Watch Suriname's Desi Bouterse!


June 28, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - - Convicted drug criminal and former military coup leader Desi Bouterse very much wants to be the next president of Suriname, a former Dutch colony. His party "The Mega Combination" (MC) won the parliamentary elections last May, winning 23 of the 51 seats in parliament. Since he failed to gain an absolute majority in parliament, he first tried allign himself with his former foe Ronnie Brunswijk, another convicted drug criminal whose "A Combination" won 7 seats. But recent excessive political demands made by Bouterse turned out to be unacceptable to Brunswijk. So it is now rather unlikely that Mr. Bouterse will be Suriname's next president. Yet, Mr. Bouterse is a man to watched closely.

As military coup leader back in the 1980s, Bouterse flirted with Nicaragua's neo-Marxist Sandinists, Grenada's Marxist prime minister Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro's Cuba. And he is now on very good terms with Venezuela's eccentric president Hugo Chávez and probably likes Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, too.

Both Bouterse and Chávez supplied weapons to Colombia's Marxist guerrilla movement FARC. Democracy in Suriname was restored in 1987 but Bouterse has remained a powerful figure ever since. In July 1999, he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands for drug trafficking. In March 1986, Bouterse's assistant Etienne Boerenveen, a close associate of Desi Bouterse, was arrested in Miami. Posing as Latin American drug dealers US Drug Enforcement Administration officials had set a trap for him. In exchange for ten million dollars Boerenveen told them Surinamese airports, roads and ports would be made available for drug transports.

Together with Dutch camaraman Paul Ferguson and I traveled to Brazil and Colombia in March 2000 to make a TV report on Bouterse's drug connections. In the preceding year, Bouterse had appeared on Dutch TV claiming he had become a Christian. I had serious doubts over it. After all, as coup leader Bouterse was responsible for the so-called "December murders" on December 8, 1982 when 15 defenseless regime opponents were executed in cold blood in Bouterse's own "Zeelandia Fortress" in Paramaribo. If he would have converted to Christianity in the 1990s, he should immediately have sought justice and apologize to the murdered victims' families.

Incriminating Brazilian police documents on Desi Bouterse and his son Dino

Why did I travel to Brazil? It was because both the Brazilian Federal Police ("Policia Federal") and a Special Investigation Committee of the Brazilian parliament had large files on Bouterse's drug connections and the so-called "Suri Cartel." I partially gained access to these files. Brazilian police investigators even discovered that Suriname had evolved into a kind of "narco state." It was in November 1999 that the Federal Police rounded up a large drug network in the northern part of Brazil. Colombian cocaine was smuggled into Suriname by using small boats. Among those who were arrested was a Brazilian citizen named Leonardo Diaz Mendonça. His role was so vital that without Mendonça there would not even be a "Suri Cartel."

Police listed 73 names of drug criminals who participated in the Mendonça group. Desiré Delano ("Desi") Bouterse (number 18) and his son Dino (number 19) were among them. One police report describes the Mendonça grops as "posing a threat to state security and the legal order." "By bribing politicians and civil authorities, they undermine society." Desi and Dino Bouterse are described as "partners in the international cocaine trade." Police analyzed Mendonça's international calls. It turned out that he made frequent calls to suspected drug traffickers in Suriname ("Traficantes no Suriname"), Peru and Colombia. Until April 1999 Dino Bouterse was attached as "Third Secretary" to the Surinamese Embasssy in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. It is believed that Dino Bouterse passed on instructions from his father Desi to Mendonça who in turn passed them on to his subordinates. Police traced Dino's calls and discovered that the area codes corresponded to the geographical areas where Mendonça happened to be.

One of Mendonça's subordinates was Sebastiao Alves da Silva ("Saba"), also a Brazilian citizen. Saba operated from the city of Tabatinga near the Peruvian and Colombian border (three countries point). It is not far from the Colombian city of Leticia which was then used as a meeting place by Surinamese drug traffickers. So frequent were Saba's visits to Suriname that the Surinamese Ministry of Justice even issued a national identity card to him (profession "gold digger"). Colombian and Surinamese stamps filled many pages of his Brazilian passport. He made frequent phone calls to Suriname, usually to local drug traffickers.

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 een 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.

Mendonça and Dino Bouterse had a strong bond of friendship. "Dino was the intermediary between Leonardo Mendonça and his father Desi," a high ranking Brazialian police official told me.

Desi and Dino Bouterse were also on very close terms with Rupert Christopher who was Suriname's ambassador in Brazil at the time. As Third Secretary young Dino was his right hand man. The parliamentary investigating committee DPI ("Commissao Parlementar do Inquérito") accused Christopher in 2000 of complicity with drug trafficking between Colombia, Brazil, Suriname and Europe. Christopher refused to appear before the committee. Committee chairman Moroni Torgan told me: "This kind of behavior confirms the fact that he was an important assistant of Desi Bouterse for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued. Should Bouterse ever try to enter Brazil, he will be arrested forthwith. Christopher's refusal to appear before the committee increased our distrust." "We will ask the president of Brazil to expel him officially."

Christopher also declined to see me and my Dutch camera team. Instead, the Surinamese Embassy sent me a lame fax dated February 29, 2000, lambasting "Brazilian authorities" for "unfounded insinuations against high ranking Surinamese authorities which unnecessarily affect the friendly relations between both countries in a negative way."

That is why I concluded at the end of my TV report: "Should Bouterse ever become president of Suriname, Brasil might then consider to rupture diplomatic relations with Suriname." That, however, was back in April 2000 when my program was aired on Dutch TV. Things have changed since. Brazil's current leftist president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva does not view the Colombian FARC drug dealers and guerrillas as a real threat and even follows Hugo Chávez's example of cooperating with Iranian Islamo-fascists who deny the Holocaust. Fortunately, however, chances are now rather slim that Bouterse will indeed be the next president of Suriname.

Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands specialized in crime and terrorism.


Emerson Vermaat, Drugs, Suriname en Brazilië, TweeVandaag (Dutch TV), April 5 and 12, 2000. "TweeVandaag" or "2Vandaag" is now "EenVandaag", a daily news program.

Emerson Vermaat, Het criminele web. Globalisering van de misdaad: drugs, mensensmokkel en prostitutie (Utrecht: De Banier publishers, 2000). Preface by Professor Dr. Ernst Hirsch Ballin, former Minister of Justice in the Netherlands.

©2010 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.