Late last week, federal drug agents working with police in Panama, arrested the son of incumbent Surinamese President Desi Bouterse on alleged international drug trafficking charges just as his father was preparing to chair and host a summit of South American leaders.
Clearly embarrassed and stunned by both the timing of the move and the arrest itself, the senior Bouterse postponed the opening of the UNUSAR summit by three hours while he and close aides tried to figure out what had happened.
But by the time the summit finally got underway and as other leaders offered words of support, Dino Bouterse, 41, had already been flown to the US, arraigned in a Manhattan District Court pleaded not guilty and had been assigned a date for a second court appearance.
Until last week, he had functioned as the head of the country’s special intelligence unit, a controversial position that critics had warned would one day blow up in the face of his already beleaguered father.
The feds say that Dino Bouterse has had a history of wrongdoing linked to drugs and arms trafficking and point to an eight-year sentence in Suriname back in 2005 on drugs, weapons smuggling charges and theft of luxury cars.
The younger Bouterse now faces life in prison if convicted even as his father says that he hopes for a fair trial and that he plans to respect the decision of the American court. Whether the Surinamese head of state will try to visit his son if he attends this month’s United Nations General Assembly as usual in New York is unclear but his father himself was convicted by a Dutch court back in 1999 for alleged drug trafficking. Bouterse has always denied the charges and has pointed to a string of anonymous witnesses that the court allowed to give evidence against him calling it a cowboy trial.
Still he is clearly hurting by last week’s developments.
“It’s like a heavy blow. I must say that the timing was perfect, it was on the shoe. You could almost say that I put it myself,” he told reporters in Paramaribo this week. “Let us hope that a proper administration of justice is conducted. I believe in a fair trial.”
As widely expected, the head of state who staged coups in 1980 and 90 and was the military strongman when soldiers executed 15 government critics in 1982, is now being forced to fend off calls for his resignation from the opposition. Legislators say the Bouterse’s name is now an embarrassment to the nation of about 500,000.
Legislator Asiskoemar Gajadien says Bouterse now has no choice but to quit but the president lashes back by suggesting that he has faith in the electorate. Fresh elections are not due until mid 2015 and if he is voted out of office “then so be it.”
The junior Bouterse has never been a favorite of the opposition, professional and middle classes in Suriname as he is seen as the spoilt child of the head of state and one who should never have been appointed to head the special police unit.
He is charged along with an alleged co-conspirator named Edmund Quincy Muntslag. Agents say he traveled to Suriname in recent weeks to arrange the shipment of 10 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S.
Dino Bouterse faces a second charged linked to him allegedly carrying a “firearm or destructive device – an anti-tank rocket launcher and pistols – during a drug-related crime.