his actions indicate that these operations too will be controlled by his closed confidants.

The evidence on the involvement of Mr. Bouterse and his immediate circle that consists of the same individuals as in the 1980s, in cocaine trafficking is extensive and based on credible sources. The empirical evidence gathered here paints a daunting picture of a society on the verge of being controlled by Drugs-mafia. Interesting is the combination of geographic position and its rather shaky and rickety state of a democracy in decay that made the country suitable to be incorporated and invaded by elements of the under-world.

History over and over again teaches that as democracy becomes jeopardized, weakened by ineffective and corrupt politicians the state, it becomes more prone for a take-over by roguish and disloyal political forces. The shift between undemocratic/authoritarian and between democratic resembles a cosine movement bound by the axis of its specific domain. If democracy falls outside the boundaries of its domain, than chances to recuperation diminish drastically. One of the most prominent aspects of the aforementioned situation is that the government can use the resources of the state against the its citizens, for example using the police force and secret services to terrorize and coerce citizens.

The sheer pervasiveness of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, aspects that in the past determined the success of the ethnic parties, today fosters crime and criminal activities.

The evidence on the involvement of Mr. Bouterse and his immediate circle that consists of the same individuals as in the 1980s, in cocaine trafficking is extensive and based on credible sources.

Nota Bene
In closing I want to stress the fact that Suriname early on, became capable off fabricating what is called the pasta basica de cocaina, thus processing coca-leaves into crude cocaine. The processing of the coca leaves is a relatively easy and costless process, that can occur in the city as well as in the tropical rainforest. Suriname is therefore not only a hub or a transit port, Suriname can be considered a producer of coca-cocaine in its very own right.

[1] Veiligheids Diensten
Het beveiligen van hoge autoriteiten van staat en daarvoor in aanmerking komende buitenlandse vertegenwoordigers, als ook de bewaking en de beveiliging van de door de direkteur van de C.I.V.D. aan te wijzen personen en objecten. Bureau Nationale Veiligheid (B.N.V.)Dit bureau is belast met het leveren van een bijdrage in het waarborgen van de nationale veiligheid van de staat door middel van het zo correct mogelijk analyseren van ingewonnen informatie, inlichtingen veiligheidsaspecten en deze door geven aan het hoofd van de Centrale Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst (C.I.V.D.)
* source: accessed 22 June 2011).

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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