In Guyana crime -- grim lessons for T&T
Guest Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 18, 2003

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FOR reasons of politics and race relations, commentators have usually pointed to Guyana as an anti-role model whose example Trinidad and Tobago must avoid at all costs.

Though preoccupied by its own challenges in combating violent crime, T&T should spare a thought for the Caricom sister republic where murderous violence has hit horrendous new levels.

In T&T, the media keep grim check on the toll of murders in the new year. In Guyana, however, the body count in the headlines is that of police officers killed.

As of Monday, five police officers had been murdered in what is clearly a campaign of targeted assassination of officers. Over a one-year period, at least 16 police officers have been killed.

Most of these deaths have not occurred in exchanges of fire. On Monday, for example, one young officer was on his way to work in a maxi taxi, wearing civilian clothes, when he was picked out for death by three gunmen who were passengers.

Days before, another officer, in uniform with bulletproof vest, was driving a police vehicle when he was riddled with bullets high-powered enough to penetrate the protective wear.

Not only are such atrocities taking place too close for comfort for T&T, but latest evidence also suggests the involvement of some Trinidadians. Sheldon Ollivierre, a Trinidadian wanted for crimes here, was shot dead by police in Demerara last week.

Guyanese authorities suspect a "mercenary" element in the gangs now in a ferocious offensive against police officers, and even Customs officers.

In the bitter political rivalry pervading all aspects of public life in Guyana, the Opposition PNC Reform has been accused of giving aid and comfort, at least rhetorically, to bandits. Till now, the PNC-R has been more critical of heavy-handed police action than of the bandits.

The PNC-R stronghold community of Buxton has become a no-go area for outsiders, where wanted killers are known to enjoy shelter and protection.

This week, however, the opposition party sought a meeting with the Police Commissioner and pledged its full support in the fight against crime.

The police eagerly accepted the offer of help from politicians with ground-level links to battlefront communities, in hope of gaining leads to wanted fugitives, among whom are five prison escapees.

As in T&T, Guyana's police and army have joined up for dragnets in high-crime areas.

In Buxton, soldiers are distributing handbills with photos of two wanted men. In a striking recognition of community alienation from the security forces, the handbills urged: "We are your friends, we are not your enemy."

That the Guyana state is at war against a kind of well-armed, home-grown terrorism is openly acknowledged by the administration of President Bharrat Jagdeo. The Government cites the "evidently organised civilian activity" to prevent security forces from entering Buxton, the killing of policemen, with its negative impact on the morale of officers, and arson attempts at gas stations.

While the crime fire rages in this Caricom neighbour's house, T&T should not only pay attention; it should also redouble efforts to wet its own.
(Reprinted from yesterday's Trinidad Guardian)

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