Suriname President Santokhi thanks India for debt restructuring, seeks military cooperation

Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi is currently on a week-long India visit. As a leader of one of the smallest South American countries, Santokhi made headlines last year after he took his presidential oath in ‘Sanskrit’.

Speaking to WION’s diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Santokhi touched upon several topics including his oath in Sanskrit, the Indian diaspora back home, the defence ties between the two nations, his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and most importantly, the debt restructuring by New Delhi.

The Indian government earlier this week agreed to Suriname’s demand of restructuring the relatively small debt of $38 million. Reflecting on the same, an elated Santokhi said it was his biggest achievement on the trip.

“We’ve reached an agreement on the debt restructuring with India, that means that all the money for technical assistance, all the money from the credit lines which were blocked temporarily that those money can be released now,” said Santokhi.

“The money can be used for implementing programmes and projects with which communities will benefit. So that is the most important result that I’ve achieved over here. I express my sincere thanks to the Indian government for resolving this issue on debt restructuring between Suriname and India.”


Military cooperation

Santokhi, who leads the Progressive Reform Party (earlier named United Hindustani Party) back home said his country was seeking defence cooperation from India and that it had sought military helicopters.

“Yes, it was requested, but also for technical assistance. I met with private companies [in India] who are in charge of producing defence equipment and materials. So yes there are lot of opportunities.”

Santokhi added the caveat that defence ties could only grow once his government had reduced the outstanding debt.

“Our country is at this moment engaged with the IMF program, that means that we have to reform our economy, we have a very high debt and that debt should be restructured.”

India can bat for us at G20

With India set to host the G20 summit later this year, Santokhi said New Delhi could bat for the countries like Suriname that are not present on such a platform.

“India has taken the leadership of the G20. Nowadays in the world, we need leadership that can bring a new order of peace and understand solidarity. That is what Prime Minister Modi is expressing.”

“India leading G20 means the countries’ voices which are not here, those voices will be represented by the leadership of India.”

Read more: “India takes G20 Presidency at critical time, will provide solutions,” says Chief Coordinator Harsh Shringla

Santokhi added that after his meeting with PM Modi, joint cooperation between the ‘private sectors’ of the two countries will be the new type of cooperation.

‘I had made the choice’

As for his historic oath which was mentioned by PM Modi in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio address last year, Santokhi said he chose to do it in Sanskrit to show that even as a president of a country, he needed god’s protection.

“In Suriname, you have several choices to take an oath. You can do it with a promise, you can do it with an oath and based on your religion you can make a choice,”

“I had made the choice to do it with the Bhagwat Geeta in Sanskrit. And for me, as president, it was also a good opportunity to express that with your election as president you need God to protect you, to guide you, to give you the wisdom to serve the community.”

Hinduism is the second-most practised religion in Suriname, composing 22.3 per cent of the population. Akin to other foreign nations with a sizeable Hindu populace, Suriname was introduced to Indians and the Hindu faith by the colonists.

Talking about the diaspora, Santokhi said, “All of us having Indian descent who are living in Suriname keep our culture, our language in our hearts. Although a lot of people speak Hindi in Suriname, our dialect is Surinamese Hindi.”

“With the presence of the Indian diaspora in Suriname, we have also contributed to a more diverse culture. We have also contributed to the creation of Surinamese culture.”