Drug trafficking here distorts the local economy and has been responsible for 30% of the homicides here per annum.
These were among the findings of the United Nations’ Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security. It was the first time that such a report had been done in the Caribbean context.
While the report’s findings about the impact of drugs on the economy and murders is not novel, it adds to growing body of work that a serious problem does exist here and needs to be tackled.
The report which was launched here in October this year focused on seven Caribbean countries including Guyana. No consultation was carried out in Guyana. The data on this country was obtained through public sources and the UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010.
Drug trafficking was discussed in the chapter of the report that dealt with `Reducing the Contribution of Street Gangs and Organized Crime to Violence’.
Noting that data was scarce for most nations, the report said that anecdotal evidence was relied on for assessing the consequences of organized crime. Speaking about Suriname and Guyana, the report said that local officials note that “the people who are involved in moving drugs are often the same people who will use the same operation for many other illegal activities” such as money laundering and terrorism.
The report said that drug-trafficking often results in local drug use problems because traffickers are frequently paid in the product and are therefore required to sell in domestic markets which then feeds into local criminality which includes youth gangs, prostitution, and violent and property crime related to drug markets.
Further, the report said that drug-trafficking triggers the proliferation of firearms, which are traded for drugs, and the presence of armed groups to protect turf and other illegal property.
“Indeed, drug-trafficking has been linked to the rise in execution-type killings, which account for around a third of homicides in Guyana each year. Additionally, it fosters the corruption of public sector employees and law enforcement personnel by drug traffickers, who use their wealth to buy influence and protection from prosecution”, the report asserted.
It added “In Jamaica, similar to Guyana, there is also a strong relationship between the illicit drug trade and the illicit arms trade. The trade in guns in exchange for illicit drugs exacerbates the crime
problem because unregistered handguns flow freely into the country, contributing to the high rates of firearm-related crimes”.
This section will have particular resonance with Guyana in light of recent developments here. A large arms cache was recently intercepted in Lethem and this was believed to have been destined for the Colombian FARC guerillas who would then have paid for it with cocaine.
The interception of the arms is believed to have led to two execution-style murders: those of Ricardo Rodrigues and his bodyguard Marlon Osborne. There has been no charge in either of these two cases. The arms find is also seen as a contributing factor to the death of Jean Le Blanc, a Canadian who had been summoned to Guyana by Rodrigues to assist with backdating paperwork for communications devices after he (Rodrigues) had been arrested in relation to the arms find. Rodrigues was gunned down while at a meeting with Le Blanc. The latter died suddenly in hospital after he had been recovering well from his bullet wound.
The Caribbean Human Development Report also argued that the drug trade distorted the local economy.
“In Guyana, drug-trafficking distorts the local economy and undermines legitimate economic activity because the monies derived from drug sales are laundered by pricing commodities and services much lower than the prevailing market rate”, the report said.
This is also a statement that would have traction in the local economy. Ostentatious buildings engaged in trade have gone up in various parts of the city with continued questions over the provenance of their investments.
The report described youth gangs as “any durable, street oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of their group identity”.
It noted that of the respondents to the UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010 across the seven Caribbean countries, 12.5 percent believe that gangs are in their neighbourhoods but that perceptions vary by nation.
In Guyana, the number was 13.2% while in St Lucia it was 18%, Trinidad 13.9% and Antigua 12.4%.
Around 41 percent of residents in Jamaica, 40 percent in Saint Lucia, and 38 percent in Trinidad and Tobago state the problem of crime is a big one because of gangs in their neighbourhoods. Between 26 and 30 percent of residents in Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, and Suriname report the same. Only about 13 percent of residents in Barbados answered in the affirmative.
The report also said that data clearly show that respondents in Guyana observed the appearance of gangs much later than respondents in most other Caribbean countries. The report said that about two thirds of the observers in Guyana reported that gangs had emerged in their neighbourhoods in the previous three years.
While the police in Jamaica identified 268 gangs and approximately 3,900 gang members as did other countries, the report said that “Police estimates of the street gang problem in Guyana, Saint Lucia and Suriname are unavailable, which represents a challenge to policy makers in these nations to have an accurate understanding of the problem.”
The report said that the structure of organized crime groups in Guyana and Suriname is less well known, but is believed to comprise loosely organized networks that support the drug and gun trade.
Though Guyanese police did not have stats, the report said surveying citizens is one way of assessing the depth of the gang problem. The
UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010 revealed that Saint Lucian residents were the most likely to report such gang violence (20.2 percent), followed by Trinidadians (14.5 percent), Antiguans (12.7 percent), Jamaicans (12.6 percent), Guyanese (10.0 percent), Surinamese (8.7 percent), and Barbadians (5.7 percent).
Organised crime has also shown an increased nexus with activities such as Trafficking in Persons.
The Caribbean Human Development report said that investigative work in Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados recently unearthed that the majority of prostitutes in the country were immigrant women forced into the sex trade.
“The investigation uncovered at least 80 women who were told they would be earning decent salaries as bartenders, masseuses, hotel workers, or dancers. Instead, the women, who were mainly from Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Lucia were forced to serve as sex workers in nightclubs”, the report said.
The investigation also found that that organized crime groups elicited the cooperation of immigration officers and senior officials, who were frequently bribed to permit the women into the country.
Even if an individual or group of individuals are arrested, the rule of law can be subverted via multiple avenues. The UNDP Citizen Security Survey 2010 suggested that judicial corruption is pervasive.
For example, the report said that 53 percent of residents in the Caribbean-7 believe that politically connected criminals go free; about 50 percent believe that the justice system is graft-ridden; 47.3 percent believe powerful criminals go free; and 37.2 percent believe judges are corrupt.
The report said that while organized crime appears to have undermined the faith of the public in the rule of law across the Caribbean, the problem appears particularly severe in Trinidad.
“Almost 70 percent of the residents there believe the judicial system is corrupt and politically connected criminals go free”, the report disclosed. Focusing on the causes and attributes of street gangs, the report said that in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, respondents who lived in neighbourhoods with gangs were significantly less likely to feel a sense of inclusion. Participation, the report found, was also significantly tied to the presence of gangs in the neighbourhoods of respondents.
“In Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, residents of neighbourhoods with gangs were less likely to state that they were willing to participate with others to reduce violence or improve the country”, the report found.
Contending that street gangs and organized crime contribute significantly to the levels of criminal violence and undercut the rule of law, the report said that street gangs and organized crime should therefore be among the most important concerns for Caribbean policy makers in their goal of improving human development.
“A key first step is to understand the scope and nature of the problem, the causes of the problem, and contemporary responses to the problem if we are to address street gangs and organized crime in the Caribbean effectively”, the report argued.
Stating that Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Saint Lucia and Suriname appear to have street gang problems, but the extent and nature of these problems are unclear because of the lack of information, the report said that data does suggest, however, that “Guyana is experiencing problems with organized crime.”