Viewed against the backdrop of earlier similar discoveries, last week’s disclosure that a Guyana Defence Force reconnaissance detail had found an illegal airstrip (and various other suspicious accoutrements) at Santa Fe in the North Rupununi is decidedly disconcerting. And even as this editorial was being written news surfaced that yet another makeshift airstrip and an aircraft had been found in the Santa Fe area on Sunday. In the words of adherents of the view that there is life beyond planet earth, we are not alone!
For the reason that the discoveries were made in the hinterland rather than in nearby some coastal community, the news has not attracted the level of public attention that otherwise might have been the case. More than that, it has not been the practice for media reporting on these kinds of events to persist for an extended period of time. The news value of these sorts of occurrences diminishes quickly since exposure to extended public scrutiny is curtailed by what are sometimes unclear official pronouncements about national security considerations.
Those arguments, however, do not gainsay the fact that when unaccounted-for airstrips and aircraft mysteriously pop up inside our territorial space, it is in the national interest that those occurrences are affected by a public disclosure policy that is undergirded by a mix of discretion and a recognition of the public’s right to know. After all, it has always been the position of our foreign policy analysts that an efficient public awareness machinery is a critical ingredient in the defence of our territorial integrity. Curtailment of information leaves the citizenry in a condition of ignorance which, in itself, can be counterproductive. Further, the absence of a satisfactory flow of information – whatever the reason given for that deficiency ‒ can create the impression that the state itself is clueless when these developments occur.
In Guyana’s particular circumstances, not being able to understand and correctly interpret occurrences like aircraft and airstrips seemingly materializing out of thin air has, over time, created, a largely uninformed and indifferent populace. If the tomes that have been written on the issues of interior law enforcement were to drop on the average healthy human’s head, the victim would, at the very least, be incapacitated, but the problem is that those mountains of intellectual effort have failed to metamorphose into a cohesive and effective hinterland law enforcement regime,
We have seen and heard of enough of these makeshift airstrips, mysterious aircraft and attendant paraphanalia to understand that these are connected to criminal acts, specifically drug-running, for which countries in the hemispheric neighbourhood have established considerable notoriety. There is, as well, every reason to believe that the profusion of guns associated with domestic crime in Guyana is strongly linked to these illegal trans-border transgressions. Brazil, it should be recalled, is one of the world’s largest small arms producers and there is every likelihood that some of these operations may link criminal activities in South America’s largest country with ours.
Official discourse on hinterland policing almost always brings into focus the issue of cost. Oddly enough, the discourse rarely if ever seems to take account of the fact that we have had half a century to incrementally implement plans to improve these critical aspects of our national existence. This is not to say that, even today hinterland policing and border security would still have not been works in progress. The point is that the overwhelming contemporary weakness in these the areas of law and order and territorial security can be accounted for by the fact that over five decades there really is no concrete evidence that we have sought to consistently build capacity in the area of interior security through a planned and incremental approach.
Where the issue of unregulated cross-border traffic integrity is concerned we remain hostage to a regimen of free-and-easy movement with all the risks that inhere therein. Hinterland policing continues to be characterized by serious and unchanging inadequacies in the distribution of resources. Largely unpoliced interior areas are no more than enclaves which, from a law and order standpoint, are held together mostly by self-help, though such arrangements are not always reliable. They habitually descend into intermittent acts of lawlessness characterized by terrible violence and the absence of lawful sanction.
It should be said that the expansion of the gold-mining industry, including the enhancement of trans-border relations with miners and mining communities from neighbouring countries, has itself been a significant game-changer in the hinterland law and order matrix. These cross border movements occur with monotonous regularity no doubt bringing with them their own fair share of irregularity and criminality.
Here, it is worth repeating that even allowing for the high costs associated with strengthening hinterland security ‒ and by extension, territorial integrity ‒ we need to ask ourselves whether we might not have done far better over those fifty years. Investing in more robust policing arrangements would presumably have had a fundamental law and order impact at the community level, helped to keep the excesses of sections of the mining community in check and supported the suppression of illegal cross-border migration with its attendant vices. Critically, an enhanced and professional police presence in hinterland communities can also contribute to monitoring and intelligence gathering in areas of transgression of the country’s territorial integrity that have to do with the creation of illegal airstrips for us by aircraft originating outside of Guyana and pursuing their assorted illegal activities.
There had been a time too when we were told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that hinterland security and territorial integrity also relied for their effectiveness on a sense of national alertness among the pockets of population in our interior regions and close to our borders. One makes this point having regard to reports which suggest that an aircraft found abandoned near to Yupukari in Region Nine last September had been seen circling the area on several prior occasions though it does not appear that the security implications of the frequent presence of an unaccounted-for aircraft dawned upon those who may have seen it. That would appear to raise questions as to whether there does not exist a dangerous disconnect between the coastal seat of administration and the interior communities, particularly the more remote ones.
If we accept the hinterland security is an integral part of a broader whole that is necessary for the protection of our territory then we must, a priori, hastily jettison the intellectual position that posits the affordability argument. Rather, we must accept the reality that the ‘noises’ about the necessity of securing our country have collapsed under the weight of what have become disturbingly frequent violations and that by and large we are, all too often, unable to effectively disrupt the pattern.