Law enforcement authorities in Guyana continue to face some real challenges in relation to tackling the issue of drug trafficking and the related problems that come with such activity. While there have been some successes at preventing traffickers from being successful in carrying out these illegal acts, there is still a far way to go if Guyana is to boast about putting a real dent on drug trafficking.
International and regional institutions have been trying for quite some time now to come up with a strategy that would seek to reverse this growing threat, but traffickers are becoming smarter and are using other methods to “beat the system,” thereby creating more difficulties for law enforcement agencies.
Counter-drug efforts have pushed traffickers to use new routes through the Caribbean as they seek to ship illegal drugs from South America into the United States, Europe and other destinations. It is no secret that, in the past, large amounts of drugs have transited into and out of Guyana on cargo and other ships. Cocaine is often concealed in legitimate commodities, and smuggled via commercial maritime vessels, air transport, human couriers, “go-fast” boats, or various postal methods.
In November 2020, authorities in Guyana were made aware of one of the largest drug busts in the world only after a report appeared in the Brussel Times linking the drugs to Guyana. It was reported that Belgian authorities had intercepted a vessel that allegedly left Guyana in October with a whopping 11.5 tonnes of cocaine – which has a street value of some US$1B.
The counter-narcotics prosecutors had tracked the transatlantic journey of the illicit item from Guyana, and seized it upon its arrival at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium. The cocaine was disguised as scrap metal, and placed inside a steel container which was in turn packed into a sea container and loaded into a transatlantic vessel.
Based on the report, the massive load of cocaine left Guyana in October, and prosecutors were able to track it following the dismantlement of a drug trafficking gang led by a former Belgian counter-narcotics chief, which reveals the existence of tightly knit links between criminal gangs and counter-narcotics and law enforcement officials.
In Belgium, three Police officers, a port manager, and a lawyer were among some 20 other criminals arrested as part of an operation targeting the “well-structured” criminal organisation suspected of orchestrating large and “regular” drug shipments from South America to Belgium. And in Guyana, four persons are already in custody, and a businessman is being sought in connection with the crime.
First, it is difficult to understand how 11.5 tonnes of cocaine made its way out of Guyana on a scrap metal shipment to Belgium without being detected. This, we know, was done with direct collaboration with Customs and security officials. Such an operation had required months of planning and preparation for the illegal drugs to reach all the way to Belgium.
On a regular basis, we hear stories of persons carrying illegal drugs slipping through our ports here undetected. It is only when they arrive at their respective destinations that they are discovered with the illegal substance. While these ‘pushers’ find it easy to bribe their way through the system here, it is very difficult to do so in foreign jurisdictions, except in rare cases where there is a huge network of connections to allow the illegal drugs to pass smoothly.
A key report on the global fight against drug trafficking and money laundering, which was released by the United States Department of State, had noted that Guyana has a long road ahead in combating the drug scourge.
The report, titled “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)”, had said that Guyana is a transit country for cocaine destined for the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and West Africa. Traffickers are no doubt attracted by this country’s poorly monitored ports, remote airstrips, intricate river networks, porous land borders, and weak security sector capacity.
Drug trafficking and related criminal activities represent one of the most potent threats to democracy and stability; it undermines the rule of law and democratic governance. We therefore urge the authorities to step up their efforts in putting a dent on drug smuggling and related crimes.