06/13/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

Guyana Profile 

Guyana Profile 

Guyana Profile 

At least 70% of Guyana is covered by thick Amazonian jungle, making this small nation a difficult territory to control. The former British colony has become a strategic location for organized crime due to widespread corruption and the country’s porous shared borders with Venezuela and Brazil, two key drug trafficking countries.

  • Geography
  • History
  • Criminal Groups
  • Security Forces
  • Judicial System
  • Prisons

Geography

Guyana is a small and sparsely populated country located on the northeastern coast of South America. It is bordered to the west by Venezuela, to the south and southwest by Brazil, to the east by Suriname, and to the north by the Atlantic Ocean.

The dense jungle that covers Guyana’s territory has sheltered and facilitated illegal economies such as drug trafficking. In addition, its rich biodiversity and mineral wealth have given rise to environmental crimes, such as wildlife trafficking and illegal gold and mercury mining.

The country’s strategic location, where jungle and sea meet, has made Guyana a transit country for cocaine shipments to the Caribbean and Europe. Drugs enter the country in small planes that land on clandestine airstrips built in the middle of the jungle. River and land arteries connecting Guyana with Venezuela and Brazil are also used to bring cocaine into the country.

The drugs are eventually transported by land or waterways to the port of Georgetown, the country’s capital.

On the border with Venezuela, Colombian and Brazilian criminal groups, Venezuelan security forces, and other illegal organizations carry out illegal gold mining. In addition, large landowners take control of mining concessions that they then sublease to informal miners, which has led to deforestation throughout the country.

Due to the high percentage of mining in the country, Guyana is also a gateway for illegal mercury. Although its use is not prohibited in the country, Guyana supplies Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela, sometimes through illegal smuggling from China. This not only reinforces trafficking in neighboring countries, but also strengthens the use of mercury in legal mining in Guyana.

History

Political instability and a fluctuating presence of armed and criminal organizations have characterized Guyana’s history. In recent years, both factors have determined the country’s position in the criminal landscape of the region.

Despite gaining its independence in 1966, Guyana did not have completely free elections until 1992.

The country’s deep political and ethnic divide gave rise to so-called “political gangs,” groups aligned to one of the two dominant parties, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC).

This gave rise to gangs such as the “Five for Freedom,” which was created after five Afro-Guyanese criminals escaped from prison in February 2002. Since then, the group became linked to kidnapping, extortion, and robbery.

The PPP-led government’s response led to the creation of paramilitary groups known as phantom squads.” Some of these groups were led by criminal leaders such as Shaheed “Roger” Khan, the country’s most notorious drug trafficker.

Beginning in 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that multiple seizures of drugs from Guyana were putting the small country on the transnational drug trafficking map.

Since then, the criminal landscape has not changed significantly. Despite the capture of key players in the drug trade, such as Roger Khan, the country remains a transit point for cocaine coming from the Andean region.

Moreover, the rise in the international price of gold since 2006 has spurred a land grab that, according to information obtained in the field by InSight Crime, continues to be a problem in Guyana.

Criminal Groups

In Guyana, criminal organizations are mainly related to drug trafficking, illegal mining, arms trafficking, and wildlife trafficking.

Local gangs occupy the lion’s share of the criminal landscape. However, none have the organization and strength of their counterparts in Brazil or Venezuela.  

Unlike gangs in neighboring countries, in Guyana these groups lack a clear identity, codes, or rituals. Instead, they usually respond to a local leader who has few subordinates under their command, which means that affiliations and alliances are constantly changing.

These gangs engage in common crimes, such as robbery, or simply commit crimes when the opportunity arises. They may also engage in small-scale drug and arms trafficking operations.

Such groups are also involved in wildlife trafficking, InSight Crime found during its visit to the country.

Other actors, such as Colombian and Mexican emissaries, establish contact with local organizations to coordinate drug and arms trafficking activities, among others. When Guyanese criminal groups are not contracted by larger organizations to provide security for shipments or move drugs in the cities, local gangs engage in micro-trafficking and small-scale international trafficking that includes the use of human couriers and air smuggling.  

There are also organized mafias linked to businesses, such as gold mining, that operate legally in the country. These are dedicated to gold smuggling and the leasing of mining concessions to illegal and informal miners who evade any government regulation, InSight Crime learned during fieldwork.

Security Forces

By 2020, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) had only 4,600 troops, an insufficient number to police the entire country, according to then President David Granger. Likewise, the country has the Guyana Defense Force (GDF), which depends on the country’s Defense Council and has 3,428 troops.

There is also the Guyana Community Police (GCP). Formed in 1986, the GCP consists of neighborhood police groups that conduct patrols and alert the GPF to criminal activity. These units, along with the GPF, have been linked multiple times to criminal organizations.

Within the country, there is a widespread perception that security forces regularly commit human rights violations.

There are also units dedicated to combating organized crime, such as the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) and the National Intelligence Centre (NIC).

Judicial System

The judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court of Justice, the federal appellate courts, and district courts.

Despite constitutional guarantees of an independent judiciary, the judiciary has been adversely affected by the ethnically-based political divisions in the country. Since 1980, both the PPP and PNC have used their mandates to pack the courts, and the judiciary has difficulty serving as an effective check on the executive or the legislature.

During a visit to Guyana, InSight Crime found that judicial bodies are involved in corrupt activities. For example, mining groups and their political acolytes have co-opted these institutions in their favor.

Prisons

The judicial system’s delays and inefficiency has led to overcrowding in prisons. According to World Prison Brief, in 2022 the level of occupancy in the country’s prisons had exceeded 51% of their maximum capacity. About 27% of prisoners are still awaiting trial.

In addition, there are reports of many prison officials physically abusing prisoners and extorting inmates in exchange for protection. In other cases, corrupt officials help smuggle drugs and other items, as well as help prisoners escape.

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