The Lethem heist reveals serious security deficiencies

Dear Editor,
So we had a robbery and murder at the Regional Democratic Council offices. Today is the fourth day since that shocking incident. I therefore send out heartfelt condolences to the deceased‘s relatives and friends.

This incident just demonstrates the serious deficiencies in the security of this important border link. Security can no longer be the responsibility of the security forces alone. It has to be everyone’s business.

The atmosphere that exists today, however, does not encourage people to come forward. If you are not of a certain political persuasion, your views are not solicited, and even when you voice concerns they are not taken on board.

There was a time when our country had embarked on the quest of making every citizen a soldier; every citizen was to be concerned not only with external security, but internal security as well. I don’t think that concept is applicable today, not with the nefarious activities of so many citizens. That would definitely be a threat to the very security that we so much desire.

I follow very closely the calls that the distinguished gentleman, Mr Granger, Opposition Leader and retired Brigadier General, makes ever so often on the point of security and the lack thereof. I can recall two incidents that occurred in the North West of Guyana during the ’80s when I was a young Lieutenant in the GDF.

A resident of Wauna visited the army barracks and reported that there were some Venezuelan warships at their outpost at Wuasa on the Amakura River. I got permission to conduct a patrol to the area. After three days walking and paddling, we reached a point opposite the Venezuelan outpost. We saw nothing. On investigation, we learnt that the ships had been there and had left over two weeks prior to our arrival. The other incident involved a phone call to the barracks, about two Venezuelan soldiers in the location in their uniforms. I went straight away to the township where we located the soldiers at the hospital. One was a Guyanese who had come to see his sick mother at the hospital. He had brought along his Venezuelan colleague. After following due procedure, we had them escorted to the border.

These two incidents demonstrated the security consciousness of our citizens back then. They were fully committed to the security of our nation. We used to have young people clamouring to join the army, militia and the National Service.

Back here at Lethem, we have breaches of security on a regular basis. These breaches are so regular that we don’t talk about them any more, since no one listens.

For one, our law is very clear on the use of heavily tinted vehicles. Yet on a daily basis, one could observe the regularity with which heavily tinted Brazilian vehicles visit Lethem. The law is neither applied nor respected. If Brazil says you can’t enter Brazil with your fuel containers strapped on the top of your bus, as is the practice here in Lethem, you simply cannot enter the country with your fuel containers on the bus. Full stop. The law is applied very strictly in a country that is just a stone’s throw from us.

The army is very invisible here in Lethem, except on party nights. As a young officer, we used to patrol on a very regular basis. This in itself is a deterrent to would-be law offenders. Even if there was no reason for a patrol, we patrolled anyway. This was called hearts and minds patrol. It instilled some amount of confidence in the residents, just to see ‘the boys up and about.’

The police are to be commended. They are operating in a very large geographical area with very few resources. However, they need to rein in some loose cannon who can continue to tarnish the reputation of the force. There used to be a Regional Intelligence Committee, comprising the Regional Chairman, the Army Officer, the Police Commander, and the Special Branch rank. This was the norm in every region. I cannot say if this is still the case since these matters are not made public. In order that security issues be dealt with effectively, we need to do away with this practice, since, as Regional Councillors, we would all have some security concern or the other. We too can make meaningful contributions to the security debate.

Additionally, the regional officials would do well to draw from the expertise of ex-servicemen, many of whom have settled in Region 9. The officials need to shed their cloak of secrecy and segregation, and involve as many decent-minded citizens as possible in security matters. We’ve been there, done that.

Over the last decade or so, Lethem has been subjected to a population explosion, with persons from all walks of life being encouraged to take up residence here. This has led to a housing boom followed by the establishment of several businesses, inclusive of at least one major bank. Obviously, the bandits will flock to Lethem like bees flock to honey. I am not aware that anything has been done in the security sector to cater for threats. At least the Police Force needs bolstering. The army can be more visible, and the business sector will do well to invest in their security should the state fail them in this regard. Lethem has lost its innocence and we the citizens can no longer take it for granted that we are safe in our own little trouble-free world. We are all involved now and if we do not act together, we all will be consumed.

Now that the security guard, Mr John Christopher, is no more, I wish that we all will use his death to effect changes in our attitudes towards security issues. This simple, humble human being died heroically. He gave his life in the defence of the region’s assets. He is worthy of being called a hero.

Up to the time of writing this letter, the Regional Administration has not summoned the staff, nor the business community to a meeting to discuss this unfortunate incident. For them it is business as usual. Staff would be traumatised, some would have fears, and no one seems to care; or, are they incapable of rendering the therapy that is quite necessary in these circumstances?

On a positive note however, the Regional Administration bore the expenses that took care of Mr Christopher‘s funeral that took place yesterday afternoon. More people could have been in attendance had the event been properly announced.

It must be noted too that there was no police rank at the funeral as is customary when victims of murder are being buried. Additionally, the other guard, Mr Bernard is without a police guard. This I want to believe is a serious security lapse. He may be a key witness for the prosecution.
Yours faithfully,
Carl A Parker
Regional Councillor

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