Crime and governance
November 16, 2006
If there was need for more evidence after over five years of extraordinary criminal violence, the graphic images on the front pages of all three of last Saturday's daily newspapers should dispel doubts about the nexus between narco-trafficking, money-laundering and gun-running.
In raids in two Georgetown houses, police seized ammunition, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, grenades and cocaine. Even the most charitable explanation cannot attribute amassing such an arsenal to any motive other than killing humans. The variety and volume of illegal firearms surpass the motley collections of the Agricola and Buxton gangs and are reminiscent of similar sophisticated caches associated with the homicidal 'Phantom' gangs.
This newspaper has often pointed out that narco-trafficking is the mother of all crimes in Guyana. It has a direct and deleterious impact on governance through graft and the corruption of state officials and law enforcement officers. It also threatens governance through the execution of counter-narcotics officers such as Vibert Inniss and material witnesses such as George Bacchus, and through the multiple murders of members of rival narcotics syndicates.
Narco-trafficking is this country's most highly organised crime. Traffickers use illegal weapons to protect their trade, coerce recalcitrant customers, intimidate competitors, threaten debtors and execute informers. And as happened during the 2002-2004 'violence,' armed enforcers could turn against their gang bosses and use their weapons and knowledge of the criminal underworld to commit crimes unrelated to the narcotics trade. The increased number of murders of law enforcement officers is directly linked to narco-trafficking and gun-running.
Guyana's huge traditional contraband trade created a vast underground economy which is linked to the criminal underworld. Smuggling escalated during the decade of economic depression in the 1980s when basic commodities were difficult to acquire owing to governmental over-regulation and mismanagement. Smuggling diversified from household goods to guns, drugs and fuel from petroleum-rich Venezuela, much of which is destined for gold and diamond mining camps.
Laundering of the proceeds of the trafficking in illegal minerals and narcotics through non-bank transactions provides ready cash for all sorts of enterprises, a fact known to other criminals. Several assaults were directed against the cambio community during the 'violence.'
Given the size of the informal underground economy, it was not surprising that the United States International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) for 2003 should assert that the scale of money laundering was large although Guyana was not an important centre of offshore finance. Money-laundering definitely is linked to narco-trafficking and gun-running but investigating allegations and arresting and trying suspects is almost unheard of in this country. Although the Money Laundering Prevention Act has been passed, the Financial Intelligence Unit has been established, and the National Drug Strategy Master Plan has been promulgated, the Administration has been curiously impotent in enforcing its own laws, operationalising its institutions, and implementing its strategy.
The dangerous public safety situation created by the highly organised narco-trafficking, money-laundering and gun-running business complex in Guyana has done great damage not only to the country's image but also to the economy and society. This type of crime cannot be uprooted merely by establishing institutions, passing legislation and by episodic law enforcement raids. There must be good governance through which the Administration is seen to display continuous, serious and strenuous commitment to smashing the syndicates.
The Administration must overcome its patent lack of resolve and putative lack of resources by empowering its regulatory agencies and by starting to arrest, try and punish the chief narco-traffickers, money-launderers and gun-runners.