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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Ravi Dev Column
Ravi Dev Column

Crime

(Kaieteur News, 26 March 2006)


The tape of the bugged phone conservations that is titillating the nation have also served to remind Guyanese how sick and tired (and rightfully so) they are with the crime situation in our besieged country. Telling them that other countries such as Jamaica and the United States have higher crime-rates (as some in the government bleat ever so often) does not cut any ice – and rightfully so.

After all, there are oodles of countries with much lower crime rates than ours - such as Iceland and Japan – so what's the point? The point for Guyanese is that something had better be done about crime – and fast.

Over the last few months, the leaders of GAP-ROAR visited coastal communities from Charity to Springlands and everywhere they went, the cry was the same, “Why isn't the government getting a grip on crime?” Not so long ago the citizens of Berbice and Essequibo used to see crime as a Georgetown problem. Not any more.

We had often warned against this “don't care, it's not my problem” attitude because we knew, from the experience of other jurisdictions, that crime and criminal activities were like gases – they eventually expand to fill all the space where they are unleashed.

Anxiety, frustration and fear are palpable among the people. Folks in Berbice complained that the problem was not the “old time fowl and duck thieves, but men with ‘long guns' who show no mercy”. It was the same in Essequibo . And that describes the crux of the matter: the crime wave that has overtaken our country is not only quantitatively different from anything that has preceded it – but also qualitatively so.

Take the situation with drugs. Most commentators have focused on the fact that Guyana has become a major transhipment point for hard drugs from Colombia and other South American sources into countries in the north. But the tragic reality is that one spill-off from the drug trade has been the percolation of drug-use into every coastal community in Guyana .

Most policy makers and analysts appear to be unaware of what is going on in the villages. This drug culture has resulted not only in the destruction of the lives of so many of our youths – many not even yet teenagers – but in the creation of an endemic criminal element who prey on their hapless neighbours.

This new criminal element is practised in unleashing the most vicious forms of violence on their victims: they have learnt well from the “kick-down-the-door” bandits who preceded them. And there is a lesson here. As the crime wave spreads like a dark and malignant cancer across our land, it has grown increasingly virulent.

At each stage the criminals incorporate the old, prevalent modus operandi into their repertoire then go on to devise some new and greater sadistic twist in an ever increasing spiral of degradation for their victims. Whither Guyana ?

One of the constants in crime in Guyana that ROAR had identified at its launch in 1999 was the nexus between politics and criminality. The “choke-and rob” gangs of the sixties, the kick-down-the-door-bandits of the seventies and eighties, the “resistance fighters” of the present era – they all had connections with politics and politicians. But once violence of any stripe is introduced as a tactic to make a political point, it remains as a fixture in the criminal arsenal: those genies can never be returned to their bottles.

If we are ever to get a grip on crime we will have to sever the links between politics and crime.

Poverty and destitution have also been identified as breeding grounds for crime and criminality. This statement should not be a point of disputation: all across the globe, the correlation between crime and poverty holds. But the riposte from many in Guyana is that, “there are many communities in Guyana that are poor but do not resort to crime”. However, this does not destroy the correlation.

It may be that there are other factors, in addition to poverty, that drive some into crime but that does not get poverty off the hook. What we are saying is that we will not solve our crime problem unless we examine the factors that cause it. It is not just a matter of the police and the other law-enforcement agencies getting bigger guns and shooting up all the criminals.

But here again, this does not mean that the police do not have to get “bigger guns”. The fact (described above) that the criminals are constantly honing their ability to inflict violence and improving their “tools” of their trade demand that our law-enforcement agencies not only match their adversaries, but overwhelm them.

The demand of ROAR that the long-promised Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Squad become a reality comes out of that recognition. While we have never backed off our assertion that private citizens have the legal right, and in fact the obligation, to defend themselves and can use whatever means necessary to accomplish that duty, we reject unequivocally those who say that it is OK to have officially sponsored Death Squads. We must create institutions of the state to protect all of us.

Crime can bring down not only our state (some may say we have already reached that point with the infiltration of drug money into the upper echelons of Government) but each one of us. This is not a partisan issue and it should not be treated as such. GAP-ROAR calls on every citizen to become part of the solution.

The Joint Parliamentary Opposition will be sponsoring a symposium intended to bring all who desire a peaceful Guyana together to look at the causes of crime and to propose solutions. All Guyanese should attend – including the PPP/C – to arrive at the very best and comprehensive plan against crime.