The December Murders

On the night of December 7th, 1982, a group of prominent military officers, lawyers, journalists, radicals and academics – all opponents to Commander Desi Bouterse’s military regime – were rounded up from their homes and offices in Suriname’s capital city of Paramaribo. The dissidents were taken by force to Fort Zeelandia, the colonial-era military barracks built by the Dutch on a broad bend in the Suriname river, where they were brutally interrogated and tortured. The next day, fifteen mutilated and gunshot-riddled corpses were dropped off at the Academic Hospital morgue.

The events at Fort Zeelandia, now known as the December Murders, are still shrouded in mystery. No one has ever been held responsible for the killings, and the crime is arguably the keystone trauma of Suriname’s modern history. When I arrived in Suriname for the second time, twenty-three years after the killings, the first formal investigation into the crime had been dragging on for nearly five years and appeared no closer to laying charges. Though deeply curious, I had few contacts in the city, and those I did speak with were unwilling to go on record.

And then I befriended a man named Bodi, one of Commander Bouterse’s personal bodyguards, a plainclothes commando with many secrets. Through our dangerous friendship, I would inch closer to the violent truth of the events that night in December, 1982, the night the young Republic of Suriname lost her innocence.

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