Narcotics, fuel smuggling corrupting Guyana -David Granger

Guyana Defence Force Brigadier (ret) David A Granger believes that narcotics and fuel smuggling are corrupting Guyana on a large scale and he is calling on the security forces to spend time suppressing these rather than pursuing street criminals who are mere products of the more lucrative illegal trades.

Granger’s approach, however, contrasts with that of President Bharrat Jagdeo who has been calling on the security forces to root out the small-scale drug pushers and criminals. A security expert who asked not be named told this newspaper that it was evident that the authorities seemed to be regarding crime as only the street robberies and the periodic incursions by gunmen, and this was reflected in the aggressive approach of the security forces in weeding out the criminals in Buxton and Agricola and also beefing up security in the commercial zones.

The security expert observed, however, that the same posture was not being seen in the law enforcement agencies’ fight against narcotics trafficking, money laundering and fuel smuggling, and that this was reflected in the amount of resources being allocated to agencies such as the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit to fight the drugs’ scourge. The US has over the years criticized the country’s fight against the narco-trade, noting that cocaine shipments continue to pass through the country’s porous borders, while large drug dealers remain here untouched.

Political will

During an interview with Stabroek News on Wednesday, Granger posited that Guyana could experience a better level of public safety and security, but this would remain elusive once there was no political will by the administration to implement the recommendations of several studies conducted to improve the security forces. He said lack of proper crime intelligence and integrity among some of the security officers were also stumbling blocks, which if not removed would continue to negatively affect the performance of the police force.

Close to 100 persons have been murdered so far for the year and armed robberies continue to soar. The head of the force has also been accused by the United States of profiting from the drugs trade and his visas to that country have been revoked.

Asked for his assessment on the work of the security forces in combating crime, Granger said to the extent that persons continued to be murdered regularly and cocaine and other illegal substances were getting through local ports, the security forces were yet to arrest the situation. He observed, however, that it was difficult for the security forces to be successful unless they established sound intelligence systems which would help them to anticipate when crimes were likely to be committed, and also to identify the perpetrators of crime.

The former army officer said that at present the security forces’ crime intelligence was not sufficiently strong to perform those tasks. “The whole idea of intelligence is that you should not only be able to know about a crime, but also to anticipate and forestall the actions of criminals,” Granger declared.

He added that the police force had suffered in this area over the years because of the behaviour of certain elements in the organization whose conduct had been dishonourable. “They have lost the confidence of some sections of the population, who could provide information which could be used as intelligence… their behaviour has been damaging and as a result of that, people who are aware of crimes and the behaviour of criminals are reluctant to tell the police,” Granger said.

Britain through a ?3M Security Reform Action Plan has promised, among other things, to boost the police force’s intelligence capacity.

In addition, Granger said that the training of policemen had to be tackled seriously if the security forces were to make any inroads into the criminal underworld. He said that efforts must be placed on ensuring that well-trained officers were in key positions in the force, noting that it was clear that the level of training being given to police officers needed be revised and made more relevant and up-to-date to deal with the present level and types of criminality. “I don’t know to what extent police training has kept abreast with the changes, but I think the training that recruits get at the Felix Austin College must be critically re-examined to determine its usefulness,” Granger stressed.

The British plan also caters for training in an effort to strengthen leadership. The plan promises to develop a leadership training programme for the senior management of the police force and also to implement and sustain leadership training. The police over the years have been receiving assistance in the area of training from Britain. “If you have a large well-trained cadre of policemen then we will have stronger enforcement and criminals would be afraid to commit crimes,” Granger said.

Alleged connections

He further stated that what was needed in Guyana was a strong, professional police service that would apply the full force of the law to everyone regardless of their social and economic status. It is the view of many that the police have been reluctant to seek out drug dealers and fuel smugglers, some of whom are alleged to have connections with government officials. Several known drug dealers were allowed to live here comfortably until they were arrested by law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions.

Arms smuggling

Granger said that the drug traffickers and those involved in contraband who were the real culprits, engaged in arms smuggling to protect their business and their activities, and this was responsible for the spiralling crime situation. He said the criminal who robbed a gas station or a cambio using a hand gun, did not have the capacity to import the weapon he used, but often acquired it by way of rental and other means from the drug traffickers and gun-runners. The issue of the movement of illegal weapons across the nation’s borders has been a problem over the years and despite many promising statements from the authorities underscoring their commitment to combat this crime, not much has been done to stem the tide.

Earlier this year the Home Affairs Ministry set up an inter-agency task force to look at arms smuggling and Minister Clement Rohee said that the body would report to him on their findings. It is not clear what work has been done by the body so far, as the streets are still awash with illegal weapons, and save for intercepting a few citizens here and there with small arms the police have had little success in reining in these illicit weapons.

Commissioner of Police (ag) Henry Greene back in September told a press conference that the illegal weapons trade was a major problem in battling crime. He said that the trade was flourishing at present, adding that the police did not have the intelligence to stop it because the weapons were coming from various countries, Brazil being the major source. “We are working on stemming the tide of illegal weapons entering the country, but they are getting here in various ways and from several countries,” Greene said then.

Granger agreed with the Acting Commis-sioner that many of the weapons on the streets today were coming from Brazil, but he asserted that it was a shame that although the source of the weapons had been identified authorities had not done anything to seal it off. The Brigadier (ret) said that Guyana’s longest border was with Brazil, one of the world’s largest exporters of small arms. He said the frequency with which .38 and .32 Taurus pistols and revolvers – which are manufactured there – had been showing up in street crimes suggested that Brazil was indeed the source. “The fact that there is such a large influx of illegal Brazilian manufactured weapons coming here you would assume that there would have been attempts to seal that border or conduct surveillance to determine to what extent guns are being smuggled across the border,” Granger said.

During a visit to Lethem in September
residents told this newspaper of the prevalence of arms trafficking. One speedboat operator who ferries passengers across one of the many illegal border crossings recalled how he transported men with suitcases containing both small arms and rifles. Residents also said that the smuggling of goods was also prevalent. Granger added that some criminal activity such as drug trafficking depended on weapons to protect the illegal business and so there was a high demand for weapons and henchmen/gunmen to protect those activities. “So not only the frontiers are open for smuggling of weapons, but the mode of criminal activities and their nature provide a ready market for illegal weapons and criminal gunmen to conduct those rackets,” Brigadier Granger commented. He said unless there was a move to suppress the activities “you will never suppress the demand for the illegal weapons.”

The trade in arms for drugs by criminals in Brazil and Guyana is said to be a flourishing business. In this year’s US drug report it was mentioned that the trade in drugs for weapons by Guyanese was thriving. Security experts believe that criminals in Guyana, including drug cartels and bandits, have links to other foreign jurisdictions, especially border countries. Meanwhile, there have not been many interceptions of guns coming through Guyana’s main entry port, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, but the number of illegal guns on the streets indicates that the weapons are entering through the porous borders. Further, illegal weapons are not only widely used in criminal activities in Guyana, but also circulate at all levels of society, and as public security continues to deteriorate, demand for these weapons seems to be on the rise.

Border control

Granger acknowledged that with the current strength of the police force it is hardly likely that it would be able to monitor the borders effectively. He noted that in addition to boosting its human resource capacity, the police force would need to conduct aerial as well as maritime surveillance of its borders to detect people-trafficking, contraband and drugs smuggling. The former army officer said that the country had a vast number of unpatrolled crossings with Brazil and other countries and several unmonitored airfields.

Guyana and Brazil had signed an agreement a few years ago to cooperate in the area of security and public safety, but Granger said that while the Brazil Federal Police had been helpful to Georgetown he was not sure whether this country had the capacity to fulfil the agreement. “We have to monitor our side of the borders if people are crossing illegally; we must set up immigration posts, conduct patrols. Security is a big thing [and] once you are slack you will have problems,” Granger said.

Asked about the access to AK-47 and M-70 rifles, he said that of all combat weapons the AK-47 was manufactured in the greatest quantity. He said it was the most popular assault weapon in the world and was also cheap. “They are coming from all over the socialist world and even Venezuela,” Granger said. On whether he would support a gun amnesty programme, Granger said it would not work in Guyana, arguing that there had to be two approaches to tackling gun smuggling and these were: strong intelligence – identifying the source of the weapons, who were the traffickers (gun-runners), the various networks, and how the weapons were being trafficked and distributed.

The second was enforcement, which included patrols. Tougher laws on gun crimes, he observed, would not suffice. “People are not afraid of laws, they are afraid of the enforcement of [them]. If you have a large cadre of officers who are well trained, efficient and doing their work that is what will beat back the criminals, not whether an offence is bailable or non-bailable,” the retired brigadier stated. Granger said that the administration must also be prepared to give the force more resources. He said some people thought that crime could be fought by shooting criminals and carrying out mass arrests, but this would not work. Granger said what was needed was for the security forces through strong intelligence to know who was funding the criminals, how they disposed of their loot and how they acquired their weapons. “You have to unravel their network and then you will get to them,” Granger said.

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