Set up of DEA office stalled by budget constraints but US still interested

US Ambassador Brent Hardt says budgetary constraints have stalled plans for the setting up of a Drug Enforce-ment Administration (DEA) office in Guyana but it is still an aim of the US government as part of its cooperation on security in this country.

“When I arrived in 2011, we were on tight budgetary measures and so anytime you talk about opening new offices in a budget environment like that it is very difficult… barring the DEA closing offices in another country, which would free up the personnel and resources to set up an office here—that’s been a constraint,” he told Stabroek News during an exclusive interview last week.

“We have had excellent cooperation with the Govern-ment of Guyana and law enforcement agencies in combatting drugs,” he said. “Our DEA office [in the region] is located in Trinidad but they come down here on a regular basis. Since I arrived I have been pushing for them to step up their presence and they have responded positively to that. They work closely with CANU and the Drug Enforce-ment Unit [of the Guyana Revenue Authority] and it is certainly my goal and I have discussed this with the President and other officials to try and have a permanent DEA office here,” he said. “I have written to the administrator on this and DEA is receptive but the timing has been difficult,” he said.

“I have had discussions with the government here to layout the type of cooperation we would need for that DEA office to be effected. And I have had informal terms from the Government that it would be willing to meet those conditions and to work with us in the type of tight partnership that we would want,” he said. “Wherever the DEA works they usually work with trusted units. They try to set up trusted units they work with. We think we have the ability to do that here if there is interest,” he said.

He told Stabroek News that to the best of his knowledge the DEA is here working closely with the Guyanese authorities. “There have been quite a number of drug busts which our countries have cooperated on together,” he said. “I think that there is scope to do even more and that’s why I am encouraging the DEA to spend more time here and with the right budgetary circumstance I think that we could see a DEA office in Guyana,” he said.

Speaking on the US’ cooperation on security, Hardt told Stabroek News that the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) has been one of the main areas of focus of the US Government in the Caribbean region.

“When President Obama took office in 2009 he came to the Summit of the Americas and announced the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative which was really designed to work in partnership with the region in responding to what we saw and what we were hearing from Prime Ministers in the region were serious security challenges of drugs and guns,” he said.

“We sat down… I was part of the first meeting in Barbados back in 2009 where we started to figure out what it is we could do together. To me this has been more of a partnership not just the US coming and saying, ‘Hey we’re going to give you this or that or we think you need this kind of training.’ It is more, ‘Let’s sit down and talk what the needs are and figure out that the best way forward.’ The result of that is a multi-element comprehensive and integrated programme or partnership which will try to address security needs in the areas of maritime interdiction,” he said.

“We have some boats that are coming to Guyana, hopefully in October. They have been promised for a few months now. I know that they have been built and are ready to be transported down here. We are just trying to get them on the right vessel,” he said.

He said too that the US Government will be supplying communications gear that will allow for better communications from land to water and even with helicopters and planes in the air.

He said that the US has stepped up training of Guyana’s police force in many areas owing to the recognition that to professionalise police force training must be enhanced. “We are also looking at judicial systems and how they can help strengthen combatting money laundering. But for me the best part of the programme is looking at young people,” he said.

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