Americans warned of violent crime, poor medical care in Guyana

In its 2011 report, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) based in the US Embassy in Guyana has concluded that violent crime in Georgetown is a major problem and noted that the country’s murder rate is some three times higher than that of the US.

The report, released on July 1, and which generally seeks to inform the American public on important issues in Guyana, also criticized the response of the Guyana Police Force and accused officers of soliciting bribes. It labelled medical care in Guyana as inadequate since it does not meet US standards and described the roads as dangerous and poorly maintained with limited traffic control being provided by the police.

The OSAC, which established its office in Georgetown in 2009, stated in its report that corruption is widely perceived to be commonplace in the police department and overall government in Georgetown.

“Many police are reportedly paid off by criminal elements and are alleged to work with the criminals by either assisting or protecting them,” the report said.

And the country’s judicial system is said to be strained by limited resources and “subject to threats and/or bribes, and defendants involved in drug organizations can usually field better attorneys then the government’s prosecutors.” As a result, criminals go free on a regular basis and it is a “common perception” that some police are, or have been, involved in criminal activity.

Further, according to the OSAC office, the police have resource and manpower limitations that “inhibit their ability to deter or respond to criminal activity. Police patrols are rare or nonexistent. There is an emergency telephone number ‘911’ for police, fire, or rescue. The fire department generally provides a timely response, while a police response, especially during the night is less dependable. The police response to emergency calls is often too slow (15 minutes or longer). When the police do respond, they have a limited amount of authority to act on their part, and at times attempt to solicit bribes, as officers are not compensated well,” the report said.

Meanwhile, criminals are frequently armed and appear to be able to obtain weapons with ease, despite the arduous licensing requirements for the average person.

“Handguns, knives, and machetes or ‘cutlasses’ are the weapons of choice,” the report said while adding that drug trafficking organizations are prevalent and pose the biggest challenge to local law enforcement in Georgetown.

“Airport security and customs officials are detaining and arresting individuals on a weekly basis who are trying to smuggle drugs out of Guyana into the United States.  Apprehensions of drug ‘mules,’ often US citizens perceived to be able to travel easily with their US passport, have also increased this past year,” the report said.

And the limited police presence in most areas is largely ineffective in preventing crime. Criminals, according to the report, will not hesitate to show a knife as an intimidation tactic during a robbery. It quoted the 2010 crime statistics as reported to the Regional Security Office (RSO) as there being 710 incidents, which included 140 murders, 108 shooting incidents, and 143 armed robberies.

However, the report said, US companies and individuals have not been singled out as targets of politically-motivated violence. In the past, it said, increased violence has occurred around elections, and this trend could recur as national elections draw near later this year.

Medical care

Zeroing in on the medical care provided in Guyana the report said care is only available for minor medical conditions but even this was described as being of inconsistent quality.

“Emergency care and hospitalisation for major medical illnesses or surgery are very limited, due to the lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation,” the report said.

Further, only very few ambulances are available in Guyana and generally ambulance service is limited to transportation without any medical care and is frequently not available for emergencies. According to the report, only Davis Memorial Hospital has two equipped ambulances with driver/attendants trained and certified in EMT.

“Emergency medical services can be contacted by either 911 or 913 for an ambulance, but this number is not always operational and an ambulance may not be available,” the report told the American public.

And Georgetown Public Hospital was said to be the one commonly used for responding to medical emergencies and trauma such as traffic accidents. The GPH was said to have adequately trained staff and equipment to stabilize those in need of attention, “before medical evacuation to the United States or elsewhere can be arranged.”

The report advised visitors to bring prescription medicine sufficient for their length of stay and to be aware that Guyana’s humid climate may affect some medicines.

‘Major concern’

Meantime, the report said that traffic accidents are a major concern in Georgetown as road and driving conditions are poor.

“Police only sporadically enforce local traffic laws, and local drivers often drive recklessly.  Stop signs and traffic signals are often treated as suggestions only,” the report said.

The report cautioned the American citizens to be very cognizant of other cars, large commercial vehicles, minibuses, horse drawn carts, bicycles, mopeds, scooters, motorcycles, stray dogs, sleeping animals, and free range livestock, “as they all share narrow, poorly maintained roads.”

It was also stated that a combination of very aggressive experienced drivers, along with inexperienced, timid drivers makes driving in Guyana especially dangerous.   “Driving at unsafe speeds, reckless driving, tailgating, quick stops without signalling, passing at intersections, and passing on crowded streets is commonplace,” the report said.

Driving at night poses additional concerns as many roads were described as not being lit, drivers frequently do not lower high beam lights, livestock sleep on the road, and many pedestrians congregate by the roadside.

“If you are involved in an accident, you are expected to stay at the scene until the police arrive to take a report, unless there is an imminent threat,” the report indicated.

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