On September 17-18, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made the first visit to Suriname and Guyana. It coincided with promises that the U.S. would increase its technical assistance with respect to law enforcement and national security issues in both countries.
With respect to Suriname Secretary Pompeo traveled there on September 17 and met with President Chandrikapersad “Chan” Santokhi , and key members of his cabinet. Santokhi was elected in July.
As part of his travel, the State Department issued a statement underscoring existing U.S. assistance to combat narcotics trafficking. The statement noted that Suriname participates in various programs funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) in an effort to stop the use of Suriname as an intermediary jurisdiction for drugs and other contraband.
The State Department has engaged in training for Suriname’s Port Control Unit, which seized more than 3000 kg. of cocaine in 2019, including a 2,300 kg seizure, one of the largest in Suriname’s history.
In addition, the U.S. government has committed more than $600,000 towards an anti-money laundering risk assessment, which identifies vulnerabilities in Suriname’s anti-money laundering (AML) regime. The Financial Action Task Force requires a national risk assessment by each country because at both country and financial institution levels AML must be conducted on a risk-based assessment (RBA). The RBAs by financial institutions must depend on the national risk assessment. Although Suriname is comparatively small in population and economy, it has a large territory and multiple sources of risks of laundering, such as informal gold mining, narcotics and gold smuggling from Venezuela and other neighboring countries, human trafficking, and the use as casinos in Suriname as a vehicle to launder.
The State Department has congratulated the fact that Suriname voted in free and fair elections and has apparently shown it wants to take a new direction based on transparency, rule of law, and democracy. To support the new direction, the U.S., in addition to increasing trade and investment, is deepening its security relationship and supporting Suriname’s economic growth. The State Department says it is prepared to help Suriname and its engagement with the international Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions. In early February, it was revealed that $100 million in private citizens’ savings had disappeared from the Central Bank of Suriname (CBvS).
The new Surinamese President is a former justice minister and police commissioner. The loser of the election, president Desiré “Desi” Bouterse took power through a coup. He has been convicted of narcotics trafficking in the Netherlands and is convicted in Suriname for ordering the execution of political opponents in 1982.
The U.S. State Department has recognized that Suriname’s leaders and civil society must establish sustainable models to extract natural resources transparently and safely and use the resources to benefit the Surinamese people. According to the State Department’s press release, U.S. investment in Suriname’s gold sector offers a model. The State Department aims to work with Suriname to combat corruption.
In a brief press conference the two leaders fielded questions mainly concerning potential U.S. political and military pressure on Venezuela and the role of China in the region.
On September 17, 2020, Secretary Pompeo also visited Guyana. After much controversy over the election of March 2 between incumbent David Granger, and Irfaan Ali, Granger challenged the results for months. Granger eventually relinquished his challenged after the U.S. imposed sanctions on members of Granger’s administration for undermining democracy.
The State Department issued a statement for the Guyana visit. Pursuant to the Caribbean Basic Security Initiative, the U.S. provides technical assistance to Guyana on law enforcement professionalization, strengthening the rule of law, and combating transnational crime. In particular, the assistance has focused on increased training for crime scene investigators, forensic video analysis, trial advocacy, and the development of a curriculum for continuing education programs for magistrates. The program also focuses on training prosecutors and magistrates on implementing maritime security law. The training has resulted in more criminal prosecutions and convictions and faster adjudications.
The State Department has assisted in training Guyana’s Port Control Unit to combat the trafficking of cocaine and other illicit goods through Guyana. The U.S. Coast Guard provides training and mentoring to the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) in order to improve port security. The U.S. military trains the Guyana Defense Forces personnel annually. The training includes a current student at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
After Secretary Pompeo’’s visit, a bilateral Shiprider Agreement will come into force, enabling joint maritime and airspace patrols to interdict narcotics. The U.S. government has recently given $200,000 in equipment and interceptor boat parts to strengthen Guyana’s ability to patrol its territorial waters.
The U.S. has helped the development of Guyana’s energy sector through technical partnership on best practices for energy sector policy, regulation, and revenue management. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance supports training and development within the Guyana Revenue Authority’s Large Taxpayer Division. These recommendations will help Guyana.
Early in Ali’s administration racial tensions have arisen. On September 6, badly mutilated bodies of two cousins, Isiah and Joel Henry, both black teenagers, were discovered in a field. Thereafter, in an apparent reprisal killing a 17-year-old Indo-Guyanese boy was found chopped and beaten to death.
Meanwhile, overhanging the visit are mounting tensions between Venezuela, the neighbor of Guyana and Suriname. Guyana and Venezuela have had a 120-year dispute over their boundary and now the matter is in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Two years ago Venezuela seized Guyanese ships and disputes jurisdiction of the ICJ. The disputed Essequibo area represents about two-thirds of Guyana’s 83,000 square miles.
In the recent past U.S. initiatives towards the Caribbean have been in response to U.S. national security: in the 1980s the civil wars in Central America, the leftist administration of Maurice Bishop in Grenada, narcotics trafficking; more recently, counter-terrorism, money laundering, and human trafficking. The next issue of the IELR will discuss these developments in more detail.
 Dr. Scott MacDonald, Suriname and the Need for Good Governance March 10, 2020, CSIS, https://www.csis.org/analysis/suriname-and-need-good-governance.
 Jacqueline Charles, Pompeo makes history as first U.S. secretary of state to visit Suriname and Guyana, Miami Herald, Sept. 16, 2020. With Pompeo trip, oil boom raises focus on Guyana, Suriname, France24, Sept. 17, 2020.
 With Pompeo trip, oil boom raises focus on Guyana, Suriname, supra.
 Charles, supra.
 Molly Quell, Border Dispute Between Guyana, Venezuela Hits UN Court, Courthouse News Service, June 30, 2020.
 Charles, supra.