Murders are a small but significant part of the culture of lawlessness in the interior

Dear Editor,

I refer to the headline and report ‘Less than half of this year’s interior murders solved’ (Stabroek News July 2).

The litany of violent killings since the beginning of the year is indicative of the bigger picture of lawlessness in Guyana’s interior. For every reported homicide there are numerous reports of disappearances, robberies, sexual slavery, drug related crime, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, woundings, assaults, and the list goes on.

In addition to crimes perpetrated by individuals or small groups one must look at lawlessness by businesses, employers and corporate bodies. Are large mining operators arming unauthorized security personnel? Are large logging and mining firms exploiting workers? Are laws such as the Factories Act being violated in the interior, endangering the safety and welfare of workers? Having worked in Guyana’s interior I can answer an unequivocal yes to all of the above.

Persons who have never ventured into Guyana’s interior may find it difficult to understand the situation. The mining and logging camps are themselves small communities. They are usually isolated and without legitimate policing authority mechanisms. It is every man for himself, including the owners/operators.

Under these circumstances it is not difficult for persons to take certain matters into their own hands in seeking social, material or other advantages. Individual workers are responsible for their own security and perceived threats can result in violence.

The psychological pressures caused by isolation add another explosive ingredient to the already volatile mix.

Employers, in the absence of enforcement personnel, can easily take illegal advantage of workers. For example, a particular very secretive logging company routinely solicits workers from depressed interior communities. These workers are transported to the work site and made to work without being told how much they are working for. At the end of their stint, usually three months, they are paid whatever the company feels like paying them. If the workers question the low pay, they are told that they have been fined for acts of misconduct or other arbitrary nonsense of this nature.

The lawlessness has been going on for years. The police and other authorities have been aware of the issues for an equally long time, yet little has been done.

Interior crime, of every kind, is an extremely complex phenomenon.

Violent crime arising from impulsive actions needs to be looked at and addressed in the context of the environment in which it occurs. “Corporate crime” involving exploitation of workers and misuse of natural resources may be compounded by corruption. Employers may be paying off policing and other authorities to turn a blind eye to their activities. Addressing these issues will be very challenging.

The report to which I referred indicates that the police are aware of the challenges involved. This awareness however, seems vague, superficial and even naïve. Geography and personnel are major issues, but so are poor understanding of underlying causes, poor police-citizen relations, corruption and psychological strain.

The problem of lawlessness in the interior must be systematically tackled. The crimes and their motivations must be studied in the context of their enabling environments. Based on information and analysis of such studies strategies can be formulated and tactics can be implemented to fix the problem.

Murders are a significant but small part of the culture of ‘lawless cowboyism’ that is the norm in hinterland areas. Preventing, detecting and solving homicides can only be accomplished in the context of the bigger picture.

How long will we accept excuses? We do not need to hear the reasons for continuing failure to deal with the issues. We need instead, details on how the responsible authorities intend to solve and fix the problems.

Yours faithfully,
Mark DaCosta

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