Former Dictator, Cocaine Smuggler Bouterse Elected as Suriname's President

Suriname’s former military ruler Desi Bouterse, convicted in the Netherlands for cocaine smuggling, was elected to succeed Ronald Venetiaan as the South American country’s president.

Bouterse was elected head of state by the National Assembly in the capital Paramaribo today after his four-party coalition won 23 of 51 seats in May parliamentary elections. The Netherlands, which granted Suriname independence in 1975, said the former dictator wouldn’t be welcome in the country except to serve out an 11-year prison sentence for his crime, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in an e-mailed statement.

Bouterse, 64, led a group of army sergeants that overthrew Suriname’s democratic government in 1980 and declared a socialist course. The military ruled the country’s 490,000 inhabitants until 1987. The country borders Brazil and is known for its bauxite mines.

Bouterse’s National Democratic Party is part of the coalition known as the Mega Combination that in May defeated the ruling New Front coalition. Chandrikapersad Santokhi, Minister of Justice and Police and a member of the outgoing coalition, came in second place in the presidential vote today.

The Appeals Court in The Hague in 2000 sentenced Bouterse in absentia to 11 years in prison for smuggling cocaine with others into the Netherlands in 1997. Separately, Bouterse is on trial in Suriname for the death of 15 alleged opponents of his military regime in December 1982, according to Dutch news agency ANP.

11-Year Sentence

“The Netherlands respects the outcome of the democratic elections and the choice of the Suriname parliament,” Verhagen said in an e-mailed statement today. The Netherlands will only have contact with Bouterse on a “functional level” and meet its obligations to the former colony unless developments make this impossible, he said.

“We can’t brush aside that Bouterse has been sentenced to 11 years in the Netherlands for drug trafficking, he’s not welcome in the Netherlands other than to serve his sentence,” Verhagen said. Verhagen will not seek to arrest Bouterse as the new president is immune from prosecution during his term.

Alcoa Inc., the largest U.S. aluminum producer, last year agreed to buy BHP Billiton Ltd. bauxite mining and alumina refining interests in Suriname.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jurjen van de Pol in Amsterdam at jvandepol@bloomberg.net.

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