The finding of a "significant" amount of oil in offshore wells puts the former Dutch colony in the footsteps of neighbouring Guyana.
The intuition has proved to be correct, and explorations carried out under Suriname's territorial waters, together with the successful hydrocarbon reserves that are being exploited in Guyana's maritime borders, have found abundant oil. The finding could be a decisive boost for the development of what is, after Guyana, the second poorest country in South America, but it could also be an opportunity, as with its neighbour, to accentuate the economic and political corruption that has been hindering the progress of the population.
Suriname's presidential palace in the country's capital, Paramaribo [Ian Mackenzie].
article / Álvaro de Lecea
So far this year, drilling in two offshore fields in Suriname has been positive result , confirming the existence of "significant" oil in block 58, operated by France's Total, in partnership with US-based Apache. Everything indicates that the same success could be obtained in block 52, operated by the also American ExxonMobil and the Malaysian Petronas, which were pioneers in prospecting in Surinamese waters with operations since 2016.
Both blocks adjoin the fields under the waters of neighbouring Guyana, where it is currently estimated that there are some 3.2 billion barrels of extractable oil. In the case of Suriname, exploration in the first viable field, Maka Central-1, discovered in January 2020, indicates 300 million barrels, but estimates from Sapakara West-1, discovered in April, and subsequent planned exploration, have yet to be added. It is estimated that some 15 billion barrels of oil reserves may exist in the Guyana-Suriname basin.
Until this new oil era in the Guianas (the former British and Dutch Guianas; the French Guianas remains an overseas dependency of France), Suriname was considered to have reserves of 99 million barrels, which at the current rate of exploitation left two decades to deplete. In 2016, the country produced just 16,400 barrels per day.
status political, economic and social
With just under 600,000 inhabitants, Suriname is the least populated country in South America. Its Economics is heavily dependent on the export of metals and minerals, especially bauxite. The fall in commodity prices since 2014 has particularly affected the country's accounts. GDP contracted by 3.4% in 2015 and by 5.6% in 2016. Although the trend then turned positive again, the IMF forecasts a 4.9% drop in GDP for 2020, as a result of the global crisis caused by Covid-19.
Since gaining independence from the Netherlands in 1975, its weak democracy has suffered three coups d'état. Two of them were led by the same person: Desi Bouterse, the country's president until this July. Bouterse staged a coup in 1980 and remained in power indirectly until 1988. During those years, he kept Suriname under a dictatorship. In 1990 he staged another coup d'état, although this time he resigned the presidency. He was accused of the 1982 murder of 15 political opponents, in a long judicial process that finally ended in December 2019 with a twenty-year prison sentence, which is now being appealed by Bouterse. He has also been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands, for which the resulting international arrest warrant prevents him from leaving Suriname. His son Dino has also been convicted of drug and arms trafficking and is in prison in the United States. Bouterse's Suriname has come to be presented as the paradigm of the mafia state.
In 2010 Desi Bouterse won the elections as candidate of the National Democratic Party (NDP); in 2015 he was re-elected for another five years. In the 25 May elections, despite some controversial measures to limit the options of the civil service examination, he lost to Chan Santokhi, leader of the Progressive Reform Party (VHP). He tried to delay the counting and validation of votes, citing the health emergency caused by the coronavirus, but the new National Assembly was finally constituted at the end of June and is due to appoint the country's new president in July.
Total's operations in Surinamese and Guyanese waters [Total].
Relationship with Venezuela
Suriname intends to use the prospect of the oil bonanza to strengthen Staatsolie, the state oil company. In January, before the Covid-19 crisis became widespread, it announced purpose to expand its presence in the bond market in 2020 and also, conditions permitting, to list its shares in London or New York. This would serve to raise up to $2 billion to finance the national oil company's exploration campaign over the next few years.
On the other hand, Venezuela's territorial claims against Guyana, which affect the Essequibo - the western half of the former British colony - and which are being studied by the International Court of Justice, include part of the maritime space in which Guyana is extracting oil, but do not affect the case of Suriname, whose delimitations are outside the scope of this long-standing dispute.
Venezuela and Suriname have maintained special relations during Chavismo and while Desi Bouterse has been in power. On occasions, a certain connection has been made between drug trafficking under the protection of the Chavista authorities and that attributed to Bouterse. The offer made by Bouterse's son to Hezbollah to have training camps in Suriname, for which he was arrested in 2015 in Panama at the request of the United States and tried in New York, can be understood in light of the relationship between Chavism and Hezbollah, to whose operatives Caracas has provided passports to facilitate their movements. Suriname has supported Venezuela in regional forums at times of international pressure against the regime of Nicolás Maduro. In addition, the country has increasingly strengthened its relations with Russia and China, from which in December 2019 it secured the commitment of a new credit .
With the political change of the last elections, Maduro's Venezuela has in principle lost a close ally, while gaining an oil competitor (at least as long as Venezuelan oil exploitation remains at a low level).