The investigation into the discovery of a plane near an illegal airstrip near Yupukari, in Region Nine, found significant collusion by residents of several villages in supporting unlawful aircraft activities, with the knowledge of a number of their leaders.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which was conducted by Brigadier (ret’d) Edward Collins last year, stated that in addition to the illegal airstrip found near Yupukari Village in September, 2016, two others were subsequently discovered at Maunwar Savannahs, between Katoonarib and Karaudarnau villages, and at Parabara Savannahs.
Intel included in the index of the report identified persons who were said to be involved in the maintenance and monitoring of the airstrip at Parabara Savannahs, which is about seven miles from Parabara Village.
In one instance, the report identifies one village leader, whom it says has “clear knowledge” of his people’s involvement in the maintenance of the illegal airstrip. It was also noted that a farmer within the same area has two other “secret camps” in the bushes beside his farm, where he reportedly stores fuel and other equipment to maintain the airstrip. Additionally, another village official, said to be a member of the Community Policing Group, was also said to have “clear knowledge” of the secret camps and activities at Parabara.
Similar activity was noted in relation to the other illegal airstrip, which is located between Fly Hill and Katoka Village in Central Rupununi.
It was learnt that the villages of Katoka and Fly Hill have seen the aircraft on many occasions and that officials had knowledge of the activities. A resident of Tabatinga, according to the report, could be seen at the landing before and after the aircraft touched down and he was also involved in illegal landings at Parabara, Manwar, Mountain Point and Mandakara. The report says that the resident supplies farmers in the areas with foodstuff and other needed items but would tell them to keep any information on the sightings to themselves “because the persons who are involved were well armed and dangerous.”
Villagers of Katoka, Fly Hill and Kaicumbay are afraid to go fishing and hunting near the airstrips areas “because of what is going on there, the report said.
Allegations against government officials were also made by some persons the commission interviewed.
“The Commission is very concerned about the Special Branch report of a serving member of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and consequently a prominent personality within the Lethem community might have been in collusion with the perpetrators,” the report states. It said that the same person was taken on the police investigation into the very incident by the Police Commander of the Division and “would have likely compromised the operation.”
A Special Branch report said discrete enquiries conducted suggested that a GRA officer was linked to the activities of the aircraft that was discovered and was also allegedly involved in human smuggling, particularly Cuban nationals, across the border from Guyana into Brazil.
It is because of this that the Special Branch report recommended that the GRA officer be immediately transferred, pending the outcome of the investigations.
The police commander also came in for his own admonitions as the Commission said that he failed to take charge of the aircraft when it was discovered and deem it a crime scene and contributed to compromising the investigation. “The commission concluded that this lapse caused the inquiry and any other investigations to be denied valuable information in tracing the activities of the foreign aircraft,” it said.
Collins was tasked with investigating, examining, advising and reporting on all the circumstances under which the aircraft, which was discovered on September 13th, 2016, entered the country.
Collins stated that from the evidence gathered, the circumstances of the aircraft entry into Guyana began with its use to illegally transport a high value cargo, believed to be cocaine.
It said that more than one month before the plane was found by security forces, it had departed near Medellin, Colombia, for one of its illegal flights and developed engine problems in flight. “Failing to restart in the air, the pilot was forced to fly the aircraft on one engine until it safely landed on the illegal airstrip in Southern Guyana. Unable to restart for its out-bound flight, the foreign aircraft remained hidden from Guyanese authorities but was known to the Guyanese residents in the nearby villages,” the report says.
“Because of the length of time in that location, many residents became aware and the information was deliberately leaked in some instances to the ears of the Police Commander in that Region,” it adds.
Joint police and army forces set out to locate the aircraft but due to infrequent visits and insufficient patrolling in that part, they had to rely entirely by a guide who was fingered in the very illegal operations. He helped them as a result of his arrest and coercion.