Guyana Resource Center
Set like a gem in the crown of South America, nestled on the North-Eastern shoulder, defying the raging Atlantic Ocean, Guyana's many waterways reflect the source of it's name "The Land of Many Waters"
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I. Summary

Guyana is a transshipment point for cocaine destined for North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Interdictions and seizures of drugs in Guyana decreased from 2004 to 2005. Poor economic, social, and political conditions make Guyana a prime target for narcotics traffickers to exploit as a transit point. The Government of Guyana (GoG) launched its National Drug Strategy Master Plan (NDSMP) for 2005-2009 in June 2005. However, the GoG has yet to implement any of the NDSMP’s substantive initiatives. Guyana is a party to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (the 1988 UN Drug Convention) but still needs to pass and implement additional legislation to meet its obligations under the convention.

II. Status of Country

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime last estimated the quantity of cocaine transiting Guyana in 2000-2001 at 20-25 metric tons annually. Using those figures, the U.S. Embassy in Guyana estimates that narcotics traffickers earn US$150 million annually, and possibly much more, by trafficking cocaine through Guyana. This amount is equivalent to twenty percent or more of Guyana’s reported gross domestic product. Accurately determining the trend in drug transit is difficult given the wide yearly swings in seizures. There have not been any large domestic seizures since a 1998 joint Guyanese/U.S. operation seized 3,154 kilograms of cocaine from a ship docked in Georgetown. Publicly reported seizures for 2005 totaled approximately 43kgs.

Drug traffickers appear to be gaining a significant foothold in Guyana’s timber industry. In 2005, The Guyana Forestry Commission granted a State Forest Exploratory Permit for a large tract of land in Guyana’s interior to Aurelius Inc., a company controlled by known drug trafficker Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan. Such concessions in the remote interior may allow drug traffickers to establish autonomous outposts beyond the reach of Guyanese law enforcement.

Government counternarcotics efforts are undermined by the lack of adequate resources for law enforcement, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies, and a weak judicial system. The Guyanese media regularly report murders, kidnappings, and other violent crimes commonly believed to be linked with narcotics trafficking. Guyana produces cannabis but not coca leaf or cocaine. Guyana is not known to produce, trade, or transit precursor chemicals on a large scale.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2005

Policy Initiatives. Guyana launched its ambitious 2005-2009 NDSMP in June. The NDSMP’s programs are divided into Supply Reduction and Demand Reduction. The Supply Reduction agenda calls for improving the justice system’s ability to handle drug cases, making the Joint Intelligence Coordination Center (JICC) operational, closer cooperation between and better technology for law enforcement agencies, and tighter control of border posts and airstrips. The Demand Reduction agenda includes developing rehabilitation capabilities as well as media and education programs. The government estimates that implementing the 2005-2009 NDSMP will cost approximately US$3.3 million. The FIU, established in 2003 with material support from the U.S., is handicapped by the lack of effective legislation to deal with money laundering, such as the lack of an amendment to allow for seizing assets.

Accomplishments. The launch of the 2005-2009 NDSMP after a five-year gap was significant. However, the government has not completed any of the short-term milestones mentioned in the plan. Guyana made no other significant progress in achieving or maintaining compliance with the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Drug Convention. In 2005, Guyanese law enforcement agencies did not make a single publicly reported cocaine seizure in excess of 10 kilograms. Nor have Guyanese authorities brought to justice a single important member of a drug trafficking organization.

Law Enforcement Efforts. The GoG’s counternarcotics efforts suffer from a lack of adequate law enforcement resources, poor inter-agency coordination, and endemic corruption. Several agencies share responsibility for counternarcotics activities: the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) is tasked with conducting enforcement activities mainly at ports of entry; the Guyana Police Force (GPF) Narcotics Branch is the principal element in the police responsible for enforcement of drug laws domestically; the Guyana Defense Force Coast Guard (GDFCG) has the lead for maritime counternarcotics operations. There is little productive interaction or intelligence sharing among these organizations. For example, according to the 2005-2009 NDSMP, the JICC is supposed "to bring together various counternarcotics agencies in a single work environment, encourage the sharing of information and intelligence", but "has not met for some time."

In 2005, the GPF Narcotics Branch and CANU arrested drug couriers at Guyana’s international airport en route to the Caribbean, North America, and Europe. However, the arrests were limited to individuals with small amounts of marijuana, crack cocaine or powder cocaine, usually on charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking. For example, a 16 year-old-girl was arrested in February with 1.3 kilograms of cocaine in her suitcase. In October, a player on the Guyanese national soccer team died when one of the cocaine-filled bags he had swallowed burst in his stomach after he had smuggled the drugs to Barbados. Authorities have not successfully acted against major traffickers and their organizations. According to publicly reported arrests, authorities recovered only 43 kilograms of cocaine in 2005. This represents a significant decrease from 2004 and 2003, when authorities recovered 269 kilograms and 277 kilograms of cocaine, respectively. Government and DEA officials believe that counternarcotics agencies interdict only a small percentage of the cocaine that transits Guyana. The U.S. donated a fast interceptor boat to the GDFCG in May 2005. The GDFCG conducts patrols with the interceptor boat, but has not yet interdicted any narcotics shipments. The discovery in March at a remote airstrip of an abandoned Cessna aircraft, which had probably been used to smuggle drugs into Guyana, underscored the GoG’s inability to monitor such locations.

Corruption. The GOG does not facilitate the production, processing, or shipment of narcotic and psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances, and does not discourage the investigation or prosecution of such acts. The GOG takes legal and law enforcement measure to prevent and punish public corruption. Guyana is party to the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC) but has yet to fully implement its provisions, such as seizure of property obtained through corruption. News media routinely report on instances of corruption reaching to high levels of government that go uninvestigated and unpunished. The former Minister of Home Affairs, who had been implicated with an extra-judicial killing squad and who had improperly issued firearm licenses to known criminals, resigned in 2005. The new Minister of Home Affairs has shown greater commitment to fighting drug trafficking and corruption. The Police Commissioner is making strong efforts to reduce corruption within the GPF. Guyana is not a party to the UN Convention Against Corruption.

Agreements and Treaties. Guyana is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Guyana also is a party to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on trafficking in persons. The 1931 Extradition Treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom is applicable to the U.S. and Guyana. Guyana signed a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on maritime counternarcotics cooperation in 2001, but has not yet taken the necessary internal steps to bring the agreement into force. Guyana has bilateral agreements to cooperate on drug trafficking issues with its neighbors and with the United Kingdom. Guyana is also a member of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (OAS/CICAD).

Cultivation and Production. Cannabis cultivation occurs in Guyana on a limited scale, primarily in the intermediate savannahs. Police regularly discover and eradicate cannabis cultivation sites when conducting area sweeps. The 2005-2009 NDSMP reported that authorities destroyed a total of 68.5 hectares and over 63,000 kilograms of cannabis plants during the 1999-2003 period.

Drug Flow/Transit. Cocaine flows through Guyana’s remote, uncontrolled borders and coastline. Light aircraft land at numerous isolated airstrips or make airdrops into rivers where operatives on the ground retrieve the drugs. Smugglers use small boats and freighters to enter Guyana’s many remote but navigable rivers. Smugglers also take direct routes, such as driving or boating across the uncontrolled borders with Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela. Inside the country, narcotics are normally transported to Georgetown by road, water, or air and then sent on to the Caribbean, North America, or Europe via commercial air carriers or cargo ships. "Go-fast" speed boats may also carry cocaine from Guyana’s rivers to mother-ships in the Atlantic. Authorities have arrested drug mules attempting to smuggle cocaine on virtually every northbound route out of the international airport.

In April 2005, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation led to arrests of 27 members of a Guyana-based drug importation and distribution ring responsible for bringing in hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Guyana on board flights arriving in New York. They concealed the drugs inside frozen fish and chowmein containers.

Drug traffickers also use cargo ships to export narcotics from Guyana either directly to North America and Europe or through intermediate Caribbean ports. In March 2005, British authorities arrested a man who attempted to smuggle 572 kilograms of cocaine into the UK in bags of coconuts from Guyana. In November, Barbadian authorities discovered 120 kilograms of cocaine in a shipment of lumber from Guyana. Drug traffickers have used virtually every commodity that Guyana exports as a cover for shipping cocaine out of the country.

Demand Reduction (Domestic Programs). Marijuana is sold and consumed openly in Guyana, despite frequent arrests for possessing small amounts of cannabis. CANU and the 2005-2009 NDSMP both note that consumption of cocaine powder, crack cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin has risen—and the latter two have appeared on Guyana’s streets in the past year. This increase in domestic drug use is occurring despite the high cost of the drugs relative to local incomes. A survey cited in the 2005-2009 NDSMP reported that 27 percent of the 11-19 year-old children interviewed nationwide had seen cocaine. The same survey reported that 60 percent of children in Region 1 (on the border with Venezuela) said they had seen cocaine. The 2005-2009 NDSMP includes several measures to reduce demand for narcotics. The strategy includes safe lifestyle programs, stronger health and family life education, targeted surveys and compilation of social statistics, and a media strategy to promote drug awareness. The Ministry of Health and the Office of the President will administer most of these plans. As with the 2005-2009 NDSMP’s other components, the government has yet to take concrete action to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Guyana’s ability to deal with drug abusers is severely limited by a lack of financial resources to support rehabilitation programs.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

U.S. Policy Initiatives. U.S. policy focuses on strengthening Guyana’s law enforcement agencies and promoting good governance. U.S. funded training and technical support are key components of this strategy. U.S. officials continued to encourage Guyanese participation in bilateral and multilateral counternarcotics initiatives. USAID is funding projects to improve governance in Guyana, which includes much needed parliamentary and judicial reform.

Bilateral Cooperation. The DEA works closely with Guyana’s government and law enforcement agencies to develop initiatives that will significantly enhance their counternarcotics activities. High-ranking representatives from the GPF and the GDF attended the International Drug Enforcement Conference in 2005. The U.S. government also funded the vetting of selected officers in counternarcotics agencies. U.S. officials continue to work closely with the FIU in its fledgling efforts to curb money laundering.

The Road Ahead. Guyana’s contentious and inefficient political system and lack of resources significantly hamper its ability to mount an effective counternarcotics campaign. Legitimate businesses are suffering because money launderers associated with narcotics traffickers distort the domestic economy by pricing their goods and services below sustainable market rates. The drug trade generates violent armed groups who act as if they are above the law and who threaten Guyana’s fragile democracy, and drug traffickers may use their ill-gotten gains to acquire political influence. Lastly, the drug trade is corrupting Guyanese society on a dangerous scale. The U.S. will channel future assistance to initiatives that demonstrate success in interdicting drug flows and prosecuting drug traffickers. Efforts in this area include strengthening Guyana’s judicial system, law enforcement infrastructure, and counternarcotics legislation. The U.S., along with other international stakeholders, must continue to press for thorough reform. The U.S. will continue to encourage participation in bilateral and multilateral initiatives, as well as implementation of current international conventions and agreements.