Humans must be aware that in us dwell the truths of Circe, the mythical daughter of Atlas, sister of Calypso, popular in the saga of Homer’s Odyssey. When the warriors of Ulysses drank her potion they turned into pigs, rats, snakes, roaches and other life forms, Ulysses accused her of bewitching his men, she replied that they had only turned themselves into their true nature. Before the age of psychology, psychiatry and the study of social behaviour, an ancient Ethiopian witch had understood the dimensions of human nature. We can do worse than take stock of the impact of the Narco Siren and her impact on our values. We are probably unaware of the prevalence of mind-altering substances among the Amerindians. Marijuana came with indentured labour and became celebrated in our folk song… ‘Ganja mani yeah’, a possible reference to the Portuguese shop men who embraced the trade. Cocaine and other mind-altering substances have long been present in Guyana… in the late sixties, during the Hippie age. I was an early teenager when Pop-a-long was a feature on Durban Park, with our own copy-cat Hippie movement. That was where the Majorettes practiced; hockey and football was played there.
Back then living on the East Coast, not yet out of school, I remember the first addict, saw his antics with some amusement, unaware of the tragedy of what Nikky, a product of that Hippie experiment, had gotten himself into, Two songs resonate from back then, Swamp Dog’s ‘Sam Stone’ and Bobby Womack’s ‘Harry Hippy’… the grim lyrics meant nothing to our innocent consciousness, The movie Apocalypse Now stunned; it took a while to be understood. Though we knew of ‘Silver Bomb’ that turned girls on if you could get it into their drinks, that was still an ‘age of innocence.’ In the early 70’s girls of fifteen and sixteen didn’t go drinking and young men that age hardly had any money or passion for beer. But if you were not that sheltered you learned quickly. There was this guy called Jesus who ‘limed’ at Oasis on Robb and King Streets and other places on Main Street who sold the ‘stuff.’ Before the nineties narcotics was sold to folks with money. I know the son of a businessman, who had lost an eye, It was a few years ago I learnt from a school friend of his that he snorted cocaine in school during the late sixties and that was responsible for the damage to his eye, and possibly for his father’s hostility to him.
Guyana entered Independence with the burden of a border controversy with Venezuela. That contributed to stagnation and dependence on the traditional industries, In those days there existed the talent for a music industry, it never happened… most likely because of the subject matter that was too ideologically influenced. We were talking socialism back then. Music remained localized. With the Oil Crisis of the mid – seventies came hardships… kerosene and gasoline lines, food shortages. It was in the mid – seventies that the touted hydro breakthrough was lobbied against by Venezuela using the border controversy. Guyana lost its own financial investment in this project and the foreign investment it had engaged, things became harder, popular imported food items were in short supply, national debt rose. The fact that Guyanese – before slavery was abolished – were growing food and had a local menu fall back taste, helped…as did the National Service.
By the early eighties people – inspired survival initiatives were in full swing. Berbice managed through smuggling; on the coast and in Georgetown the suitcase traders journeyed to the Caribbean, Suriname, Panama and Brazil to respond to the local shortages. Others headed for the North West where Venezuelan traders were keen to ‘do deals.’
With the rise of Bob Marley, Rastafari and marijuana were in full swing at the grass root level… with some devastating effects. Eventually, the marijuana farms would replace importation from Jamaica. Under Desmond Hoyte the economy moved upward, though his government neglected their connection with their grass root supporters. The Economic Recovery Programme initiated by Hoyte – which the PPP after 1992 would reject – was showing movement. The suitcase traders were beginning to fade out, smuggling continued. But worse had come to the underprivileged areas of Guyana, Cocaine expanding from the concealed hinterland airstrips and drop off points had arrived and would stay. The stench of the ‘Dutty crab dance’ had naturally come home from secrecy to the beckoning opportunity of the Siren’s Song. With the reality of the rise of the parallel economy, and the myriad shapes that were now custom. Guyana had become induced to the illegal, the runnings had become second nature, and as the ancient poet described, the fate of all who respond to the call of the Siren, was rooted in destruction. The first assassination I am aware of was in the late eighties. The victim lived in Roxanne Burnham Gardens, we knew each other on a hi and right basis. He wore those neat shirt jack suits,… he was shot early the morning and his attaché case with drugs taken. A woman he knew was said to be the sponsor of the hit, one of the hit men from upper Albouystown turned to alcohol as a result and purged his conscience. Drug money came into our society with a rush, and with it came the unending phenomenon of assassinations, the countless addicts [Junkies] followed; I doubt that records were kept of the deaths, or of those that dwelt in the drug yards. Drug money enriched a percentage but the majority paid the price. By population average we accomplished a higher murder rate than America. Drug money escalated the cost of real estate and building materials making it impossible for a public servant or even a small businessman to purchase his own home.
It naturally corrupted the Police force so the cold cases piled up, extrajudicial killings increased. But worse was still to come… a secret pact that allowed a jail break in 2002 took Guyana further into the abyss of the Narco Siren’s embrace. We witnessed legal professionals, politicians and hopeless but bold grass root youth sucked into this mire. With the Bharat Jagdeo presidency it became worse, when the Ronald Gagraj initiative, that some in the private sector supported, for the development of independent killer squads who were outside and above the law. By this time the jailbreak gang had failed in what seemed to be its mission to separate the state link to the local drug cartels now openly under the eyes of the ABC countries. In all of Guyana’s modern history, the nation had never experienced such a compromise and collapse of the state in every area, culturally, economically… education and health services were all retarded. The Siren lure of the quick fix of the drug trade had back fired, traditional values were smothered, professionalism compromised, props replaced contractors, mechanics, even religion was not spared its contingent of frauds. Corrupt foreigners like Thomas Carroll found this situation welcoming, and added their own niche of horror.
But it was the ordinary folk that suffered most; They died because the health services were poor; their children became addicts and joined the inhabitants of the numerous drug yards to eventually die on the streets broken and without choice. Many a mother will never bury their child… kidnapped before their eyes by the phantom political/cartel auxiliaries, their ideal dreams disappeared with expectations of justice and what was right; the surreal unfolded when Roger Khan, chief broker for narco state, employed by the Latin lords, boasted that he was fighting crime in Guyana. How will we address this damaged generation who grew up, witnessed, were schooled and conditioned to the twisted reality that nothing was below or above as long you were with ‘De big man dem. Twisted values have to be redeemed; efforts, like the Volunteer Youth Corps for starters. Recognizing the problem is the foremost priority and it has begun,… but the threat by the political patrons of that era still lingers