On the Atlantic coast of South America between Guyana, French Guiana, and Brazil, Suriname is the smallest independent nation on the continent. Suriname is heavily forested; it has the highest percentage of forest to overall land in the world. Due to this, the majority of the population lives near the Atlantic coastal region. The capital city of Paramaribo (known as "Parbo" to locals) is home to approximately half of Suriname's population (about 220,000 of the country's 440,000 residents).

The demographic diversity of Suriname's population is a product of the country's heritage as a former Dutch colony. Along with native Amerindian groups, Africans were imported as slaves and Indians and Indonesians as laborers. Currently, 35 percent of the population is of East Indian descent, 32 percent is Afro-Surinamese, 15 percent is Indonesian, 10 percent Maroons (slave descendants residing in forest regions), 2 percent Amerindians, and 2 percent Chinese.

This diversity is also reflected in the various religious communities. Approximately 45 percent of the population adheres to a Christian faith, while 27 percent and 20 percent are Hindus and Muslims respectively. Dutch is the official language, however most Surinamers understand English.

Suriname gained its formal independence from the Dutch in 1975. In 1980, a group of military officers took power in a coup and installed a brutal military government. Under international pressure, the military rulers stepped down to allow free elections in 1987. However, military strongman Desi Bouterse remained an influential power broker, and the civilian government was overthrown again in 1990.

A democratic government was reinstated in 1991, and remains in place to this day. The national government is made up of a popularly elected 51-member parliament, which in turn elects the president with a two-thirds majority. Desi Bouterse - despite human rights violation allegations and a drug trafficking conviction in the Netherlands - remains an active political figure, although he has recently hinted at reducing his public profile.

Suriname is a resource-rich nation, and the world's ninth largest bauxite producer. Gold and oil reserves have yet to be significantly exploited, but multinational firms have already signed agreements with the Surinamese government. Guyana and Suriname are in a maritime boundary dispute involving an offshore oil reserve. The matter has been referred to the United Nations International Law of the Sea Tribunal for adjudication.

Crime in Suriname is less of a concern than in neighboring countries, but it is on the rise - especially in Paramaribo. Visitors should use the same amount of vigilance and caution in Suriname that they would in urban areas in the United States and Europe.

Argentina Belize Bolivia
Brazil Chile Colombia
Costa Rica Ecuador El Salvador
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) French Guiana Guatemala
Guyana Honduras Nicaragua
Panama Paraguay Peru
Suriname Uruguay Venezuela