Opposition Leader David Granger says a breakdown in trust between the US and local law enforcement agencies may be the reason why government was not privy to information on the unearthed plan by international drug traffickers to export 500 kilogrammes of cocaine from Guyana to Italy.
US and Italian law enforcement agencies declared that the trans-Atlantic mafia ring responsible for the plot was dismantled with the arrest of 24 persons between New York and Italy in recent weeks. Though Guyana has been identified as part of the plot, it remains unknown whether law enforcement agencies are conducting any investigations here in an attempt to identify anyone locally who might have been involved.
Asked recently by Stabroek News for his views on why the US government made no contact with officials here during the two years they were investigating the alleged plot, Granger said, “my personal opinion is that there is not a strong enough bond of trust between the US Drug Enforce-ment Administration (DEA) and the local law enforcement and anti-narcotics agencies.”
He said that for 12 years the opposition has been requesting that the DEA should set up an office here. He said he has since learnt that there might be some financial issues preventing the office from being established.
“We have had situations in the past in which drug lords have walked free in Georgetown while they were arrested in other jurisdictions, [for] example Suriname, Trinidad and elsewhere. So there must be a breakdown in trust between the US DEA and the local law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Home Affairs needs to pay attention,” he stressed.
“I believe that over the last two years there is sufficient evidence to at least initiate an investigation but most investigations into major cocaine shipments from Guyana have never been successful and have never resulted in prosecution,” he also observed.
A security official, who opted to remain unnamed, told this newspaper that this move by the US is understandable and may have been deliberate so as not to compromise the investigation. The official said there have been a few instances in the past where the US handed over information prematurely with the aim of getting assistance but that did not work out as well as they hoped.
The official said too that one has to bear in mind that corruption is an issue here and given the scale of the investigation and what was at stake, the US probably thought it best to remain silent. The official said too that even after the persons were arrested, the US made no attempts to contact the government about whatever information they had so a local probe could start.
The official drew this newspaper’s attention to the fact that President Donald Ramotar told members of the media after the plot was made public that he had instructed Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee to write to the United States and request information.
“This is a little embarrassing… Here, our country is at the centre of a cocaine trafficking plot and we are clueless,” the official said, while adding that this ought to be a wake-up call not only for the government but law enforcement officials that drug trafficking is getting more and more serious. “When you are hearing about cartel and Mafia, know it is serious business,” the official said.
‘Request for information’
Stabroek News has since learnt from sources that the US Embassy in Georgetown on February 18 (last Tuesday) received a request for information on the matter from the Government of Guyana. A source said the request has since been forwarded to the US Department of State and United States law enforcement authorities. It is unclear if the government has since received either an acknowledgement of the request or any of the information it was seeking.
It was pointed out to this newspaper that the DEA enjoys a longstanding collaborative relationship with Guyana’s law enforcement authorities. This newspaper was told too that the DEA’s Port of Spain office is responsible for liaison with Guyana to combat illicit drug trafficking.
Despite the fact that there is no office in Guyana, the DEA has been working to enhance its presence here to strengthen this close and collaborative relationship, the source said, while adding that the US is continuously looking for ways to enhance that collaboration in the light of the increasing flow of illicit narcotics in the Caribbean.
The local law enforcement official who spoke to Stabroek News stressed too that drug traffickers will always have their eyes on Guyana because of its geographic location and the fact that the country has porous borders and understaffed law enforcement agencies, which enable cocaine to enter freely.
The official said that unless the army and the Guyana Police Force are brought up to strength and given the necessary tools, drugs will always flow in and out of the country. “It is sad that in these modern times, law enforcement ranks lack boats and helicopters to patrol the water and airways day and night,” the official said, before adding that the two helicopters that the army has are useless against drug traffickers. “They need more than that… they need choppers that can fly in the night too,” the official said.
According to the official, drug traffickers are constantly looking for new routes and when they find one that suits their intention, “they will milk it as long as they can.” This, the official said, is what is happening in Guyana. According to the official, not only have they found a route but also people who are willing and able to be couriers. The official pointed out the numerous persons who have been busted at the airport with drugs in their possession. “This is a clear sign that things are happening here. Once you all of a sudden busting two and three people a week with drugs, it tells you something is going on and that is where you start. We here have to start operating like the US. We need to be pressuring these couriers and find out who are the big ones. We shouldn’t be really interested in the couriers, they are just carrying out jobs. What we need are the suppliers so that we can put a dent in this thing and let the US see that we here are serious about the war on drugs,” the official said.
The official pointed out too that too many shipment containers originating from Guyana are intercepted with drugs.
Reports on the recent arrests in both the United States and Italy stated that in conversations recorded by an undercover agent, the conspirators discussed their connections to Mexican drug cartels operating here and they plotted to transport 500 kilogrammes of cocaine internationally, hidden in shipments of frozen fish or pineapples. However, “the conspiracy slowed when shipping containers originating from the same Guyanese shipping company were seized in Malaysia and found to contain more than $7 million in cocaine hidden in pineapples and coconut milk.”
The official also said that it is hard to conclude whether local law enforcement officials are just clueless about drug trafficking here and “just don’t want to know about it.” The security official said he has observed that when big busts occur, “the small fishes are caught and charged” and that is the end of the matter. It was added that sometimes there are no arrests.
According to the source, though the law enforcement officials here have recently been dismissing reports of Mexican drug cartels operating in Guyana, he believes that there might be some truth to it.
The official noted that if the US was unsure about this piece of information or had any reason to doubt its credibility, it would have never been released. “Why would the US release this information [if] they thought it wasn’t true…?” the official questioned.