For millennia Suriname was populated by the Arawak ethnic group, who were largely replaced by the Carib ethnic group around 2000 years ago, while dozens of smaller ethnic groups populated the interior. The Europeans arrived in 1499, when Amerigo Vespucci sailed along the country's coast, a full expedition landing the following year. However, early European attempts to colonize the land failed due to the fierce resistance of the Amerindian people. It wasn't until 1651 that a group of British planters founded the first permanent European settlement here. Shortly afterwards, the British exchanged the territory for the Dutch village of New Amsterdam, finalizing British control of Manhattan and simultaneously creating the biggest Dutch territory in the Caribbean. Suriname became home to profitable sugar plantations and during the 19th century, Indians and Indonesians (locally referred to as 'Javanese') arrived as indentured plantation workers to supplement the local population.

Despite some limited autonomy, Suriname remained a colony until 1954, when the area became a self-governing state; it gained full independence in 1975. A coup in 1980, led by Sergeant Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Desiré Bouterse, brought a military regime to power. Bouterse was later brought to trial for ordering the execution of 15 prominent opponents in Fort Zeelandia – an event now called the 'December Murders' – in 1982.

In 1986 the government carried out a campaign to suppress Maroon rebellion, led by Ronnie Brunswijk and his Jungle Commando (the Maroon military). Many of those loyal to Brunswijk fled to French Guiana as their villages were destroyed.

In 1987 a civilian government was elected, but it was deposed by a bloodless coup in 1990. Another civilian government led by Ronald Venetiaan was elected in 1991 and signed a peace treaty with the Jungle Commando and other armed bands in 1992.

Venetiaan was re-elected in May 2000 and held office until 2010. This period was marked by economic difficulty and unrest: flooding in 2006 caused a national disaster and left up to 20,000 people homeless; and in 2009, government troops were sent to gold-mining areas near Albina to quell anti-Chinese and anti-Brazilian protests.