If we can never afford to ignore the external threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity, the immediate and pressing issue as far as interior security is concerned has to do with an internal threat rather than an external one. Well-armed and ruthless criminal gangs have turned their attention to interior mining locations as targets for robberies, and they have done so with such frightening ferocity that we cannot afford to have the practice remain unchecked. If we remain – as we appear to be – oblivious to the real nature of the problem and to its longer-term implications, the damage could be no less considerable than if the attacks were external in their origin.
Granted, there is an external dimension to the problem. It has to do with the security of our borders. Weapons are brought into the country across those vast expanses of unprotected territory and while, as far as we are aware, the gangs are home-grown, we are, in many respects, so out of touch with the goings on in some interior communities that we really cannot be sure that external criminal elements are not also cashing on the fact that there is nothing to prevent them from, in some instances, entering and leaving as they please.
The odds would appear to be in the bandits’ favour. Border and interior security considerations apart, rising gold prices have seen a vast increase in the number of gold-mining operations. Some of the mining outfits are small, relatively poorly protected and therefore vulnerable to the usually ruthless and heavily-armed bandits. In some instances its easy pickings compared with the risks associated with comparably lucrative heists in coastal business communities where heightened attention to security has increased the risk factor for the bandits; and even if the ill-fated outcome of the recent Piari robbery demonstrates that nature sometimes provides its own powerful deterrents, the bandits still believe that the odds are in their favour.
From the standpoint of the authorities, the problem reposes in the failure, over the years, to invest in the incremental creation of an effective interior security policy, taking account of considerations of both borders and territory. Now that the interior is becoming increasingly central to the broader national economic interests, the bandits have gotten the jump on the authorities. Without an interior security policy in place the authorities find themselves playing catch up.
If we accept that the creation of an effective interior security infrastructure cannot be separated from the protection of our borders, it becomes immediately evident that the police are not effectively equipped to properly protect the country’s interior locations; and even if they were, border security – which is critical to interior security – is not their function. It makes no sense to have the police focus on short-term operational initiatives – like the recently announced plan to remove illegal shops from mining areas – without us paying attention to the bigger picture that includes border security. We know enough, for example, about the unchecked movement of Brazilian gold-seekers across the border to understand this. Our security people ought to know as well that Brazil is a major producer of handguns and that weapons find their way across the border and into the hands of bandits.
Not that border and interior security has not been discussed time and again in both security and foreign policy discourses, though we have really not progressed much beyond discussing the issues. The conclusion of the discourses, frequently, does not appear to go much beyond making the point about cost and affordability. Now, it seems, we cannot afford to ponder the cost any longer given the growing economic significance of the interior.
And yet it seems that last week’s discourse between President Jagdeo and some miners and today’s scheduled meeting between Commissioner Greene and the miners may be heading in the direction of a set of cosmetic initiatives that do not fully address the problem since, the circumstances being what they are – that is to say porous borders and a woefully under-policed interior – dialogue between the police and the miners can bring, at best, partial and short-term stop-gap measures. Those will not solve the miners’ problems.
Rather than – as appears to be the case at this time – treat with the problem as though it were purely a police-related operational issue, we need to begin to examine the bigger picture. Effective interior security requires the creation of a plan that embraces both the police and the military, to say nothing about the role that the interior populations themselves must play. The changed circumstances of the interior, not least the evidence of its increasing economic importance to the country as a whole, requires that the authorities raise their game as far as interior security is concerned by broadening the base of the discourse with the objective of fashioning a comprehensive interior security policy that takes account of the nature of the interior and roles that other important stakeholders must play. To confine the dialogue on the security of miners and mining camps to the miners and the police alone amounts to no more than seeking to apply sticking plaster to open, running sores.