In a 2009 cable to Washington, then US Ambassador John Melvin Jones strongly questioned President Bharrat Jagdeo’s view that enough was being done by Guyana to fight drugs and he was particularly scathing about the role of Dr Roger Luncheon in what he described as the disembowelling of the UK security reform programme.
Most of the WikiLeaks cables have featured another former US Ambassador Roland Bullen as questioning the government’s commitment in the drug fight but three years later the trend continued with Jones who served as ambassador for a brief period before ill-health set in.
Following a meeting with President Jagdeo at the Office of the President on March 19, 2009, Jones forwarded the following comment to Washington a day later in which he described four security officials nominated by Jagdeo to work with the US as the “Four Horsemen of Inertia”. The four were Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Luncheon; Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee; Army Chief of Staff Gary Best and Commissioner of Police, Henry Greene.
“In President Jagdeo’s world, Guyana has met the full measure of external expectations regarding its commitment to fighting drug trafficking and other crimes, and demonstrated its competence and diligence as a partner in these areas. This could hardly be further from the truth. The individuals he identified to work with on this ‘framework’ — Luncheon, Rohee, Best, and Greene — are the Four Horsemen of Inertia. All have been in their positions for at least 18 months, and none have shown a proclivity for meaningful actions that would truly address Guyana’s numerous law enforcement shortcomings. Luncheon in particular, as the source of virtually all government power outside of the
President, has repeatedly sought to disembowel the most critical reform components of the British-funded Security Sector Reform Program.”
Jones had asked for the meeting with Jagdeo after the latter assailed the US on March 18, 2009 at the annual police officers conference for not doing enough to help Guyana in the drug fight and for contributing to the problems because of its demand for cocaine.
Jones related in the cable that he began by asking Jagdeo how the two countries could get things back on track. Jagdeo, he said, responded by saying that the US could stop presenting unfair reports on Guyana’s drug efforts. Jagdeo pointed to progress such as the dismissal of nine Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit Officers after they had failed polygraph tests. Jones said the US political officer who was present at the meeting pointed out to Jagdeo that this had been praised in the State Department’s annual INCSR report. Jones said that Jagdeo complained that this had garnered “one tiny mention” but Jones in the cable said it had been mentioned twice. Jagdeo then referred to the passage of several laws which catered for wiretapping and plea bargaining among other things. The political officer again pointed out that this development had also been pointed out and lauded in the INCSR Report.
Jones said that Jagdeo then expressed exasperation at the absence of a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) office here.
“This is not a recent thing; I’ve been asking for this for years!” he exclaimed. Referring to the March 2008 visit of WHA A/S Tom Shannon, Jagdeo averred: “There’s a long history to this: we’ve written, we’ve asked, we even mentioned it when Mr Shannon was here, and nothing has happened.” Ambassador inquired what exactly the President sought regarding law enforcement collaboration; Jagdeo replied that he was interested in a “framework by which we can define our exact cooperation. How are we going to collaborate, in broad terms? That is what we must establish.” Taking care to delineate the difference between broader policy issues and the operational details of actual investigations, Jagdeo claimed he was only interested in the former: he wanted to clarify the framework, and then let the actual enforcement work happen. In response to the Ambassador’s inquiry about who would be the principal POCs for the GoG on such discussions, Jagdeo identified four: Cabinet and Defence Board Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon; Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee; Guyana Defence Force Chief of Staff Gary Best; and Guyana Police Force Commissioner Henry Greene. He affirmed: “These are the people I trust on this issue.” Jones would later describe the quartet as the four horsemen of inertia.
In relation to the DEA office, while Jones did not refer to it in his cable, in 2006 Bullen had encountered several problems in efforts to set up one including a threat by convicted drug lord Roger Khan to blow up any office established here. In a cable of May 24, 2006 to Washington, Bullen argued that “the great and increasing influence” of the narcotics trade and related transnational crimes in Guyana, and the resulting threat to US interests justified the establishment of a permanent DEA office at the Georgetown Embassy.
Bullen acknowledged the then plans for the DEA to assist in the establishment of a vetted counter-narcotics unit in Guyana, but noted that “pervasive corruption” in the country, which undermined previous counter-narcotics initiatives, was a major challenge. Establishing a DEA office will allow close and constant monitoring of the vetted unit, he argued, would help alleviate the problem.
It is unclear what happened thereafter but Embassy Charge d’ Affaires Michael Thomas, in an August 29, 2007 cable, requested that a US$100,000 allotment for the creation of the vetted unit be reallocated for drug demand reduction project. He noted that no funds from the allocation had been used, since government’s positions had scuttled the initiative. “The vetted unit project is no longer viable due to the Government of Guyana’s failure to identify an acceptable location for the unit and their lack of progress in addressing drug trafficking issues,” Thomas said.
Additionally, in a January 6, 2006 cable, Bullen had noted that the US government has held discussions with the Government of Guyana (GoG) off and on since 1999 about setting up a DEA presence in Guyana. He said several issues have prevented the establishment of a DEA presence here. “The current stumbling block is the GoG’s inability or reluctance to give approval for basic logistical details,” he explained. Bullen added that while the US government was ready to work with and advise the GoG “as soon as the GoG is fully prepared to move forward in its fight against narco-trafficking.”
In a February 1, 2006 cable to Washington, Bullen had referred to a plan to set up a DEA counter-narcotics operation here which was abandoned after Khan made threats against US diplomats including Bullen.
“DEA developed a plan in 2004 to establish a counternarcotics operation in Guyana. An informant leaked details about the plan. After the leak, Khan threatened to blow up the site of the operation and threatened the lives of Ambassador and the then RSO (Ref D). These threats forced the operation’s abandonment.”
So up to the point of Jones meeting with Jagdeo on March 19, 2009 there had been several US attempts to set up a DEA office stretching back to 1999 – the year Jagdeo first took office.
Just a month after Jones’ meeting with Jagdeo at OP, the President had told the media in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas meeting that Guyana had again requested Washington’s help to set up a DEA office.
Following the exchanges on the DEA office, Jones and his political officer touched on the government’s own commitment to the anti-narcotics fight following a mix up over the attendance of the CANU head at a meeting.
“PolOff raised the question of the GoG’s own counternarcotics commitment after a debacle the previous weekend regarding a US invitation for CANU Director James Singh to attend the regional Drug Commanders Conference in St Kitts the week of March 16-20, with all expenses covered. (Note: After belatedly accepting the invite on March 13, Minister Rohee rescinded permission for Mr Singh to travel on March 14, with no explanation. End Note.) PolOff asked what message the President thought this action sent in the context of his pleas for assistance and collaboration. Jagdeo evaded that question, and in fact expressed frustration with Rohee for having granted the initial permission without the Cabinet’s consent. (Note: official travel by all GoG employees — at any level of the bureaucracy and even if a sponsor is covering all costs — must be approved by the Cabinet in advance before permission to travel is granted.)
Jones also commented unfavourably on Jagdeo when he referred to the latter’s complaints about reports which were required to be submitted by the embassy to the US congress.
“PolOff asked if the President understood that each of the cited reports were required by — and written for — the US Congress, and by their very nature and structure would not necessarily reflect any particular government’s perspective. Jagdeo contradicted himself impressively within the same response: “I understand that. I don’t have any problem with you identifying deficiencies that exist.” Moments later he avowed: “If you’re going to say bad things about us, we have the right to say things about you. The only difference between what I have said publicly about you and what you have written about us is simply that I did not take the time to put my remarks in a report.”
The meeting ended with the Ambassador promising to relay the President’s interest in a framework for cooperation to Washington. Jones said that Jagdeo expressed hope that something could be arranged, and looked forward to future discussions after his return in early April from an 18-day visit to the Middle East. It is unclear whether there was any follow up to this.