Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is one of South America's smallest countries. It enjoys a relatively high standard of living but also faces serious political and economic challenges.
Since independence from the Netherlands in 1975 Suriname has endured coups and a civil war. Former military strongman Desi Bouterse dominated politics for much of the post-independence era, but the country is now under civilian rule.
Suriname is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Americas. Most of its people are descended from African slaves and Indian and Indonesian indentured servants brought over by the Dutch to work as agricultural labourers.
However, there is little assimilation between the different ethnic groups, which confine their contacts to the economic sphere. Similarly, most political parties are ethnically based. This acts as an obstacle to consensus-building.
Suriname has potential for tourism, boasting rainforests, abundant wildlife and colonial architecture in the capital. But the sector is undeveloped, hampered by the inaccessibility of the interior and the lack of infrastructure. So, Suriname depends heavily on mining and processing its declining reserves of bauxite and is vulnerable to falls in commodity prices.
Suriname and neighbouring Guyana have been engaged in a long-running territorial dispute over a potentially oil-rich offshore area. A UN tribunal settled the issue in 2007, redrawing the maritime border and giving both countries access to the basin. The ruling is expected to bring a surge of exploration by major oil companies.
The issue flared up in 2000 when Surinamese patrol boats evicted a Canadian-owned rig from a concession awarded by Guyana.
- Full name: Republic of Suriname
- Population: 529,000 (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Paramaribo
- Area: 163,265 sq km (63,037 sq miles)
- Major languages: Dutch (official), English, Sranang Tongo, Hindi, Javanese
- Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity
- Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: Suriname dollar
- Main exports: Bauxite, alumina, aluminium, crude oil, timber, shrimp and fish, rice, bananas
- GNI per capita: US $7,640 (World Bank, 2010)
- Internet domain: .sr
- International dialling code: +597
President: Desire "Desi" Bouterse
The former military leader of Suriname in the 1980s and early 1990s, Desi Bouterse won enough parliamentary support in July 2010 to be elected president.
Desi Bouterse first led Suriname following a coup in 1980
This followed his Mega Combination coalition's winning 23 out of the 51 seats in parliament in May, thereby becoming the largest single party.
He won the presidency with the help of two smaller parties after weeks of strenuous efforts by the opposition to stop him.
Mr Bouterse's election campaign concentrated on winning over poorer voters who felt let down by the previous government's economic austerity programme.
Mr Bouterse is a controversial figure. In 2007, he was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of 15 political opponents as military ruler in 1982.
But the slow-moving case was put on hold when parliament passed a law giving Mr Bouterse and his 24 co-defendants blanket immunity for human rights violations committed during military rule.
The amnesty law provoked outrage among his opponents, while former colonial power the Netherlands recalled its ambassador and froze aid in protest.
In 1999, the Netherlands convicted Mr Bouterse in absentia of drug-trafficking in 1999. He denied all charges in the case. As head of state he is immune from prosecution abroad.
The government generally respects freedom of expression and, on the whole, the state broadcast media offer a range of views.
The two daily newspapers are privately-owned. State-run broadcasters operate alongside private radio and TV stations.
- ATV - government-owned, commercial
- STVS - government-owned, commercial