The smallest country in South America is Suriname on the northeast coast of the continent. It lies between Guyana and French Guiana; an overseas region of France. In the 1600’s the English and Dutch explored the area and established the first town called Marshall’s Creek. The Dutch signed a treaty with the English and assumed control of Suriname in the mid 1600s.
The Dutch set up plantations; mainly coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton, and imported slaves from West Africa to do all the work. The slaves were brutally treated and many escaped the plantations into the rainforest. Called the Maroons, these former slaves set up 5 distinct tribes that would raid the plantations to save other slaves from their fate. After slavery was officially abolished in Suriname in 1873, the Dutch still needed manual labor to run their plantations so people were imported from China, Java and India. As a result of all of these mixed peoples, Suriname has one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in the world.
The Central Suriname Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site was set up to protect 1.6 million hectares of Suriname’s tropical rainforest, which covers approximately 80% of the country and is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are threatened species: the jaguar, giant armadillo, giant river otter, tapir, harpy eagle and scarlet macaw.
Suriname experienced political turmoil during the 80’s and 90’s, but has stabilized somewhat in the 21st century. Suriname’s revenue comes mainly from bauxite (aluminum ore), oil and gold. Tourism, due to the many protected areas of pristine rainforest is also an important industry in Suriname.