US Embassy mulling staff reduction
- in wake of ‘ineffectual’ response to crime by police

Stabroek News
May 17, 2003

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The ineffectual response of local security forces to the increase in violent crime over the last year could see the reduction of the number of US officials in Guyana.

This disclosure was made by U.S Ambassador to Guyana, Ronald Godard, who announced yesterday that the sharp rise in violent crime here, especially kidnappings, had forced the United States Embassy to review the security of its diplomatic personnel, including those who serve in bilateral programmes.

At a press conference at the US Embassy in Kingston he said that the failure of local law enforcement authorities to ensure adequate security would result in the decrease of the presence of American officials.

“We have to think carefully of whether personnel could be adequately protected, especially with the kidnapping problems,” Godard said, adding that this would be most appropriate in the particular environment.

Ambassador Godard’s statement came at a press conference to discuss the Embassy’s updated Consular Information Sheet, which informed American citizens of the sharp rise in Guyana’s crime rate.

He said that the security situation became particularly alarming with the kidnapping of US diplomat Stephen Lesniak and he added that recent kidnappings had been a shock for the international community resident in Georgetown.

Lesniak was kidnapped on April 12 by armed men while he was playing golf at the Lusignan Golf Course.

“There is an increased threat of kidnapping for ransom, with random targeting of foreigners, who are viewed as wealthy targets of opportunity,” the Consular Information Sheet stated. “Guyanese authorities lack the capability and resources to effectively deter or investigate these crimes.”

Of Lesniak’s abduction, the Information Sheet stated that he was the victim of an “express kidnapping” for ransom. “The victim appeared to have been randomly selected [and] as of this writing, no suspects had been apprehended.” Godard said that there had been some progress in the investigation into Lesniak’s kidnapping but declined further comment pointing out that the probe was continuing.

The Consular Information Sheet noted that Georgetown in particular has seen a sharp rise in violent crime, including home invasions, kidnappings, carjackings and shootings.

“Pick-pocketing, purse snatching assaults and thefts occur in all areas of Georgetown. The areas adjacent to the sea wall and the national park...although frequented by joggers, have been the scene of crimes ranging from pick-pocketing to armed assaults. The risk increases after dusk.”

“Vehicle occupants should keep their doors locked and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Robberies and thefts occur frequently in Georgetown and New Amsterdam. US Citizens should avoid stopping or travelling to the village of Buxton... as it is known as a base for criminal activity.”

Godard expressed the hope that Buxton’s use as a refuge would be brought under control, noting that recent Police/Army raids had seen some success in this regard.

“Criminals act with relative impunity, with several police officers and government officials being victims of assaults and shootings,” the report went on to say, adding that, “The response of the local law enforcement authorities to the increase in crime has been ineffectual; the police are co-operative, but lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”

Godard disclosed that he had had discussions with the government which he said was ultimately responsible for the security of diplomatic officials. He said that the government had been very supportive and added that while he understood their limitations, it was expected of them to provide adequate security.

Godard noted that there had been a response by the government but he articulated his wish that they had more resources and training to deal with the complicated criminal activity.

“The results have been disappointing in some areas and that’s why I say I wish they had more training...” (Andre Haynes)

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