Going after the new, flashy rich... By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
March 3, 2002

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THEY are everywhere - driving the latest expensive vehicles, sporting lots of fancy jewellery, living in `mansions' and living it up. But they work nowhere, have no visible means of income and officials are increasingly wondering - where do they get the money from?

`...we're not just talking about drugs, we are talking about the scourge of money laundering, the profits of drugs smugglers that infiltrate normal, commercial and banking channels' - British High Commissioner Edward Glover

HOME Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj firmly believes there is a "new group of people" in Guyana with no visible or lawful source of income but who have a lavish and affluent lifestyle and whose presence in society contributes to false values in young people.

"In Guyana there (are persons who) might be considered a new group of people who have no visible or lawful source of income, but whose lifestyle is lavish - marked by an abundance of jewellery, drive expensive vehicles, lead affluent lifestyles, build and live in mansions and their presence in society has contributed to the conjuring up of false values by our young people that there is a virtue by not working but in acquiring wealth rapidly," Gajraj said.

His observations came at a high-level gathering at the Foreign Service Institute in Georgetown Thursday afternoon for the launching and presentation of the International Narcotics Control Board's (INCB) annual report for last year.

Gajraj indicated that this group of seemingly `not-working-millionaires' is linked, in some way or the other, to the trade in cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other illicit drugs and the authorities are going after them.

As the global fight against the narcotics trade intensifies, and with Guyana playing its part on the local scene to combat this "scourge", he noted that this illicit trade is closely intertwined with the issue of money laundering.

The Bank of Guyana has been designated as the competent authority to which reports may be legally made of suspected instances of money laundering and from which foreign authorities could request assistance in the "tracing, seizing and even confiscation of property so long as it is established that they are the proceeds of crime", he pointed out.

Gajraj also said that when "properties and assets" from the narcotics trade are confiscated, the proceeds will go towards building drug rehabilitation centres in various areas across the country to help drug users and others.

This will include provision of facilities for drop-in centres where there are community centre activities that can meaningfully engage the attention of young people, the minister said.

"Guyana has demonstrated the political will and resolve to combat drug reduction as evidenced in the vast amounts and quantities of marijuana seized, acreages destroyed and large seizures of cocaine made from time to time," Gajraj stated.

He warned that "the security of the State of Guyana would be threatened, more so if the drugs traders are allowed to develop beyond the present state."

In this regard he noted that Guyana's land borders are not protected as these should be and it is therefore easy to violate the country's airspace.

He also pointed out that there is the possibility of the establishment of clandestine laboratories in the jungle areas of Guyana but said that to date there has been no evidence of such laboratories. There is, however, the need to constantly guard against the establishment of such facilities, he stressed.

"We need to be more preventative than reactive and as a country Guyana is trying," the Home Affairs Minister told the gathering at the launching ceremony.

Dr. Michael Platzer, Representative of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), presented the INCB report and gave a background of the regional trends encapsulated in the document.

"This is a very important occasion (where) we select one country in the Caribbean to launch our report," he said.

Guyana got the honour this year of launching the some 100-page report which contains a comprehensive outlook and revelations about the international narcotics trade, its impact on societies and economies and the efforts in train to combat this international scourge.

The report was launched here in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Ministry of Health. Among those at the ceremony were Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy; Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Dale Bisnauth; members of the Diplomatic Community and special invited guests.

Ms. Jacquilyn Joseph, Director of Human Development, CARICOM, also gave a thought provoking presentation as part of a regional response to a high level meeting on drugs and crime and the way forward.

Gajraj linked the drugs and the arms and ammunition trade as the "Siamese twins of the narcotics scourge".

"We cannot lose sight as to the other menaces in society - which includes the arms and ammunition trade," he said.

He noted that he often complains that "as we look at the narcotics aspect as being northward or eastward bound...very often sometimes we lend a very blind eye to that which is southward bound (but) we don't manufacture arms and ammunition".

"The minds of the criminals are fertile and as fast as the enforcement agency has caught on to some modus operandi they change and switch (their course)...," he noted.

The minister said it does not appear that cocaine is produced in any quantity in Guyana, and as such Guyana remains more of a transshipment point.

The threat of the narcotic flows comes from internal as well as external sources, because as more cocaine flows through the country the user population increases. This, Gajraj said, results in health problems for users of cocaine.

Drug use leads to crime and violence, he said, pointing out that it is established that drug users and traffickers, in an effort to protect themselves, resort to violence.

Gajraj also noted that in other countries where the drugs trade is highly developed, there is corruption of public officials and those who refuse to be tainted are threatened, intimidated and sometimes even executed.

He said too that the targeting of government officials will eventually lead to a breakdown of particularly the enforcement arm and the judicial system of the country to a point where it would be difficult to get suitably qualified people to want to hold those positions.

This, he said, could result in the judicial, legal, moral, social and spiritual fabric and everything else in a country being degenerated.

British High Commissioner, Mr. Edward Glover, in his presentation, felt there was no point in looking for a "quick-fix solution" to the drugs scourge, but said the response of the international community needs to be "measured, effective and long-term".

"We will only be successful in Guyana, in the region and in Europe if our joint policies are balanced, credible, flexible and imaginative (and) it's not just a question of looking at drugs smuggling...it's also an issue of the place of drugs in society, the issue of demand reduction," he said.

Glover noted that based on what he has heard and seen here over the last three years as British High Commissioner, in his many contacts with the Guyana Government, CARICOM and on the basis of the policies and views of the United Kingdom and the European Union, he believes there has been "significant progress" in combatting the drug scourge and demand reduction.

He, however, pointed out that "we can never rest because the enemy is silent and unrelenting". The shipment of drugs through the Caribbean region by smugglers, "big time and small fry", is a significant problem, he said.

Glover noted that drugs from this region not only reach Europe for widespread distribution but also cause "misery and criminality" in the Caribbean as well.

He, however, noted that the international community, which has pledged ongoing, practical support and advice to the region, has no wish to engage in finger pointing.

"The simple fact of the matter is that drugs pose a serious common threat to the fabric of society - whether it's in this region or in Europe or North America (and) a common threat requires a common strategy and a common effort.

"We're all in this together and we all have to work together to find answers."

Glover, whose presentation was based on an international response in terms of bilateral assistance, noted that there is absolutely no doubt that CARICOM is a true regional colleague is putting its shoulder to the wheel in the fight against narco-trafficking.

"But the target is always moving. You think it's there one moment but the target may have moved. So we have to be flexible in our joint response because the (narco-traffickers) are just as smart," he said.

The High Commissioner also lauded the fact that the issue of drugs-related crimes, arms trafficking and money laundering is high up on the agenda of the Caribbean-UK forum next month in Georgetown.

"This will be a very good opportunity for us to re-evaluate our efforts and to see what more can be done," he said.

He is very pleased with the close cooperation between the United Kingdom and Guyana.

"I, for one, am delighted that Guyana has strengthened its own resources in this common campaign through the acquisition and deployment of the GDF (Guyana Defence Force's Coast Guard) ship `Essequibo', shortly to go on a regional exercise with some support from the Royal Navy...", he announced.

"It is through binding ourselves together, whether it's bilaterally or regionally, in these practical ways that we can keep up with the challenges that narcotics drug trafficking poses.

"But we're not just talking about drugs, we are talking about the scourge of money laundering, the profits of drugs smugglers that infiltrate normal, commercial and banking channels," the envoy said.

"Money laundering is like a cancer on which the malevolent in society feed for their own purposes, including terrorism," Glover said. "All of us need to be vigilant and to ensure that adequate measures are in place to counteract this new enemy," he added.

He also noted that he has often spoken about the importance of young people and their role in society. "They are a precious asset, we need them and we must continue to warn them that all drugs are dangerous - especially heroin and cocaine."

"In the United Kingdom, a quarter of a million lives are being destroyed by hard drugs and the cost to the criminal justice system alone cost over one billion pounds sterling a year and (that figure) is rising," Glover reported.