Hot on the heels of (unconfirmed, still) claims that Bashar al Assad's 11-year-old spends his time hanging out on social media sites taunting the world to bomb his dad, come gun-toting relatives of another longtime strongman, Desi Bouterse of the Caribbean nation of Suriname. Butarse led a coup there 30 years ago. He held power with the backing of the military for most of the 1980s, and was implicated in a series of massacres of his opponents. The country became democratic in the early 1990s and he stepped down peacefully, then came back as the elected president, having engineered a coalition that gave him control of the parliament. As he was doing that, unfortunately, he was also indicted for trafficking about a quarter-ton of cocaine, and is wanted in Europe, but so far has ducked problems because of diplomatic immunity.
Imagine Mussolini with Twitter, or Mobutu with Instagram. The notion that Facebook can bring down a dictator runs pretty hard into reality when the dictator's kids are using it to show off their arsenal, and looking smug about it.
Bouterse's son Dino (Desi and Dino?) also got into the family business and was arrested in Panama recently on drug and weapons charges. He allegedly "brandished" an "anti-tank weapon" while smuggling a bag of cocaine. Today Talking Points Memo's Hunter Walker noticed that Bouterse the younger, currently awaiting trial in Manhattan, had created what appears to be a legitimate Facebook page showing himself and various others posing in jungle settings with shotguns. The pictures include a shot of what appears to be Dino Bouterse holding a gun to another man's spine. (Also, he includes holiday shots of his paintball team, which appears to be some sort of commando fantasy camp-type deal.)
What TPM doesn't mention is that most of the pictures (embedded in TPM's story, above) seem to place the family in close proximity to Suriname's other big, shady business: gold mining. We don't know where these photos were shot, but most of them look precisely like they were taken in sites of off-the-book precious metal extraction. One image shows what appears to be Bouterse's wife in a room with a scale of the type one finds in gold buyer's offices in that part of the world. The shot of the younger Bouterse posing with a shotgun in a sandy pit, with a black hose structure beside him, has all the earmarks of a hydraulic mining operation. And the photo of a young woman in a lean-to with a shotgun is identical to a scene I've witnessed dozens of times in small mining camps in nearby Guyana, where a small administrative shack usually sits somewhere near a gold extraction effort, and someone usually guards it.
(I spent a few years coming and going from that area while writing a book about the region and its gold mines. I visited Suriname as part of that research, shortly after Boutarse first fell from power.)
Why should we care about this? The photos, if they are what they seem, don't just suggest the Bouterse clan likes getting its firearms out for pictures. It also shows them boasting about connections to the precious metals trade in their country, which happens to sit on a gold-rich region once thought to be the site of the mythical El Dorado. The photos read, or can be read without much of a stretch, as boasts about much of the nation's natural wealth being in the hands of one heavily-armed family, despite Suriname's move toward a theoretical democracy.
How much of that is true isn't apparent in the photos—it's just one hole in the ground, and perhaps not even that. But the notion of a former (current?) dictator's family flaunting their wealth via social media is a new wrinkle in the long story of autocracies. Imagine Mussolini with Twitter, or Mobutu with Instagram. The notion that Facebook can bring down a dictator runs pretty hard into reality when the dictator's kids are using it to show off their arsenal, and looking smug about it.