May 16, 2003
From the start of 1998, the problem of national security seems to have eclipsed concerns about national development and national unity as the main preoccupation of many Guyanese. Naturally, everyone looks to the State for a solution to this serious problem since national security is seen as a covenant between citizens and the State.
On the one hand, citizens are obliged to give their primary allegiance and pay taxes to sustain the nation-state. On the other hand, the State must provide physical protection for the citizen’s person and property and defend the national boundaries from encroachment from other states.
To be effective, national security policy must guarantee the safety of the people of this nation and the integrity of their social, economic and political institutions against external or internal threats. In addition to this physical security, however, citizens expect to live in a country in which they enjoy the psychological security of being free from fear.
Security is a necessity and a public good to which all are entitled. It is not a privilege or an option which the State may or may not choose to provide to some and not to others. But for many citizens in the Demerara-Mahaica Region, this covenant has long collapsed insofar as the State no longer seems to be capable of guaranteeing either their physical security (from injury and death) or psychological security (from fear and terror).
The extent to which Guyana’s national security has been vitiated and the degree to which the State has become incapable of protecting those within its borders was most evident in March and April with the kidnappings of Trinidadians Kenrick Baboolall and Lalchan; the United States Embassy’s Regional Security Officer (RSO) Stephen Lesniak, and Guyanese Deo Baldeo and schoolboy Roy Bell. Of course, kidnappings have continued into the present month.
An unusually prompt and massive military search by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF), which have been conducting joint security operations in that district for the past 11 months, and President Bharrat Jagdeo’s emergency meeting at State House with US Ambassador Ronald Godard, Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, Commissioner of Police Floyd McDonald and Deputy Commissioner of Police Winston Felix, seemed to have had no effect on the outcome of the US diplomat’s 10-hour drama.
The selection of a high-profile representative of the world’s most powerful state; the anticipation of media attention and, possibly, punitive retaliation; the timing and efficiency of the seizure; the successful evasion of the security forces; and the casual collection of the ransom which was paid to secure the victim’s release, all within the period of 10 hours, suggest a degree of derring-do and efficiency which should alert the administration, law-enforcement agencies and security forces to the seriousness of the threat to national security.
It is common knowledge that the USA and Canada from time to time provided substantial evidence to the Government of Guyana of a number of international crimes such as illegal migration (back-tracking) rackets; visa scams; narco-trafficking; gold-smuggling (as a form of money-laundering) and other contraband activities perpetrated by identifiable Guyanese citizens living in this jurisdiction. But, over the years, Guyana seems to have been incapable of securing a single significant conviction against a serious delinquent.
To no one’s surprise, therefore, criminal violence, such as kidnapping, murder, hijacking of vehicles and robberies, invariably involving the use of illegal weapons, perpetrated as the Cabinet Secretary said by “drug gangs, and occasionally involving illegal aliens, have continued.” Unafraid of the criminal justice system, undeterred by the prospect of punishment, and untouched by this country’s law-enforcement agencies, criminals have become bold. Very bold.
In the face of a deteriorating security situation, the administration’s anti-crime strategy and the so-called joint army-police operations have been a spectacular disappointment. Collaboration with the UK Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), strangely, has had no visible result. Recommendations made three years ago by the UK DFID-sponsored Symonds Group for the improvement of the Guyana Police Force have remained largely unimplemented. Advisers and consultants have come and gone. Big crime remains.
Although Mr Lesniak’s kidnapping is only one of about two dozen carried out over the past year, it instantly became an international news event and hit the US Department of State in its soft underbelly. The crime itself, the apparent lapses in Embassy security and the payment of ransom money may be considered as bad precedents. In the final analysis, however, the USA’s pain cannot compare with the anguish of Guyanese families which have been traumatized by the unending torrent of crime.
A weary nation looks to the Minister of Home Affairs who has responsibility for national security and has been directing the administration’s counter-crime campaign only to be told that the public should “rid itself of the myth that there is a lull in crime.”
There must be change. Big change. So far, the administration’s response has been to pass more laws, provide more funds and insist that the GDF and GPF do more to bring the crime wave to an end. These are necessary but not sufficient. The real test of the administration’s resolve to manage law-enforcement more efficiently will be its determination to attack crime not only at the level of the dreaded minions but moreso at the level of its less visible financiers, managers and masterminds.
Unless the supply of guns, drugs and dirty money is cut off, criminal violence will never be brought under control. A successful anti-crime strategy must therefore involve a stronger CANU, sharper financial and frontier surveillance and an improved criminal justice system. All these require better governance on the part of the administration.
Failure to act decisively on a broad front against big crime and bring the volatile security situation under control has already eroded the confidence which citizens should have in the State’s ability to protect them.
For Guyanese and those within the borders of this nation-state, there must be a new approach to national security. Serious problems demand serious solutions.