Union leader Wilgo Valies being detained by police officers Tuesday during an anti-government protest in Paramaribo
By Ivan Cairo
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Riot police in Suriname detained several individuals including a union leader during anti-government protests in the capital Paramaribo. During the fourth demonstration since April 6, participants called on the government to stop its “policies of destruction”. Numerous protesters chanting anti-government slogans also called for President Desi Bouterse to resign.
Although much smaller in numbers than the previous demonstrations, protesters vowed to continue their rallies until the recent price hike for fuel has been revoked and government freezes other new measures that would cause more hardship for the people.
The Suriname Police Force said in a statement that four persons were detained. According to police a man hit a police officer in the face when he was addressing one of the leaders of the demonstration.
“The officer’s glasses were shattered by the blows,” said the statement released to the press.
Armand Zunder, president of the Progressive Workers Union (PWO), said that union leaders since 2012 have warned the government to change its policies; keep prices under control and prevent inflation and devaluation of the country’s currency to prevent erosion of the spending power of workers.
“The government didn’t listen but instead continued its destructive policies resulting in an economic crisis,” Zunder told the gathering.
The union leader argued that, instead of pilfering the hard fought earning of workers, the government should renegotiate deals it struck with mining multinationals Iamgold and Newmont in order for these companies to contribute more to the state coffers.
Shortly thereafter when demonstrators took to the streets they were confronted by riot police barring them continuing the street march. Disgruntled participants sat on the road to protest against the barrier. Circumventing this blockade, they eventually backtracked and took an alternative route to continue their march. However, at a crucial traffic junction downtown protesters were again prevented by police from proceeding.
Eventually, three individuals including Curtis Hofwijks, leader of the protest movement ‘We are fed up’, and Bryan Boerleider from the ‘People’s Collective’ were arrested and detained.
The crowd subsequently dispersed and, after the formal closing of the protest, Wilgo Valies, president of the Teacher’s Union, was arrested by police officers after he held a speech calling citizens to join fresh protests on Wednesday.
“If we accept that individuals who are demonstrating peacefully are being arrested and detained by the authorities we open the flood gates for dictatorship,” the union leader said.
According to District Commissioner of Paramaribo, Mike Nerkust, organizers of the protest didn’t have a permit.
“They didn’t even seek one, which led to the conclusion that the organizers were aiming for chaos and disturbance of order and peace,” Nerkust said on state-owned Radio SRS.
He added that, if organizers apply for a licence, the police force would provide security during the march in order to prevent calamity and keep order.
Meanwhile, the police force confirmed that during the past weekend the police commander for Paramaribo, Inder Jangbahadoer, called several leaders seeking their strategy for Tuesday’s march in order for the police to provide guidance and assistance.
“The police was informed that the group would meet in Theater Unique and that they would not march in the streets. However demonstrators went on the public road. Police instructions were ignored and offensive and abusive statements were made against officers. Protesters also tried to evade the police cordon, which eventually resulted in the police taking action,” the Suriname Police Force said.