Let's get serious about the drug war

Stabroek News
November 29, 1999

President Bharrat Jagdeo's solemn declaration on November 19 that his administration is moving to put drug traffickers out of business will resonate strongly and favourably through all sections of society.

However, for a nation that is accustomed to such imposing declarations of intent only to be followed by little or nothing, the President has a lot to do to convince Guyanese that his promise isn't merely tokenism enwrapped in the trappings of the presidency.

The content of the president's statements indicated that he doesn't believe that enough is being done by those in charge to evict drug traffickers from their lairs and from terrorising communities throughout the country.

He has therefore commissioned a task force comprising personnel from the Guyana Police Force and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit for raids to be conducted on drug nests across the country.

A few exercises here and there in the Mahaica and Demerara rivers will not be enough to even begin extirpating this scourge. What is needed contemporaneously with these forays is the drafting of a strategy that takes in the local and external facets of the drug trade.

The president's accession to office was preceded by seven years of PPP/Civic governance that showed little understanding of what was needed to slash the tentacles of the narco trade and substance abuse here. Late in the 1992 administration there was talk from then Home Affairs Minister, Feroze Mohamed on a drug masterplan. Little was heard thereafter about it and containment seems to have been limited to interceptions at the airport and the occasional raid. One key adjunct to drug interdiction efforts is the Money Laundering Bill. This is another example of the PPP/Civic government's failure to match words with deeds. First tabled on October 29, 1998, the bill is yet to be read a second and third time and passed into law.

In terms of drug availability, there are two different problems which require separate strategies. Guyana is a cultivator of marijuana and consumption of this drug is the primary problem afflicting communities such as the President's birthplace at Unity, Mahaica where Mr Jagdeo said this issue was raised in earnest with him. Remote areas of the Mahaica and Demerara rivers have been transformed into ganja plantations. Law enforcement authorities need more precise information on where these are located so that they can be razed and the ganja flow to villages and communities can be choked off. Satellite imaging could be helpful in locating these farms and the government should seek external assistance on this front. The government should also deploy police outposts in these areas to gather information. Raids have frequently resulted in the torching of these farms but rarely in the capture and conviction of the invisible hands behind these undertakings. The farm helpers are usually the ones who take the rap. This is where the president's commitment will be sorely tested. Is the state determined and prepared to go after the heads of these drug operations.

The second problem is transshipping of cocaine. Guyana is not known to be a producer of cocaine but no one is in an authoritative position to say that this is not the case today. It would be a dramatic and dangerous escalation in the drug trade but so far it seems that cocaine is transshipped and a quantity of it is used to pay off those complicit in the operation. The `coke' is then either sold and used here or directed northwards through mules.

The government needs sound information on the extent of transshipment and the mechanics of the operation. Here again, only the couriers are ever implicated and there is little to show for efforts to get to the source. The man-in-the-street and presumably the police can reel off the names of a dozen well-known and entrenched drug traffickers. Is the government willing to deploy resources to go after these people?

There is no sense in half measures. If the government as Mr Jagdeo has signalled is determined to go after the drug lords, the law enforcement authorities, primarily the police and CANU, require the wherewithal and investigative capacity not only to apprehend but to have a reasonable chance of ensuring successful prosecution of cases in court. Many cases have collapsed before the courts because of incompetent investigative work and weak prosecutorial skills.

In neighbouring Brazil, the government was won plaudits for the appointment of a congressional commission which has yielded historic results. In less than a year the commission's work has put around 100 suspects behind bars including some prominent Brazilians. High-level politicians, members of the legal profession, business executives and police officers are among those implicated. The commission has been hailed as one of the most important political events in recent years.

There is all-party consensus here on the narco-trade. Isn't this area ripe for parliamentary action that includes civil society organisations? It could be particularly useful in soliciting important leads on the drug trade from members of the public who tend to be distrustful of the police and in assessing the efforts of the police and CANU.

So there is much that can be done if the President's statement is to be converted into an action plan akin to the steps taken by Brazil. The ball is now in his court.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples