Guyana and the wider world


A critical subtext to last week’s discussion on globalization, governance and the criminal state in Guyana is the role that “small arms weaponry” as defined by the United Nations continues to play in both the consolidation of the criminal faction within the ruling elite and the wider criminal violence daily evident in the society. The United Nations defines “small arms weaponry” as ” revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, submachine guns, assault rifles and light machines guns” Since the 1960’s it has been paying close attention to the deadly and insidious role this type of weaponry has been playing in developing countries suffering acute societal stresses.

Starting with the Cold War these weapons continue to be proliferated and widely available to the point that for years now they have become a major threat to the internal security of a number of states as well as the maintenance of global security, peace and stability. Judging from local media reports the use of these weapons is a regular feature in both criminal endeavours and the resolution of conflicts among various organized groups.

The spread of these weapons during the Cold War was facilitated by the jockeying for power, influence and position by the major superpowers. Much of the initial availability of these arms came in the form of state provided “aid and security assistance”. Although private international trading in small arms was a significant factor at the time it did not truly become an explosive force for criminal endeavours until the end of the Cold War. Since then the illegal small arms trade arms has reached horrific dimensions and is widely recognized as one of the most negative manifestations of globalization.

The easy availability of these weapons is vital to the success of organized crime in Guyana. It provides capacity for criminal endeavours as well as “protection” against destabilization and political threats to the status quo arising from rival factions. I believe this is the primary reason why trafficking in arms has become such a distinctive feature of life in Guyana today. This dynamic is aided by the very porous borders we have. Both the reputed armory of the phantom squad and the missing AK 47s from the Guyana Defence Force attest to the deep anxiety felt by most Guyanese in recent years. Four years ago I had reported on the importance of those phenomena and what has happened in the period since then confirm my contention that this is but another manifestation of the pathological degeneration of the state into a vehicle for criminal enterprise.

The Authoritarian State

The penultimate feature of the criminal state, which I have been covering in this series, is its immediate precursor, which I had previously termed as the authoritarian state. Neither new state form nor deviant variant of a previously existing one emerge in society from an historical and social vacuum that is, as it were, spontaneously and out of nowhere. Definite historical and social circumstances shape all state forms, while their immediate and proximate roots lie in the preceding state form. This preceding state form exercises an inertial trajectory over future development. This observation is of crucial significance when trying to understand deviant state forms as well. Were the state form evolving along a normal evolutionary path of growth and development the significance of this observation is much reduced.

The question that arises is: what characterizes the state form prior to its present degeneration into a vehicle for criminal enterprise? I had previously answered this question four years ago in this column by describing the previous state form as “authoritarian”. In fact I had written an entire book on the authoritarian state as a social pathology and a pathological degeneration of the post-colonial state in Guyana. I do not intend to spend much time analyzing this phenomenon but it is important that I draw attention to some of the crucially distinguishing features which betray both similarities and differences.

Methods of rule

Although I have been at pains to stress that a state is not defined by its methods of rule, there are striking similarities and differences of rule between the authoritarian state and the criminal state. The methods of rule of the authoritarian state can best be summed up as “commandist”. This rule was essentially “top-down, arbitrary and discriminatory”. Legal “niceties” was the way in which claims for democratic governance, was dismissed. Transparency, consultation and participation were alien precepts. The ruling elite subscribed to an ideological outlook which it sought perversely to rationalize this “anti-people” behaviour and present it as being in the long run best interest of the people and Guyana.

Economic governance was also shaped by this vision and popular organizations of economic forces such as trade unions, farmers’ organizations and professional associations were expected to serve the interests of the PNC ruling elite or else be deemed anti-national and subversive. Politically, the systematic rigging of the electoral process kept the ruling elite in political office. When threats emerged to this domination, the ruling elite resorted to arbitrary arrest, detention and murder of political opponents.

From this brief review we can find many elements of both commonality and difference. The basic authoritarian nature of the PNC regime has not been qualitatively transformed into a democratic one under the criminal state. The use of deadly force has not diminished as a method of rule, electoral rigging has been far less systematic but no one can truly say that elections are free and fair and free from fear and intimidation.

The most notable difference is the absence of a faction of organized criminals among the ruling elite.

Next week I shall continue this discussion.