Obscure Countries of South America

written by A. L. Hart Havens on February 15, 2022

Conservatives and libertarians from North America, Europe, and Oceania have in recent months begun exploring relocation destinations in the Latin American and Caribbean region with increasing urgency in view of the obvious signs of dire things to come in their home countries.

Anyone in this predicament who has taken a closer look at a map of South America may have noticed three small countries of similar size and shape sitting in a row atop Brazil’s far north extending upward to the southern Caribbean coastline. These three jurisdictions — Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana — receive virtually zero attention in mainstream news or in internationally-focused libertarian circles.

The obscurity of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana is quite peculiar given their location directly on the South American mainland, as opposed to the more well-known South American offshore jurisdictions like the Falkland Islands, the Galapagos Islands, and Easter Island.

With that in mind, this essay offers some interesting insight into the most overlooked countries in South America and arguably in the entire Western Hemisphere, although it is explained below that one of these jurisdictions is not even a country at all.

The Historical Five Guianas

The central section of South America’s sloping northeastern coastline, which was known as the Guianas region in the colonial era, saw five European powers staking a claim to their own separate piece of the Guiana pie. While three of the Guianas — Guyana (formerly British Guiana), Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), and French Guiana — remain intact today as distinct political jurisdictions, Spanish Guiana was later absorbed into Venezuela and Portuguese Guiana into Brazil.

When it was discovered in the 1600s that the Guianese soil and climate were ideal for sugar cultivation, the European colonial rulers quickly established large-scale plantations with the aim of growing sugar cane as well as cocoa, coffee, and cotton throughout the region. This was complemented by the creation of coastal trade outposts.

The highly profitable plantations led to the importation of large numbers of African slaves needed to cultivate the land, the descendants of whom make up today’s significant Afro-Caribbean populations across the Guianas. Later, the abolition of slavery in the Guianas over the course of the mid-1800s prompted the arrival of indentured servants from India and Indonesia needed to fill the large manual labor void.

The combination of the numerous waves of migration from Europe, Africa, and Asia with the region’s pre-Columbian indigenous population has served to create multi-ethnic, mixed societies. It has also given rise to a variety of creole vernaculars which are commonly spoken alongside the countries’ official European languages. As a result of these historical influences, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana (as well as Belize) are today considered to be mainland Caribbean countries due to their greater cultural similarities with Caribbean islands than with the remainder of South America.

Before transitioning to an analysis of these three obscure countries, a source of potential confusion should first be addressed. More specifically, an effort should be made to avoid confusing or conflating them with any of the following similarly named countries: Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Gabon, the Gambia, Grenada, Guatemala.

Guyana (formerly British Guiana)

Guyana, the most westerly of the three obscure South American countries covered in this article, has the misfortune of forever being associated with one of the most disturbing atrocities of the 20th Century — the Jonestown mass murder-suicides. And as the historical anecdote below demonstrates, the similarities between the events that transpired in Jonestown and the apparent direction of today’s mass-brainwashing and medical-tyranny campaigns are nothing less than ominous.

When in 1974 the San Francisco-based People’s Temple headed by pastor Jim Jones, a charismatic cult leader and ardent admirer of Soviet-style communism, leased a large plot of land in a remote jungle of northwestern Guyana near the Venezuelan border to serve as the location of the socialist congregation’s future agricultural commune, it set the stage for one of the most horrific mass killings of American civilians in US history.

With Jonestown’s resident population swelling toward the end of the decade from an influx of new arrivals from the United States, concerned family members began pressuring the US government to conduct a welfare check on their relatives. However, when a delegation headed by US congressman Leo Ryan of California eventually arrived in Guyana on November 18, 1978 and several Jonestown residents attempted to defect, Jones ordered a lethal ambush as the departing plane was boarding. Ryan and three journalists were among those shot dead.

Sensing the impending consequences of what had just transpired, Jones quickly summoned the entire commune to the central pavilion and rallied for revolutionary suicide by way of cyanide-laced grape Flavor Aid (which, presumably due to the genericized trademark, was incorrectly reported by media outlets as Kool-Aid).

Many of the cult’s members drank it willingly and eagerly, however those who dared to make a run for the jungle were met with an unrelenting barrage of machine-gun fire. Residents who hesitated or refused the suicidal concoction, which Jones repeatedly referred to as the medication, were restrained and forcibly injected against their will.

Well over 900 people were dead by the day’s end, including hundreds of children and Jim Jones himself, with only a few dozen fortunate individuals managing to survive the ordeal. Some of the deceased residents of Jonestown were found to have left behind signed notes requesting the transfer of their bank accounts and estates to the Communist Party of the USSR.

A 44-minute audio recording of the commune’s final moments (known as the Jonestown Death Tape) as well as video footage of Congressman Ryan’s tour of Jonestown right up to the very moment of his murder are available on Youtube. Interestingly, it was the unrivaled brainwashing and blind obedience exhibited by the Jonestown cult that gave rise to the now-popularized figure of speech Drinking the Kool-Aid.

Although it would be a stretch to assign blame to Guyana for the atrocities, it is worth pointing out that the socialist government under Forbes Burnham, which took power upon the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s, was more than willing to lease land and grant residency permits to a communist cult headed by a clearly volatile and delusional leader. At any rate, the Jonestown atrocity has hopefully served to immunize the Guyanese population against the idea of involuntary injections.

Guyana’s ailing nationalized industries exhibited initial signs of recovery in 1989 with the onset of free-market economic reforms, although the country has nonetheless remained one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere to this day. However, this may soon change in light of a recent stroke of good fortune, which saw the ExxonMobil Corporation discovering massive offshore oil reserves in Guyanese territorial waters in late 2019. Since this time, further oil and as well as natural gas reserves have been discovered off the Guyanese coast with the most recent significant discovery coming in late January 2022.

Suddenly a major player in the oil and gas export market with the future prospect of joining OPEC, the English-speaking country is now set to attract an incredible wealth of foreign investment that will pump much-needed cash into the Guyanese economy and lend a boost to the Guyanese dollar (GYD). And in an incredible turnaround from its very recent socialist past, Guyana is now considered to be the world’s fastest-growing economy.

Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana)

For the past 42 years, Suriname’s political landscape has been dominated by one Dési Bouterse. Widely denounced by the Dutch government and mainstream media as the bogeyman of its now-independent former colony, Bouterse has completed two separate decade-long stints as Suriname’s head of state, first as the de facto head of a military dictatorship (1980-1991) and later as the country’s democratically elected president (2010-2020).

Dési Bouterse’s rise to power came by way of a bloody coup d’état in 1980 that — a mere five years after Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands — overthrew the country’s first prime minister Henck Arron (not to be confused with Hank Aaron, a professional baseball hall-of-famer who died in January 2021 two weeks after publicly receiving an mRNA coronavirus vaccination).

This usurpation of power — colloquially referred to as the Sergeants’ Coup — ushered in an era of overt suppression of the press, political parties, and academia and brought forth severe restrictions on freedom of assembly, summary executions of political opponents, and other heavy-handed tactics aimed at crushing dissent. There were four failed counter-coup attempts carried out against Bouterse’s government, one of which was communist-orchestrated.

Interestingly, the military junta led by Bouterse did not promote any particular political ideology or seriously aim to align itself ideologically with either Cold War sphere of influence, although Suriname did seek support from Cuba, Libya, and several other US adversaries during this time. While some categorize the 1980s Bouterse government as left-wing due to its restrictive economic policies, others describe it as having operated in actuality as a typical Cold War-era South American right-wing dictatorship similar to those headed by Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Juan Perón in Argentina.

By the end of the decade, the effects of a years’-long civil war against a self-described Jungle Commando led by Bouterse’s former bodyguard Ronnie Brunswijk had begun to severely drain the government’s resources. This led to Bouterse reluctantly agreeing to a reinstatement of democratic elections as a condition of the ceasefire and to his eventual removal from power by 1991.

In the years that followed, Bouterse is accused of having become actively involved in large-scale international narcotics trafficking, which culminated in his 1999 conviction in absentia in the Netherlands for smuggling more than one thousand pounds of cocaine.

Bouterse’s repeated attempts to regain power eventually paid off when he emerged victorious in the 2010 presidential election. One of the first orders of business of his new government was the passing of a law granting amnesty to himself and the 15 co-conspirators of a 1982 execution of political opponents.

Bouterse also took the opportunity to officially honor the organizers of the 1980 coup d’état with a large monument and a national holiday in Suriname. This move was met with absolute outrage in the Netherlands, a country that continues to self-righteously assert a moral high ground over its former colony that has retained Dutch as its official language (even though the predominant language in Suriname is an English-based creole variant called Sranan Tongo).

Despite retiring from politics in 2020, Dési Bouterse remains embroiled in a high-profile legal battle in which he remains a free man while appealing a 20-year prison sentence for the aforementioned 1982 executions. Ronnie Brunswijk, Bouterse’s arch rival and former leader of the Jungle Commando, is now the Surinamese vice president.

Bouterse’s son Dino, who was head of Suriname’s counterterrorism department at the time, was caught up in a sting operation in 2015 in which he attempted to arrange for the smuggling of drugs into the United States by a Mexican cartel and sought to secure a military base in Suriname for Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in exchange for a seven-figure sum. He was convicted on terrorism and narcotics-trafficking charges in a US court (despite the fact that none the actions for which he was convicted were carried out on US territory) and is currently serving a 16-year sentence at a federal prison in Mississippi.

The country’s tumultuous past four decades have shown that Suriname is far from the gold standard of responsible government. However, it seems abundantly clear that Surinamese’s leaders are corrupt in the traditional sense, meaning that they are focused solely on enriching themselves with wealth, power, and fame rather than on pursuing any sinister objectives above and beyond that.

In light of today’s worldwide political landscape, which has seen governments expending virtually unlimited resources aimed at terrorizing their own citizens, the prospect of life under a government that is corrupt in the conventional sense could become quite appealing, as strange as that may sound. This is especially true for an individual in possession of ample resources, as unadvertised government services and preferential treatment may be available to those with sufficient assets to pay for them. By the way, the Surinamese dollar (SRD) replaced the Surinamese guilder (SRG) in 2004 as the country’s official currency.

French Guiana

Although French Guiana may not be a household name, many readers of this article have probably seen the highly acclaimed 1973 film Papillon starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, which is set on the high-cliffed Devil’s Island seven miles off the French Guianese mainland. The movie is based on Henri Charrière’s harrowing autobiographical account of life in an overseas French penal colony and depicts his numerous audacious and spectacular escape attempts. A remake of the original film, also entitled Papillon, was released in 2017.

It is noteworthy that French Guiana, which is sandwiched between Suriname and Brazil, is neither a country nor a semi-autonomous overseas dependency. Instead, it holds the status of a fully integrated region of France in the same way that Hawaii is part of the United States (as opposed to Puerto Rico, which is merely an unincorporated US territory). For the sake of convenience, however, French Guiana is occasionally referred to as a country in this article.

In light of this fully integrated legal status, which is rare for an overseas European territory, French Guiana constitutes the outermost region of the European Union and the Eurozone, although it is not part of the Schengen Area.

Furthermore, taking advantage of EU territory close to the equator at only five degrees northern latitude, the European Space Agency uses the Guiana Space Centre, located in Kourou, French Guiana, as the European Union’s primary launch site. This is because of the greater angular momentum near the equator due to the Earth’s rotation, which in turn requires less energy for rocket launches. This can be seen in the US choosing Florida and the former USSR and now Russia using southern Kazakhstan for their respective launch sites. The Guiana Space Centre constitutes a major part of the French Guianese economy and job market.

While French Guiana could represent an attractive destination for French and other EU citizens seeking to relocate to a tropical climate in a relatively convenient manner, it is unlikely to garner much appeal among libertarian-minded individuals given that French Guiana is for the most part subject to the laws and governance of France.

A Comparison of National Passports

As the largest of the three countries, Guyana has a population of 800,000 and approximately the same land area as the US state of South Dakota. Suriname has a population of 600,000 with a land area comparable to Florida and French Guiana has a population of 300,000 and is similar in size to Maine.

The three countries’ capitals are Georgetown (Guyana), Paramaribo (Suriname), and Cayenne (French Guiana). All three capital cities are situated on the Caribbean coastline.

As pertains to the quality of the countries’ passports, it should be emphasized that there is no French Guianese passport, as French Guianese natives are French citizens who hold French passports. With this in mind, the 2022 rankings of the world’s 199 passports from most powerful (#1) to least powerful (#199) show France at #11, Guyana at #105, and Suriname at #118.

While the French passport clearly scores far better overall, Guyanese and Surinamese citizens enjoy visa-free access to Russia, which French citizens do not. Additionally, Suriname is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world whose ordinary passport holders are afforded visa-free access to mainland China. However, Guyanese and Surinamese citizens require a prearranged visa to enter the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the EU (with the exception of Ireland, which is open to Guyanese passport holders).

Guyana and Suriname are full members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which is discernible from the organization’s CC insignia at the top of both countries’ dark blue passport covers. By contrast, France issues a dark red passport in keeping with the standard applied across all 27 European Union member countries except Croatia (blue).

In addition to CARICOM, Guyana and Suriname are also associate members of South America’s MERCOSUR. Both organizations are modeled to a certain degree on the European Union and aim to offer an EU-style freedom of movement and residency, although there are still numerous hurdles standing in the way of practical implementation.

While Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana may not be the world’s most appealing jurisdictions for residency at present, the fact that these off-the-radar locations are massively overshadowed by the continent’s other countries may present a tremendous opportunity for early movers and investors. Hence, the obscurity of these countries makes them well worth keeping an eye on moving forward.