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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
From Stabroek News...
All are consumed

Although not a surprise, as much of the information was already in the public domain, the US State Department's report on the drug trade in Guyana nevertheless because of its comprehensiveness and detail profoundly shocked the Guyanese society. One had heard the stories and hoped that they were exaggerated. Now, the chilling facts had to be faced. Drugs and the drug trade are corrupting Guyanese society on a dangerous scale while poor coordination among the government agencies, a weak judiciary and graft continue to clog law enforcement efforts.

The Head of the Presidential Secretariat has insisted that it is government's concerns that have allowed the State Department to provide the assessment, a position which attracts the rejoinder that the State Department with its agencies and resources could have produced the assessment with or without the agreement and cooperation of government. The HPS said that the report will be studied and that at some suitable time a more detailed response would be provided. There seems a determination to maintain a low key approach, as if the very viability of Guyana and its functioning as a democratic state were not at stake.

The major Opposition party, the People's National Congress has for its part called on the government to answer the glaring revelations documented in the report which the party says it has been publicly proclaiming for several years.

To focus attention steadily on the terrifying aspects of the drug trade there is need to locate the situation in its regional and global context. In this connection in its report issued thirteen years ago the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal asserted:

"Nothing poses greater threats to civil society in Caricom countries than the drug problem and nothing exemplifies the powerlessness of regional governments more.... It is a many layered danger. At base is the human destruction implicit in drug addiction but implicit also is the corruption of individuals and systems by the sheer enormity of the inducements of the illegal drug trade in relatively poor societies. On top of all this lie the implications for governance itself... The damage to the people, the economies, the system of government - to democratic society itself - from the drug problem is as great a menace as any dictator's repression.. Caricom countries are threatened today by an onslaught from illegal drugs as crushing as any military incursion."

There is nothing low key about the above quoted assessment written thirteen years ago at a time when the problems were less pervasive than they are now.

A critical aspect of the impact on Caricom is that they are all small states, some of them virtually mini-states, with few budgetary and personnel resources. Geographically the islands are endowed with coves which are easy to penetrate and in the case of Belize, Guyana and Suriname there are borders which cannot be policed by small forces. Moreover their inherited colonial economies are now being eroded (bananas and sugar) which will gravely worsen already high unemployment levels, leaving discontents which it is too easy to exploit. At the same time no significant assistance is being offered for alternative development. Moreover the high level of westernisation has inculcated cadillac life styles and standards and aspirations which cannot be met by bicycle economies.

It is a situation of discontents and dissent, including political dissent, which is tailor made for exploitation by drug lords.

It should also be emphasised that the difference in size dictates a qualitative difference in community impact. If a gang feud in New York or Los Angeles leads to a massacre it is seen as a bad case but life goes on just the same. In the case of a small state with the killing of eight persons, as happened here at Agricola, the wider community, irrespective of ethnicity, feels insecure, imperilled and frightened.

With little resources, with their states in debt and economies in transition, the leaders of Caribbean states are embedded in the hemispheric global situation.

The global trade in drugs is equalled only by the arms trade, that other immensely lucrative industry dealing in death and conflict. The drug trade is estimated at 300 billion a year. The US market for drugs was estimated some years ago at 100 billion, about half of which (cocaine) transits the Caribbean. The rest, mainly heroin, comes from the Far East, importantly Afghanistan where "poppy" cultivation had been eradicated by the Taliban using draconian methods. Now under the supervision of war lords the poppy cultivation is flourishing again, as is the tender plant of democracy. It is estimated that the US consume 60% of the world's illicit drugs, far out of proportion to its 4.45% of the world's population. The other major market is increasingly the European Union. From time to time the US authorities issue statistics which seek to show that the situation is being brought under control. But such statistics are viewed with scepticism in the US Congress and media and generally as drugs continue to be easily available in any US city. Most of the 1.6 million drug related arrests in the US are for possession rather than trafficking or use in the USA. The US budget for control at 6 billion is considered woefully inadequate. A recent article on the US war on drugs (SN March 9) concluded that the US is yet to develop a strategy that works.

Without that vast lucrative drug market it is certain the production of cocaine would greatly diminish, certainly the transit trade through the Caribbean would wither away. One must therefore consider that the US bears a high moral if not legal responsibility for the flourishing of the drug trade.

The US responsibility extends still further. Professor Trevor Munroe, the distinguished Professor of Politics at UWI, Mona has pointed out that in the wake of the 9/ll events the US virtually abandoned the policing of the Caribbean transit routes. Munroe quotes a report from Caribbean Trends as follows: "Some three quarters of the US Coast Guard cutters, helicopters and other assets and a large part of the personnel that was used to search the scene - especially the Caribbean area - were reassigned to protect warships, nuclear power plants and oil tankers in American ports, to escort cruise ships and other terrorism related tasks. About half of the Coast Guard's special agents who usually investigated drug cases were shifted to commercial jets as marshals."

In short the Caribbean sea is now an "open" sea for the transit of drugs.

The Guyana Government has invited the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to establish a presence here. The US in turn has made proposals and, it is reported, is eager for a positive response. The establishment of the DEA office could be a major advance. It has also been disclosed that the US has made available about US $1 million in grants for several purposes including refitting the Coast Guard's flagship, support for police counter - narcotic efforts, and appropriate training courses for the GDF and civilians. The US has also indicated its readiness to assist in revamping CANU. Such assistance is of high value but it also must be seen as very small scale given the magnitude of the problem.

What has Caricom done on its own? It has sought to internationalise the issue and thereby to secure international assistance. Prime Minister PJ Patterson of Jamaica and Prime Minister ANR Robinson of Trinidad and Tobago took the matter to the UN As a result, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution in 1990 for a Global Programme of Action against illicit drugs, but that decision fell short of the original intention calling for the establishment of a Multilateral Force. Within Caricom itself a number of mechanisms and measures have been established. They include the Caribbean Drug Control Coordination Mechanism (1997), the Regional Coordination Mechanism (1998) and the Caribbean Drug Information Network (2001). However, in practice it appears that their work and that of other related bodies have been hampered by a lack of funds. It is also to the point that the drug problem with its regional and international dimensions and the need for speed in decision making point inevitably to the need for a supranational authority, a necessity which Caricom leaders as in other areas of action are unwilling to face. The above is no more than a sketch of a problem of immense dimensions, a problem which needs to be kept on the front burner for continuous national discussion, policy formulation and implementation.

In Guyana, certainly in Georgetown, one has the feeling of cowering before an oncoming tsunami. The words of the great poet come readily to mind. Martin Carter was writing about a fundamental aspect of the human condition but his words respond to the national feeling: "All are involved, All are consumed".