Pubdate: Mon, 03 Mar 2008
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2008 Stabroek News


Friday's rebuke by the US of Guyana's drug efforts will  be hard for 
this government to lightly dismiss  especially in the backdrop of the 
current UK-funded  security sector reform programme which identifies 
the  narcotics trade as a risk factor.

One would also expect that in the wake of the convening  of the 
national stakeholders' forum on the crime crisis  and the renewed 
sense of urgency in governmental  circles, the criticisms contained 
in the State  Department report will be weighed objectively 
and  threshed to glean important insight on what is going  wrong.

What was also startlingly conveyed in the report is the  extent of 
Washington's concern about the way the fight  against the drug trade 
is being handled here. What had  been talked about in recent years is 
now stated in  black and white in the annual International Narcotics 
Control Strategy Report (INCSR): Washington is not  planning to put 
money into Guyana's efforts to combat  the trade but will focus on 
the just as direly needed  substance abuse programmes - quite 
shamelessly neglected by the government over the years.

The report acknowledges that neither the government of  Guyana nor US 
law enforcement has invested sufficient  resources to ascertain the 
quantity of illegal drugs  flowing through Guyana and therefore all 
projections  are speculative. It then draws the line in the 
padi.  "In the absence of both sound data and more robust  DEA/INL 
involvement, the US will not augment resources  for investigation and 
interdiction in Guyana. Instead,  it will continue to channel any 
future assistance to  initiatives that demonstrates success in 
treating  substance abusers". While data is mentioned, the key  part 
of the sentence refers to the lack of progress  with the government 
on the establishment of a Drug  Enforcement Administration office 
here. Washington  clearly has concerns about the quality of the 
drug  fight here and wants its own personnel in situ.  Georgetown has 
baulked or found ways of not agreeing in  keeping with its general 
reticence to involve foreign  law enforcement operato! rs here. So 
the DEA is left to  reconnoitre from Trinidad and to plot the capture 
of  drug criminals from there.

This is quite a pity considering the valuable time that  has been 
lost in confronting the drug lords and the  drug trade. And more so 
now that there is a general  acceptance across civil society and 
political parties  that Guyana needs expert law enforcement help 
from  overseas to help crush the merchants of crime. Will 
the  government accede to this? That will be the ultimate  test of 
the national stakeholders' forum. More than  four weeks after 
Lusignan and two weeks post Bartica there can be hardly anyone who 
would disagree that the  failure of the Joint Services to capture the 
main body  of the attackers or engage them is shocking and 
exposes  their incapability.

In a country where there is such disrespect for data  that the Bureau 
of Statistics can get away with not  issuing inflation bulletins for 
months, Guyanese on the  streets and in office buildings don't need 
figures to  tell them about the drug trade and its impact. They  know 
through their own experience or anecdotally the  conspicuous 
spending, the dozens of addicts on the  streets, the bloody violence 
of the cartels, the  unexplained discoveries of airstrips and burnt 
craft, the proliferation of high-calibre weaponry and 
the  'businesses' that materialize from nowhere. They also  know that 
a lot of the violence and crime in general is  driven by narco dollars.

While there were some successes noted by the INCSR such  as the 
increase in cocaine seizures - mainly through  one major bust by the 
Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit - and  the apprehension of a man wanted 
by the US who had been  lying low here for some time, not much else 
has happened. In particular, as has been pointed out on  numerous 
occasions in these columns and elsewhere, the  much chirped about 
National Drug Strategy Master Plan  has not been effectively rolled 
out. As the report puts  it "cooperation among law enforcement bodies 
is  fragmented and minimally productive; weak border  controls and 
limited resources for law enforcement  allow drug traffickers to move 
shipments via river,  air, and land without meaningful resistance." 
Essentially, if your main plan isn't up and running  nothing will 
work and the drug lords will rule. The  government keeps quibbling 
about the money that is  needed for the execution of the plan. That 
money must  come from the country's own re! sources. The VAT windfall 
should have been designated for national priorities  such as crime, 
literacy and poverty alleviation  programmes etc. If we don't show we 
have our priorities  right - the world cup bill will always stand out 
- - we  can hardly expect donors to rescue us.

That the drug trade poses a grave threat to a  successful crime fight 
should now be a major part of  the deliberations of the national 
stakeholders. They  should seek to address what needs to be 
fast-tracked to  even the scales: anti-money laundering legislation, 
a well-resourced and functioning Financial Intelligence  Unit, 
soaking up the illegal weapons and improving the  performance and 
professionalism of the security forces  so that they would be trusted 
with information by  members of the public.

There should also be serious consideration at all  levels of how 
Washington can be more meaningfully  engaged in assisting Guyana to 
battle the drug trade.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom