A former Surinamese rebel leader and international drug convict who waged war against military dictators in the ‘80s and is now a leading member of parliament says he will run for the presidency of the Caribbean trade block nation in the next general elections scheduled for 2015, but the governing coalition of which he is a key member, says it will throw its support behind incumbent President Desi Bouterse for a second five-year term.
Ronnie Brunswijk, a 52-year-old Maroon from the southeastern district of Moengo near French Guiana, dropped the bombshell last weekend at a concert featuring American rapper Rick Ross; however, the governing Mega Combination of which Brunswijk’s ABOP Party is an important member, has made it clear that Bouterse will be the coalition’s candidate in 2015.
Brunswijk and Bouterse were bitter enemies in the 1980s when Brunswijk and thousands of other Maroons and native Indians joined forces to fight the military dictatorship of then strongman Bouterse after Bouterse and other military officers had staged a coup to depose the elected government in February 1980. But the two kissed and made up in the months leading up to the late-May 2010 general elections when, with other ethnic parties, Bouterse won a two-thirds majority in the 51-seat in parliament to form the government of the former Dutch colony.
More than 500 people were killed during nearly seven years of civil war which Brunswijk led before the Dutch, having nothing more useful for him to do, charged and tried him in his absence for international drug trafficking. In a strange quirk of fate, Bouterse, the man he wants to succeed, was also indicted and convicted by a Dutch court on similar charges. Should Brunswijk succeed, it will be the first time perhaps in hemispheric history that one man with a drug conviction succeeds another.
Brunswijk, who has extensive interests in the gold and timber sectors and is regarded as one of the wealthiest men in Suriname, grabbed a microphone during a late-night concert in the capital, Paramaribo on Saturday to announce his candidacy, saying he wanted each of the country’s 500,000 citizens to become rich.
“If your house is on the auction [block] please call Bravo. If you need US$100 you call to Bravo,” he said throwing out hundred dollar bills to screaming members of the audience.” He uses the call-name Romeo Bravio to match his initials.
Brunswijk — like Bouterse, was convicted in absentia in The Netherlands for international drug trafficking. Outside of his announcement at the weekend, the two men have been on good terms in public.
As an indication what lies ahead, Mega Combination spokesman Ricardo Panka told reporters that Bouterse “still has much work to do” and will most likely be the combination’s presidential candidate in 2015. “We’re working to redeem the promises we have made,” he said.”
Despite their convictions, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and Brunswijk’s ABOP have been growing steadily in popularity in the past 20 years and are now among the country’s largest. Polls show them on course to win again in 2015, unless there’s a bitter split between the two men, as was the case in the ‘80s.