For such a poor country, we seem to generate enormous wealth through organized crime.
How could this country, suffering with a Gross National Product ranking third lowest in the Americas, alongside Haiti and Nicaragua, produce US$4 million worth of smuggled gold?
The organizing, management and efficiency that went into acquiring, packing, loading and shipping that amount of gold from these shores, all the way to Curacao, is impressive in the extreme.
When we look around us we see such disorganization, mismanagement and inefficiency everywhere – in how our capital city falls apart, in lame national governance, in a paralysed Parliament, and even in most of the chaotic private sector. Regent Street, Water Street and the areas of Stabroek and Bourda markets present interesting studies in noisy chaos.
Yet, organized crimes originating in this land, exposed in far, distant places like Malaysia and Curacao, show such incredible efficiency.
To organize the packing and shipping of cocaine in coconut milk; to acquire, pack and ship 476 pounds of gold, transported through international waters; to smuggle an on-going flow of people through Puerto Rico and Mexico to the US and Canada; to operate underground smuggling enterprises all along the Essequibo Coast, moving fuel out of Venezuela to hinterland communities: these show skills of management and efficiency and organization that defy the imagination.
Reports on the street suggest smuggling of Chinese, Indian, African and Cuban nationals through Guyana happens quite a bit, with smuggling fees as much as US$40,000 a head.
Organized crime has generated national attention since the days of the notorious ‘Taps’ of Albouystown, a known drug lord who ruled America Street back a couple decades ago.
Our society’s first really graphic encounter with the shock effects of organized crime came when Monica Reece was killed and her body dumped on Main Street in the 1990’s. Then the first execution-style assassination of a businessman occurred when Cambio dealer Herman Sanichar was killed in a brazen attack at his East Bank Demerara home in the 1990’s, allegedly at the hands of hired assassins from neighbouring countries.
Since then, brazen executions have become rather normal, and fail to generate shock in the population anymore.
When Ricardo Rodrigues and a Canadian were executed recently in a daring daylight shoot-out in Georgetown, people talked about it on the street with knowing nods, while state officials remained mum, saying nothing – not even expressing outrage or shock or the need for ramped up policing.
Our society suffers from organized crime in a big way.
The ‘Guyana’ brand takes a global beating because this is all the world hears about us: the narcotic hauls, the smuggled gold, the million dollar frauds by Guyanese-born US nationals in New York. Add those to the Jonestown effect on our image, and we’ve got a major challenge to build our national brand on the world stage.
In fact, the concept of a ‘Guyana’ brand on the world stage sounds laughable. Most people would not even consider such a thing. And no one in Government entertains such ideas. The very idea is incomprehensible.
Yes, we are a young nation. But our history is glorious, with great thinkers the world over. Our sons and daughters serve other societies with distinction, honour and world class excellence.
So we do have a global brand, in our nation’s gifts.
When Forbes Burnham served as Head of State, he built a global image for us. We sat on the UN Security Council. We took leadership in CARICOM and the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. We played a role in the global struggle of the poor, warding off the greed of the rich.
In Dr Cheddi Jagan we reached out to the world with his idea of a New Global Human Order.
We dreamed as a nation.
But then our body politic becomes stunted with poor leadership.
In our capital city we perpetuate a Mayor who seems unable to manage or govern. In Government we harbour a President unable to hold his own at international forums, and Ministers of questionable vision, ethics and management ability.
All this leaves a vacuum, where people of organizing skills and efficient management ability step in to take advantage of the breakdowns. These see opportunity, and they grab hold of whatever they could gain. If smuggling of narcotics, gold, fuel, people makes the big bucks, so be it. Many of these notorious organized criminals see this as the only way in our society to generate wealth, for if they go the legal route, then the draconian, oppressive system would stifle and crush their enterprising spirit.
One reason for organized crime is this pressing need, in a poor society, to garner capital. In such a poor society, how does one rise above the filth to a place of power and privilege?
Because the socio-economic system does not reward meritocracy, hard work, skills and talents, very few people could climb out of excruciating poverty.
So, to garner capital, many just do whatever they have to do. In fact, our society is highly populated with the nouveau riche class – those business owners who made their wealth mysteriously and under questionable moral and ethical standards, but today own lavish businesses all across Regent Street, Lombard Street, Water Street and America Street.
People simply use organized crime to gather the capital they need. And organized crime, in this society, may be the easiest way for them to do that, because even the banking system is a thick wall of impenetrable access. Our banks today build their billions on high interest mortgages to people coming into sudden land title, in the Government’s house-lot allocation programme.
How sustainable such an economic strategy is, is quite questionable. Not only are we building up household debt rates, but house-lots are a finite resource, and when they run out, then what would the banks do?
We are not a society that plans for such things. Instead, we go out there to make the big bucks, by whatever means, and hope for the best.
Only, the best comes from mysterious organized criminals among us, who are charting a global course that damages the Guyana brand, to the detriment of the nation.