Those of us who live in the coastal regions of Guyana and who rarely if ever venture into the hinterland will, by now, be aware that the coast and the interior are, in a sense, two different worlds. There are cases of differences in language, food, clothing, in modes of transportation and types of dwelling places. There are other significant differences too. Coastal communities benefit from a measure of protection afforded by the proximity of the police. Most hinterland communities do not. There are parts of Guyana where the wheels of law and order turn with a ponderousness that has to do not only with proximity but also with shocking under-resourcing and in not a few instances with official indifference.
Accordingly, people who live and or work in the interior or who might be there for some other purpose (some driven by a determination to protect their lives and their property, others by a proclivity for lawlessness) seek to fill the void left by the absence of effective policing by either taking the law into their own hands or exploiting the absence of any significant measure of law and order for their own nefarious ends.
We have endured a great many years of the consequences of this unpalatable public security equation in interior communities and worse, the altogether woeful inability of the authorities to turn things around. Failure to establish a robust law and order regime in vast areas of the hinterland is one of the single biggest failings of government over the years.
The incidents of mayhem and murder and vanishing persons which, these days, occur with monotonous regularity, have simply overwhelmed us, and a point has long been arrived at where we no longer recoil in shock following a media report on yet another mining community murder. But that is not the biggest concern. Far more worrying is the fact that most of those cases are never solved for the reason that the police lack the resources and sometimes, it seems, the will to attempt to investigate and at least try to solve those occurrences.
This is not the first time that this newspaper has challenged the logic of government’s chronic neglect of the need to build a strong law enforcement infrastructure in those parts of the country where much of the economic activity ensues. Even if one argues that the cost of creating a comprehensive interior policing infrastructure is too prohibitive to be undertaken in one fell swoop, there is no persuasive evidence of a serious incremental effort to create that infrastructure within a reasonable time frame.
Of course, nothing that is being said here is new. The fact is, however, that on each occasion that some gruesome incident occurs in an interior (mostly mining) community we are reminded of the appalling implications of the absence of even a semblance of a law and order infrastructure in vast areas of our hinterland.
Just last week a miner who used to ply his trade in the Mazaruni area related to this newspaper a harrowing tale about having to flee the area for his life after he became caught up in an incident involving missing gold. He said that an attempt had been made to poison him and after that had not worked an attempt was made to shoot him. He said he escaped with the help of colleagues who were convinced that he had nothing to do with the missing gold.
The problem, says the thoroughly intimidated miner, is that there are parts of the interior where the absence of a police presence means that it has become commonplace for scores to be settled in a manner decided upon by the protagonists. In those instances it is might rather than right that usually prevails. In his particular case the Mazaruni miner says he is convinced that had he not left the interior he would almost certainly have been dead by now.
It was Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who, about four years ago, at a mining forum held at the Grand Coastal Hotel, alluded to a “wild west” mentality in some mining communities in Guyana. On that particular occasion he was alluding to reckless and environmentally unfriendly mining practices which were, among other things, trampling on the rights of Amerindian residents in a particular community. We are in the midst of an equally dangerous ‘wild west’ situation manifested in an absence of law and order and resort to illegal violence in mining communities. Ironically, and even allowing for the importance of environmental protocols in mining communities, mining and the environment has become a much more talked about issue in Guyana than mining and security. As far as we have been told, there are periodic meetings amongst the police and the miners and the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment though security in mining communities still continues to depend much more on self help than on official protection. That is not a state of affairs that should persist for much longer. Given the neglect that large swathes of the interior have endured over the years and the consequential descent into lawlessness that ensues, the problem is worth restating if only as a reminder that the coastal and hinterland regions of Guyana may comprise one country but in so far as public security is concerned, they are two different worlds.