IN 2012, the US State Department’s ‘Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report’ warned about Guyana being ‘a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine on its way to North America and Europe. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) became acquainted ad nauseum with this name, the only English-speaking South American country, after investigating numerous narcotic cases involving Guyanese.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers no longer had the trouble of confusing Guyana with Ghana, the name of this former British colony became all too familiar. Regional and international airports security personnel were on the constant watch for Guyanese passengers who came up with the most ingenious methods to ferry illicit substances while travelling to various world capitals. The land of many waters and the mighty Kaieteur Falls went from being famous globally and regionally for its teachers, technicians, hard workers, diplomats, statesmen and stateswomen and national heroes, to being ignobly recognised as the land of the ‘drug mules.’ There is no doubt, between 1999-2015, Guyana became a virtual narco-republic.
This status quo was compounded by the sad reality, documented in every international report of consequence concerning Guyana on this subject, the consistent lack of political will to crackdown on the drug empire. Home Affairs Ministers came and went, some huffed and puffed but it was all pomp, formality and political choreography; there was never any overt and robust intervention to prevent the rise of the narco-republic. Feroze Mohammed, Minister of Home Affairs (1992-1994), appeared to be pursuing the ‘Guyana Strategy for dealing with the Drug Problem’. Ronald Gajraj, Minister of Home Affairs (1995-2004), vowed to bring down the drug empire with the ‘National Drug Strategy Master Plan 1997-2000’. Gail Teixeira, Minister of Home Affairs (2004-2006), passionately warned Guyanese not to support businesses associated with those who peddle illicit substances. Clement Rohee, Minister of Home Affairs (2006-2015), once thundered, ‘We will get tough on drug lords.’ The Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) was formed in 1995; all carefully presented apparent efforts were in vain. The drug empire increased its power and dominance and exerted unprecedented influence over the Guyanese state.
At the macro-level, this state of affairs translated into 60% of the country’s economy being run by the opaque underworld, according to economists such as Dr. Clive Thomas. At the micro-level or in the everyday existence of life in Guyana, the narco-republic manifested itself in the daily lives of Guyanese in its ugliest forms. In the streets, killers and goons under the protection of powerful drug barons moved without fear of punishment or of being answerable to the law. They killed at will and exacted violence on innocent civilians, while boldly stating ‘I could kill you and nothing will happen.’ They donned opulent gold chains, bought Toyota Allions, walked around with guns in waist and bestrode Guyana night life like untouchable giants.
Bodies popped up everywhere and unsolved cases became the order of the day. Trepidation gripped the society, and law-abiding citizens cowered in their homes. In the festival of blood and guns, mothers cautioned their children and pleaded with them not to incur the wrath of the drug empire on their way to school or church. The consequences of a society under the scourge of drugs manifested in an academic way during this period.
The narco-republic reached its zenith in 2002, when the Mash Day jailbreak occurred. A dangerous paradigm of criminality engulfed the society and what followed was a sad confirmation that the drug empire had reached its apogee. As the security forces retreated, the ‘Phantom Squad’ and ‘Short Man’ filled the security vacuum to save the nation from demise, a certain paradox among paradoxes. ‘Short Man’ became the anti-hero and his unpalatable heroism was regrettably celebrated in some parts of Guyana. He became the de facto head of state, while commanding his armed forces of the underworld. Law-abiding Guyanese became resigned to the fate that this is our destiny, as one people, one nation under the tutelage of drug lords.
The beginning of the end of their resignation in this wretched state started in February 2015, when the former head of the Guyana Defence Force, David Arthur Granger, was nominated to be the presidential candidate of A Partnership of National Unity (APNU) to contest the national elections. The narco-republic began its decline and fall on May 16th, 2015, when this teetotal and highly disciplined military man was sworn in as President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. On February 10th, 2016, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officially opened its local office in Georgetown; senior members of the drug underworld and their family members are now facing the courts; there are no known distinguished drug gangs and above all, dirty money has dried up to the point where it is affecting liquidity in the system. These are all manifestations of the decline and fall of the narco-republic.