Earlier this week, US and Italian federal narcotic agents spectacularly dismantled an intercontinental drug ring with a very strong Guyana connection; but critics and law-enforcements experts in Guyana say they are not at all surprised that local investigators were completely shut out of the operation, in the wake of widespread speculation that the agencies are compromised at the highest levels.
U.S. and Italian police on Tuesday announced the take-down and were beaming with confidence that they had smashed the well-known and feared Gambino crime family with its strong and entrenched New York links, as well as the lesser-known but similarly feared Italian organization called the Calabrian Ndrangheta in southern Italy.
Agents say that the Calabrian clan is a version of the Sicilian Mafia and has been growing in size and influence in recent years.
James Singh, head of the Guyana Customs Anti Narcotics Unit said local investigators were clueless about a two-year operation that involved at least one factory in Guyana, which was used to conceal large quantities of cocaine in food products like pineapple and frozen fish, among others.
But he did point to a late-2012, $7M bust in Malaysia, where sleuths successfully intercepted a shipment of cocaine from Guyana in far-away Malaysia, hidden in sealed cans of coconut milk. Two local can sealers were last year jailed for their part in the international smuggling scheme that had made news headlines around the world. The joint U.S.-Italian bust was announced just as the cartel was about to ship 1,000 pounds of cocaine from Guyana.
Guyana Deputy Police Chief Seelall Persaud said his department was also left in the dark and had not been asked to help, even at the Guyana end of the investigation. This, as DEA agents were expected to arrive in Guyana later this week.
Former Police Chief and Opposition Member of Parliament Winston Felix argued that international investigators would always shy away from involving locals because of fears that officers are compromised, as well as the fact that they fear mistakes by lesser-trained police could compromise a crucial investigation deliberately or by mistake.
“They would not involve our boys fully, maybe to conduct surveillance on a factory or something of the sort; but there is no doubt that there is a level of mistrust of the system in Guyana,” said the opposition spokesman on national security.
Political scientist and newspaper columnist Freddie Kissoon pointed to the fact that U.S. Federal agents had had an extradition list of 13 known cocaine dealers in Guyana a decade ago and had never informed government or enforcement officials in Guyana.
“This on the list did not even know they were there. It is a clear case of distrust of Guyanese authorities at every level,” he said.