Carry-on cocaine

Ingenious couriers continue to attempt to carry cocaine onto foreign aircraft at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timerhi. Some of the culprits have been caught and punished but many others have succeeded.

Minister of Public Works and Communications Robeson Benn complained last year that, despite upgrading procedures for security at the international airport, more illegal narcotics – some of which may be linked to a “great degree of collusion” between the couriers and local staff – may be leaving the country undetected.

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, just prior to the Cricket World Cup competition in March 2007, had received from British High Com-missioner to Guyana Fraser Wheeler a $9M Icon Itemiser that was installed at the international airport. The equipment ought to have been able to detect illicit substances such as narcotics, arms and explosives “within five seconds.”

At the handing-over ceremony at that time, Mr Rohee had admitted that, “Anyone who would have read the recent US [International Narcotics Control Strategy] Drug Report would know that Guyana has serious challenges which require a large amount of resources, manpower and technical support among other things. But we are facing them with the limited resources we have and this contribution by the UK is part and parcel of government’s holistic approach in waging the fight against illegal trafficking.”

Mr Rohee then met representatives of international airlines, cargo handlers and law enforcement agencies in order to develop a cooperative approach to counter narco-trafficking. He explained that “We are trying now to design architecture for greater collaboration and cooperation between the airlines and law-enforcement agencies to combat trafficking at the airport.”  The Minister went further to convene an ‘Inter-Agency Committee’ with responsibility for airport security.

Chief Executive Officer of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corporation Ramesh Ghir added that the Corporation established its own security unit to complement the services of the Guyana Police Force. He said that he, too, had convened a multi-stakeholder committee to meet fortnightly to review security at the airport.

Why is it, then, that despite the acquisition of new equipment, the daily operations of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and the establishment of the inter-agency and multi-stakeholder committees that cocaine smuggling at the international airport continues?

Two ‘Red Cap’ baggage handlers employed at the airport were arrested for allowing 18 kg of cocaine to be shipped to the John F Kennedy International Airport in the USA last month. A woman was found guilty and jailed for ten years in Croydon Crown Court in the UK after she was found guilty of smuggling cocaine – said to be worth £80,000 – from Guyana earlier in the month. Four persons were charged jointly for conspiring to export 24.6 kg of cocaine in the notorious ‘pink suitcase’ in March. A Guyanese woman was accused of stitching 1.01 kg of cocaine into the wig of one of two London-based Jamaican women who were also charged with trafficking in the drug in February. There have been many more cases.

Surely, by now, the Ministers of Home Affairs and Public Works must have realised that their efforts to curb trafficking in cocaine at the international airport have failed.  They must understand that measures to prevent exportation can succeed only by preventing the wholesale importation of the drug into the country.

The problems at Timehri will continue as long as the administration fails to act decisively to stop narco-trafficking at its sources – the numerous illegal airstrips and the unpatrolled borders in the hinterland, the contraband maritime trade along the coastland and the notorious ‘backtracking’ traffic to Venezuela and Suriname.

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