Stabroek News
Wednesday, March 3rd 2004

Drug traffickers have Guyana in their sights - warns US State Department

The US State Department has concluded that Guyana is a prime target for money laundering and drug trafficking given weak laws, corrupt law enforcement and the continuing political stalemate.

In its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) for 2003,

The State department describes Guyana "as a transshipment point for South American cocaine destined for North America and Europe. There is insufficient evidence, however, that the cocaine entering the US from Guyana is in an amount sufficient to have a significant effect on the U.S. The economic, political, and social conditions in Guyana make it a prime target, however, for narcotics traffickers to expand their illicit activities..."

The report also notes that "...Lack of political co-operation prevented the implementation of needed reforms to the Guyana Police Force (GPF)"

And in one significant section the report states, "Allegations of corruption are widespread, and reach to high levels of government, but continue to go un-investigated. The swearing-in by the GPF of a reputed drug lord and several of his cohorts as special constables raises serious questions about the integrity of the force."

Government distracted by crime

It goes on to say that while the government is "nominally committed to counter-narcotics enforcement, it was distracted in the first half of 2003 by a political stalemate and a critical crime threat, some of which was reportedly linked to drug-trafficking activities."

However the report notes some progress for the year when "the government of Guyana (GOG) established a Financial Intelligence Unit and requested assistance from the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organisation of American States (OAS/CICAD) to revise its national drug strategy. The GOG co-operated with DEA investigations, and GOG law enforcement officers participated in U.S.-funded training. Guyana is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, but needs to pass and implement additional legislation to meet its obligations under the Convention."

It adds that the government continues to "express commitment to counter-narcotics efforts, domestically and internationally. Guyana supported the work of the CARICOM Regional Task Force on Crime and Security. In the spring, at the invitation of the GOG, OAS/CICAD personnel visited Guyana to assist the GOG in the preparation of an updated national drug strategy. By the end of 2003, however, work on the project was still pending GOG action. With material support from the USG, Guyana established a Financial Intelligence Unit in late 2003.

Law Enforcement Efforts"

The report goes on to say that Guyana's ineffective drug interdiction capability makes the country a relatively safe route for cocaine trafficking with the "volume of traffic passing through Guyana appears to be significant in local terms..."

CANU lacks authority

The US authorities observe that the "Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) is supposed to be one of the main agencies responsible for drug-related law enforcement, but it has no real authority under the law. Officially, the CANU is still a department of Customs, although it operates with considerable autonomy. It is unclear who holds ultimate control over the unit. The scope of the CANU's operation is largely believed to be politically regulated and directed... There is also a great deal of mistrust between CANU officers and the GPF, resulting in unsatisfactory intelligence/information sharing. Guyana's inefficient and antiquated legal system continues to hinder prosecution of drug offences.

In 2003, law enforcement activity was limited to numerous arrests of individuals with small amounts of marijuana, crack cocaine or powder cocaine on charges of possession of drugs or possession with intent to distribute drugs.

Mostly foreign couriers caught

The report notes that while there were arrests of drug couriers at the airport, "It is noteworthy that the great majority of such arrests have been of foreigners, although most travellers are Guyanese. GOG officials believe that GOG counter-narcotics agencies interdict only a small percentage of the cocaine and coca paste that transits Guyana..."

Meanwhile, "In 2003, high-profile seizures in the UK, Canada, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. involved drugs originating in Guyana."

As for domestic drug use the report concludes that, "Some marijuana is consumed domestically. The consumption of cocaine powder, crack cocaine, ecstasy and heroin is increasing, with cocaine use, in particular, becoming widespread. Social workers report that marijuana and cocaine are being sold almost openly."

But the report also notes that Guyana has no national drug rehabilitation programme.

Guyana's contentious and inefficient political environment and lack of resources significantly hamper its ability to effectively pursue a counter-narcotics campaign.

Money laundering considered large

The report concludes that "Guyana is neither an important regional financial centre nor an offshore financial centre, nor does it have any notable offshore business sector. The scale of money laundering, though, is thought to be large given the size of the informal economy, which is estimated to be at least 30 percent of the size of the formal sector. Money laundering has been linked to trafficking in drugs, firearms and persons, as well as corruption and fraud. Political instability, government inefficiency, an internal security crisis, and a lack of resources have significantly impaired Guyana's efforts to bolster its anti-money laundering regime. Investigating and trying money laundering cases is not a priority for law enforcement. The Government of Guyana (GOG) made no arrests or prosecutions for money laundering in 2003.

The Money Laundering Prevention Act passed in 2000 is not yet fully in force, due to inadequate implementing legislation, difficulties associated with finding suitable personnel to staff the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) and the Bank of Guyana's lack of capacity to fully execute its mandate.

Guyana should enact legislation and/or regulations to implement its Money Laundering law. Guyana should provide appropriate resources and awareness training to its regulatory, law enforcement and prosecutorial personnel..."