Flag of SurinameSuriname's earliest inhabitants were the Surinen Indians, after whom the country is named. By the 16th century they had been supplanted by other South American Indians. Spain explored Suriname in 1593, but by 1602 the Dutch began to settle the land, followed by the English. The English transferred sovereignty to the Dutch in 1667 (the Treaty of Breda) in exchange for New Amsterdam (New York). 

Colonization was confined to a narrow coastal strip, and until the abolition of slavery in 1863, African slaves furnished the labor for the coffee and sugarcane plantations. Escaped African slaves fled into the interior, reconstituted their western African culture, and came to be called “Bush Negroes” by the Dutch. After 1870, East Indian laborers were imported from British India and Javanese from the Dutch East Indies.

Known as Dutch Guiana, the colony was integrated into the kingdom of the Netherlands in 1948. Two years later Dutch Guiana was granted home rule, except for foreign affairs and defense. After race rioting over unemployment and inflation, the Netherlands granted Suriname complete independence on Nov. 25, 1975. A coup d'état in 1980 brought military rule. During much of the 1980s, Suriname was under the repressive control of Lieut. Col. Dési Bouterse. 

The Netherlands stopped all aid in 1982 when Suriname soldiers killed 15 journalists, politicians, lawyers, and union officials. Defense spending increased significantly, and the economy suffered. A guerrilla insurgency by the Jungle Commando (a Bush Negro guerrilla group) threatened to destabilize the country and was harshly suppressed by Bouterse. 

Free elections were held on May 25, 1991, depriving the military of much of its political power. In 1992 a peace treaty was signed between the government and several guerrilla groups. In March 1997, the president announced new economic measures, including eliminating import tariffs on most basic goods, coupled with strict price controls. Later that year, the Netherlands said it would prosecute Bouterse for cocaine trafficking.