Guns for drugs trade across Guyana's borders
-CANU head By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
March 11, 2007

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Head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), Orvil Nedd, said that the agency is in possession of information pointing to a drugs for weapons trade prosecuted by smugglers operating across Guyana's borders. And sources told this newspaper that a particular criminal gang operating in Guyana had benefited from this trade, with a number of high-powered weapons being supplied to the gang in exchange for cocaine.

In the US drug report under the section which deals with drug flow and transit, the US government indicated that Guyanese narcotics traffickers regularly moved shipments of cocaine through the country and in some deals Guyanese traffickers swapped weapons for drugs. Stabroek News was told that operatives in at least two criminal gangs obtained their arms and ammunition as a consequence of the narcotics trade. In addition, other items such as camouflage clothing, boots and military kit had been supplied to gangs in Guyana by criminal organizations in Suriname and Venezuela.

Law enforcement authorities here have not made any significant arms bust at the airport or in border locations over the past years, but Guyana's streets are awash with illegal weapons. The police have acknowledged that there has been a significant increase in the incidence of armed robberies over the past two years and although they have seized a few illegal weapons, the majority of those are small arms. Gunmen continue to carry high-powered weapons such as AK-47 rifles, 30 of which were stolen from the Guyana Defence Force last year.

In the US drug report it was noted that cocaine flowed across Guyana's remote, uncontrolled borders and coast. The report said too that light aircraft landed at numerous isolated airstrips or made airdrops where operatives on the ground retrieved the drugs. The US mentioned also that smugglers used boats to enter Guyana's many remote but navigable rivers, and that some of them took direct routes, such as crossing the uncontrolled borders with Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Nedd told Stabroek News that some of the more established Guyanese drug traffickers would trade cocaine for guns with foreign arms smugglers. He said that these weapons were often used to protect the drug dealers' turf.

The CANU head pointed to last year's arms theft in Suriname where thieves escaped with 500 rounds of ammunition for carbines, 200 rounds of ammunition for Bren-machine guns and six crates each containing 30 grenades. The bandits had entered the bunker at the Ayoko barracks in Suriname, which is close to the international airport. They breached two heavy steel doors with a cutting torch.

Authorities in Guyana were on high alert for anyone who might have attempted to smuggle the weapons into Guyana, but no one was caught doing this. It was believed however that some of the ammunition and grenades indeed reached Guyana. Last year on two occasions the joint services came under attack by gunmen on the East Coast who lobbed grenades at them. It has not been determined whether the grenades were part of the stock which was stolen from the Suriname army bunker.

Nedd said that gunmen and drug traffickers had been trying hard to ply their trade, noting that while some of them had admitted it was difficult to breach the security at the airport, they were using the borders to import and export cocaine. Asked where the cocaine in Guyana's streets was coming from, Nedd replied Colombia. He said however, drugs shipments out of Colombia were often shipped first to Venezuela, then to Suriname and then to Guyana before being exported to North America or elsewhere. He pointed out that Guyana was being used as a trans-shipment point because of its long unpatrolled borders, which made it easy for drug shipments to come in and go out.

Nedd said that CANU was doing its best to take the fight to the drug traffickers, but he adverted to certain constraints such as a lack of human and physical resources.

The US report said that within Guyana, narcotics were transported to George-town by road, water or air and then sent on to the Caribbean, North America, or Europe via commercial air carriers or cargo ships. The report said too that "Go-fast" boats may also carry cocaine from Guyana's rivers to mother-ships in the Atlantic.

Last week, Suriname Justice Minister Chandrikapersad Santokhi told the Suriname media that increasingly the former Dutch colony was falling out of favour with criminal organizations as a drug transit point. The minister said that intelligence reports and contacts with international law enforcement organizations showed that criminal organizations found Suriname increasingly difficult to work in and as such they were switching to other countries. Santokhi told the media that large cocaine shipments on planes were less frequent now and the new favoured route was overland through Guyana.

In addition, the unregulated Corentyne ferry crossing at Corriverton has facilitated criminals who want to travel between Guyana and Suri-name. During a visit to the location last year, residents told this newspaper that shipments of drugs and arms came through the illegal ports at night and in the early morning.

Residents said too that known criminals had frequented the illegal ports and there had been a report that Roger Khan and his three bodyguards had used the backtrack crossing at Cor-riverton to enter Suriname where they were later held. Khan was subsequently deported to Trinidad from where he was transferred to the custody of US officials and flown to New York and charged.