What's behind these attacks? Editorial
Stabroek News
July 9, 2001

Over recent months the logic and motives behind several brutal robberies and attacks have been called into question. Friday night's terrorising of fishermen at the Montrose seawall is a case in point.

The fishermen are definitely not conspicuous spenders and are trying to make ends meet by harvesting the bounty of the ocean. Theirs is not a lifestyle of the rich.

So, the brutishness of their hold up and terrorising on Friday night raises questions.

Why would at least six men - one armed with what was believed to be a machine gun - pounce on unarmed fishermen returning from the sea with a catch? The bandits weren't interested in the catch but enquired about money and cocaine. In law enforcement and other circles it is said that some fishermen transport cocaine out to larger vessels at sea in return for cocaine/cash so that could have possibly been a motive though it appears unlikely. In this case there was no cash/cocaine to be found so after dousing the fishermen with gasolene, beating them and stabbing one of them three times, the bandits made off with a boat loaded with gasolene, a 45 hp engine, fishing paraphernalia and the princely total of $1,600 in cash.

From the start, the bandits were not interested in the boat but seemingly took it so as not to leave the scene empty handed. The police discovery yesterday of the boat and two engines at Hope Beach on the East Coast seems to bear this out.

The number of men who took part in the raid, their weaponry and modus operandi suggests they would have been targeting bigger fish.

On another part of the East Coast - Liliendaal - six men had attacked a woman and two men and robbed them of cash and jewellery, the total take being $107,000. There have been other cases on the East Coast where the very poor have been attacked, robbed and brutalised quite similar to the pattern of attacks on the Corentyne prior to and after the elections of March 19 and which led to the upwelling of discontent and protests.

There, of course, could be several explanations for the targeting of relatively poor people such as greater vigilance at more traditional targets, the proliferation of private security services and perhaps more intense police monitoring of commercial zones and certain parts of the country leaving other regions of the coast unprotected.

Whatever the motive, the police have to start getting apprehended criminals to talk and to testify in court. This is moreso important in the light of the police statement two Fridays ago that intensive work over recent weeks has revealed "a clear pattern of criminal activities designed to create a climate of instability in the country". It added that "questionable characters had been recruited to carry out criminal activities during the course of protest demonstrations, utilizing the enabling environment which was being created" and that bandit attacks were "aimed at selected targets".

The second thing for the public to be concerned about is the proliferation of gangs. Groups of six or so men are clearly working in criminal cells which means that there is a hierarchy, detailed planning of attacks and an organization. Organised crime of this sort has always been bad news for the police and the arsenal of weapons being brought to bear and the tactics employed are clear products of this.

Thirdly, the impunity with which these crimes are being committed by these gangs show they fear little from the police. That the six men could terrorise the fishers for about 90 minutes and then make off in the dead of night into the ocean only concerned about the alarm that was sounded by one of the seamen who escaped speaks volumes. The police headquarters is just at Eve Leary and police stations and outposts dot the East Coast yet these six men felt no threat. Did the police force make an effort to pursue the criminals at sea? Is it equipped to do this? As the 162nd anniversary of the police force is being celebrated with a variety of events, the police have very little to cheer about. As each and every Guyanese knows and as the report by the UK police advisers recently restated there is a need for more patrolling in general and beat duty cops in communities all across the country to counteract the banditry.

Like we have said before, the government needs to recognise that policing is a top five budget priority. This was obviously not the case this year and led to the rather clumsy statement that US$1M would be found for vehicles for the police when the requisite allocation could have been made directly in last month's budget presentation. Clearly, the government is yet to come to grips with the magnitude of the crime challenge.