The Narco-State Polemics: Was Guyana a Narco-State under the PPP?

The Narco-State Polemics:  Was Guyana a Narco-State under the PPP?

Photo : Guyana President David Granger

Symbolic interactionists tell us that if we put a label onto a person or an organization without first thinking carefully about the underlying realities, that label might stick and it would be very hard to remove, especially when it's attached to an organization. This process helps to explain why the PPP is finding it difficult to discard its Marxist label and Marxist terminology. The PNC-led administration has also learnt that the “narco-state” label that they had pinned onto Guyana during the PPP’s administration in the 2000s could not be easily removed by them. The monster (narco-state) label that they created to haunt the PPP government has also muddied their waters. Dr Ganga Ramdas notes: “A label placed on a political party that forms a government is likely to taint also its successor because of the persistence of the narcotics industry operating imperceptibly (hiding below the official state), irrespective whichever party is in power.”  

Though much of the existing information on drug trafficking during that time (2000s) was based on ‘hearsay’ and speculation, it nevertheless flew like wild fire because it was fanned by the media and was also perceived as a method to bring down the PPP government, as had been the experience of Panama in 1989. The US Ambassador to Guyana, Ronald Bullen (2003-2006) had conveyed to Washington, on the basis of mainly hearsay, that a PPP government minister had close ties with convicted drug lord, Roger Khan. However, this minister was exonerated of any wrong doing by a Commission of Inquiry. Here’s a good example of the danger of hearsay in policy deliberations. A PNC operative made a report to US Ambassador Bullen that the PPP government allocated land to a drug dealer. Without verifying this allegation, the envoy included it in his report to the US State Department. That allegation was false. 

Critics claim some justification in stating that the PPP's "National Drug Strategy Master Plan, 2005-2009" was never fully implemented, neither did a successor plan "Task Force on Narcotics and Illicit Weapons," brought forth any significant impact on the drug trade. To bolster their position, they cited the US State Department's 2004 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report which stated that the PPP government "lacks the political will," to fight the drug trade. Of course, the PPP disputed this conclusion.

To label Guyana a narco-state under the PPP's governance, critics  should have had proof (hard evidence) that a substantial portion of the law enforcement agencies, as well as, government ministers, Judges, and top officials of other state agencies, was corrupted with the flow of drug money. While speculation was rife that a few drug lords were not prosecuted (either because of lack of evidence, fear of reprisals or alleged corruption), we are not aware of any evidence incriminating any top PPP government official. In the course of an interview with Ambassador Bullen in February 2004, we asked him if he had any evidence that PPP ministers had been involved in the drug trade, and he said “no.” It should also be noted that the PPP government in 1993 ratified the Vienna Convention on illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and agreed to cooperate with the United States on counter narcotics  efforts. 

It's interesting to note that the US Embassy had figured that 20% of Guyana’s GDP during the PPP’s governance was attributable to drugs. The country’s average GDP between 2001 and 2011 was $USD 1,639.45 million. This 20% figure would translate into an average of $USD 327 million annually. Though an arbitrary percentage, let's view this against the drug bust made during the Granger administration in February 2017 on the Guyanese fishing vessel Lady Michele that was found with 4.2 tons of cocaine with a street value of $USD125 million. (The Daily Mail: February 28, 2017). That’s the value for one drug bust, while other known busts were much less in size and value; nevertheless, it tells a story that the drug trade is flowing, despite the DEA’s (Drug Enforcement Agency) presence in Guyana. Another example was the drug bust on the Waini River, Essequibo, on January 2, 2018 where 11 kg of cocaine and the equivalent of $USD 107, 740 in various currencies were seized, including 1 Toyota AX10 car, 3 speed boats, and 15 cell phones. This case illustrates the vastness of the international drug network and its control by syndicates.  

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2017 stated that the PNC-led government was limited by resources in their fight against the drug trade but also acknowledged the existence of high levels of corruption. What makes the matter worse is when top PNC officials have been arrested and found guilty on drug charges. PNC’s Noel Blackman, who was named GPHC Chairman designate was sentenced to 50 months imprisonment and 3 years’ probation for drug abuse. Another PNC official, the Deputy Regional Executive Officer of Region 3, was arrested with 1.36 kg of cocaine at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Texas. (Kaieteur: 11/23/2016).  

The drug trade started under the PNC's administration when it made a significant appearance in the 1970s at a time of deep political turmoil (with the Jonestown tragedy in 1978, the notorious 1978 referendum to get rid of all referenda, and the controversial 1980 general elections). The political upheaval combined with the deteriorating economic situation also found expression in the drug trade during the decades of the 1990, 2000 and beyond. At the Jonestown commune where Rev Jim Jones was immune from immigration, customs, and police scrutiny, illegality flourished. Money laundering, corruption, drug trafficking, and gun running became so uncontrollable that it eventually exploded with the massive suicide/murder of over 900 people. A survivor Teri Buford O'Shea reported, “we didn't know that he [Jim Jones] was a drug addict...I learnt after the massacre that he drugged people at the outpost to keep them from trying to leave, to control them in different ways, all unbeknownst to the masses." (The Atlantic: Nov 18, 2011). A UNESCO-sponsored national survey in the early 1980s on Drug abuse and Alcoholism noted that Guyana was fast becoming a major transshipment point for the drug trade emanating from South America. A trend was also indicated that marijuana-use could progress into hard drug-use.

Photo : Bharrat Jagdeo

The labeling of Guyana as a narco-state under the PPP administration has been one of the various plans that the opposition had engineered to make Guyana ungovernable (through violence,  protests, arson, looting, and incendiary rhetoric) and to remove the PPP from power. They knew that the economy was performing well. Between 2001 and 2011 the country's GDP more than doubled. That was a remarkable achievement given that about a decade earlier, Guyana was bankrupt. However to suppress social unrest, CARICOM brokered the Herdmanston Accord between the PPP and the PNC in January 1998. The PPP government has had to capitulate to PNC’s demands. It was this protracted uneasiness and tension that gave the drug traffickers and others some breathing space which they exploited, given such other factors like Guyana's rough geographic terrain, porous borders, drug traders' intelligence network as well as their sophisticated modus operandi and access to over 50 hinterland airstrips. Apart from being tested to manage the country’s internal security, the PPP government also had to be engaged in a relentless struggle to neutralize social unrest. 

The PPP’s political largesse that flowed out of the Herdmanston Accord to the opposition did not prevent PNC operatives and others from storming the Presidential Palace in February 2002 in a failed coup d’etat. Subsequent attempts at insurrection by PNC’s “Freedom Fighters” also failed. Blackie London, Fineman and associates believed that their idea of freedom was to massacre dozens of innocent citizens. Sean Hinds, the self-styled death squad member recalled the reign of terror unleased by “Shawn Brown, Dale Moore, Chip Teeth and all these guys,” between 2002 and 2006. With the failure of the orchestrated violence to topple the PPP government, the PNC’s best hope was to vigorously push forth the narco-state button.  

If the PNC and other critics continue to say and believe that Guyana was a narco-state under the PPP governance, then they have to concede, on the basis of enough evidence, that the narco-state label also applies to the PNC-led administration.