Pubdate: Mon, 13 Mar 2006
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2006 Stabroek News
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


No recent statement by a minister has provoked as much public 
consternation as the one by Home Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira in 
which she called for members of the public to boycott the businesses 
of drug lords as a means of helping to defeat them. Ms Teixeira has 
since issued a statement in an effort to clarify what she had said 
during the interview. "I did say 'boycott their business', don't 
associate with them. I did not speak of their shops, when I spoke of 
their business. Nor did I name any person. I made a comment about the 
business of drug lords, which is diverse", she said. It is unclear 
how the business of the drug lords could be boycotted if their shops 
aren't and an attempt at any distinction is superfluous. Ms Teixeira 
should have left it alone. It was a bold call for the businesses of 
the drug lords to be boycotted and she should be complimented on it.

In her statement, Ms Teixeira also lamented that the media had not 
captured the fullness of her government's efforts to interdict the 
drug trade such as the establishment by the PPP/C of the Customs 
Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), the increasing annual budgetary 
allocation to support counter-narcotics, bilateral and multilateral 
cooperation agreements and the invitation to the US Drug Enforcement 
Administration (DEA) to establish an outpost in Guyana. Ms Teixeira 
also pointed out that it may be known to many who the drug lords are 
but until sufficient evidence can be gathered to take them to court 
"then they are in our midst".

What must have really galled the ordinary man on reading Ms 
Teixeira's boycott comment in our edition was the perception that the 
burden of dealing with the drug lords was falling on the citizenry 
while the administration wrung its hands and pleaded that it was 
doing as much as it could. Moreover, how would the ordinary man know 
whom to withdraw his custom from or whom to walk away from at a 
social function when there was none of the evidence that Ms Teixeira 
says would be necessary to prosecute the drug lords.

One assumes that if the ordinary man can find out about the illicit 
dealings of drug dealers and is asked to take a moral position on 
this then the government should be able to do far better and secure 
the prosecution of those embedded in the business. After all, the 
ordinary man doesn't have the leverage that the state has. He doesn't 
have the wealth of laws that can be brought to bear against the 
impugned. He doesn't have the wealth of law enforcement power to wit 
the police, CANU, GDF etc that can be used to snare these drug 
dealers. He doesn't have the capacity to mobilise an international 
network of anti-crime assistance.

And this is where Ms Teixeira's statements rankle most. 
Notwithstanding her asseverations about the things her government has 
done or is doing, its record in relation to drug interdiction and the 
prosecution of drug lords is abysmally poor and there is no apparent 
concerted effort to change this, only lip service.

In a most illuminating column in this week's Sunday Mirror, former 
President, Mrs Janet Jagan has written about the seizure of more than 
3,000 kgs of cocaine aboard a vessel in Port Georgetown while she was 
President. After an exhaustive search and not finding anything the 
authorities were on the verge of giving up when Mrs Jagan and others 
urged them to continue. Equipment to cut into the boat was employed 
and the cocaine was found behind thick metal protection. She also 
referred to another case involving a fish farmer/drug baron who had 
ensconced himself in an East Bank mansion and who, after it became 
clear what he was involved in, was dispatched to Holland where a 
warrant was out for his arrest. Unfortunately, the US authorities 
allowed him off the plane in New York. As an aside, this same 
gentleman had been photographed in the company of senior government 
officials and had obviously been granted licences and concessions by 
a ministry without any careful check of his bon! a fides. Mrs Jagan 
said in the ship case there had been close collaboration with the US. 
It also seems that well-gathered intelligence played a part in these cases.

Since the case referred to by Mrs Jagan in Port Georgetown, the 
governments that have followed and particularly the one that 
commenced in 2001 under President Jagdeo have failed signally to have 
any impact on the drug trade. This, despite the loads and loads of 
cocaine seized abroad after being shipped from Guyana in a variety of 
now famous containers: timber, rice, coconuts, molasses, fish etc. 
That result sends one of two messages: this government is not intent 
on interdicting the trade or it and its security apparatus are 
woefully incapable of undertaking the task.

The administration has also appeared ambivalent about the legislative 
tools to attack the trade and more specifically money laundering. The 
history of the money laundering legislation is a very sad one and 
raises serious questions about this government's commitment. The 
legislation was first introduced in Parliament in October 1998 and 
signed into law in February 2000. To this day, more than six years 
later it has still not been properly activated and there has not been 
a single prosecution under this Act though even the most uninformed 
person knows that Georgetown has become a laundromat to the country's 
drug dealers. There is supposed to be a Financial Intelligence Unit 
in place but nothing has ever been heard publicly from it. All that 
is known for sure is that it has never been cited as the source of 
any case brought against anyone in connection with laundered 
proceeds. It is more the pity as the annual US report is one of the 
few sources of information on the extent of ! money laundering in 
this country and the dangerous impact it is having on society.

So to hear Ms Teixeira speak now about her government's plan for 
asset forfeiture and wiretapping legislation to help in the fight 
against the drug lords isn't very reassuring. First, asset forfeiture 
legislation goes hand in glove with any respectable money laundering 
legislation. Why it would take six years from the date of the passage 
of the money laundering law for the asset forfeiture component is a 
conundrum worthy of a prize. Second, it is unclear how the government 
would go about seizing assets if it doesn't first build cases against 
drug lords and win prosecutions. It has none to its name and until it 
changes this it will be buffeted by the view that it is not serious 
about fighting drug trafficking.

At the policy level the record is just as dismal. A previous plan to 
fight drugs gathered dust and various committees which were to be 
chaired by the President himself did not meet. A new plan unveiled 
with much fanfare last year after an interminable delay is still to 
be given life. And since she has laudably opened this Pandora's Box 
can Ms Teixeira say what efforts her government has been making to 
avoid the 'business' of the drug lords and to not associate with 
them? What are the Cabinet and the procurement administration doing 
to ensure that they don't transact business with drug dealers?

What yardstick are they using particularly since the ordinary man in 
the street is expected to boycott the business of drug dealers and 
shun them? Can Ms Teixeira also say what she intends to do about 
businesses with links to drugs which have reportedly been given world 
cup-related contracts and a forestry deal?

Whether it is thirst for the investment lucre of the drug lords or 
the lack of the will to fight them this government has failed 
comprehensively to tackle the trade and the tentacles of this 
corrosive business will reach far unless it is seriously confronted.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom