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Suriname was the last outpost of what was once a substantial Dutch presence in South America. The Netherlands controlled large parts of Brazil and most of the Guianas until territorial conflicts with Britain and France left them control of only Dutch Guiana and a few Caribbean islands. During the 19th-century an influx of Hindustanis and Indonesians (locally referred to as ‘Javanese’) arrived as plantation workers.

Despite limited autonomy, Suriname remained a colony until 1954, when the area became a self-governing state; it became independent in 1975. Since then, political developments have been uneven. A widely popular coup in 1980, led by Sergeant Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Desi Bouterse, brought a military regime to power that brutally executed 15 prominent opponents in 1982. The government then carried out a vicious campaign to suppress a 1986 rebellion of Maroons, many of whom fled to French Guiana as their villages were destroyed or severely disrupted.

In 1987 a civilian government was elected, but it was deposed by a bloodless coup in 1990. Another civilian government was elected in 1991, and a treaty was signed with the Jungle Commando (the Maroon military) and other armed bands in 1992. A series of strikes and street demonstrations in 1999 protested economic instability and called for the government to hold elections a year ahead of schedule. Elections were subsequently held in May 2000, producing little change, though the Netherlands stepped up its level of aid into Suriname, helping to stabilize the economy.

Suriname relies on bauxite for 70% of its foreign exchange. Agriculture, particularly irrigated rice cultivation and bananas, is a major industry for the republic, and the fishing industry (including aquaculture) is growing. The country is also making a conscious effort to develop ecotourism in the interior.