Georgetown, Guyana – Like many of its Caribbean counterparts, Guyana has struggled to effectively combat the illegal gun trade/trafficking market. A large part of the problem stems from the country’s inability to deploy adequate resources to police its expansive land borders stretching 2933 kilometers and shared with Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname.
The Global Organized Crime Index notes that the country’s porous borders make it a virtual paradise for black market dealers seeking an easy transit point for illegal weapons. Over the years, Guyana has seen a flow of illegal firearms from France, Brazil and Venezuela.
For those weapons which manage to settle into the hands of domestic criminal networks, statistics from the country’s Criminal Investigation Department show that there is a preference for arms manufactured in Brazil and the USA. From 2012 to 2022, it was found that the Guyana Police Force removed over 1,097 illegal firearms, many of which were manufactured in those two territories.
Specifically, between the period of 2008 and 2012, an average of 100 illegal guns was being removed from the streets with this trend continuing until 2018. Though there has been a noticeable decline from 2020 to 2022, with an average of 70 guns being seized annually, authorities say they are not the least bit satisfied with this.
To truly increase its gains, Guyana’s attorney general and minister of legal affairs, Anil Nandlall says a new law is in the making that will modernize the nation’s approach to crime fighting. Nandlall said, “We have drafted a Bill to replace our current Firearms Act, Cap. 16:05, to comply with our international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty of which Guyana ratified in 2013…”
Nandlall said this new law was part of the Global Firearms Programme (GFP) Project which was designed and launched in March 2021 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).
That project, he said, is aimed at improving the capacity of the criminal justice system to counter the illicit proliferation and misuse of firearms. The project, which is funded by Germany, is also being done in cooperation with (Caricom) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC).
Nandlall explained that some of the key elements of the Bill still before the Cabinet includes an improved licensing procedure for the issuance of firearms, including qualifications for a firearms licence; clear criteria for appointing members to the Firearms Licensing Board; the establishment and maintenance of a Central Firearms Register and other types of registers; the development of firearms safety courses and the content of the testing requirements for acquiring a competency certificate; the safe use and storage of the firearm, marking and ballistic testing; and the import, export and transit of firearms. The new Bill also creates offences and provides for dissuasive penalties for the contravention of those offences.
The attorney general also noted that the government is intent on “taking the profit out of crime”. He said the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2023 which was recently tabled in the National Assembly contains a number of measures to combat dismantling firearm trafficking and any such organised criminal groups.
Nandlall said the amendments have increased the role of the Financial Intelligence Unit to not only act in relation to money laundering and terrorism financing, but associated serious offences, including the illicit trade of firearms (Section 9 (1).)
The search and seizure regime has also been improved he said, adding that search warrants may also now be granted by a Justice of the Peace in order to facilitate hot pursuit and hot tip situations and prevent a person from quickly dissipating their assets or instrumentalities of the crime (Section 29).
Additionally, interception of communication orders can also now be used in relation to illegal trafficking of firearms and the illegal gun market (Section 33).
From a bilateral perspective, Guyana’s Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed that there is increased collaboration with the border officials of Guyana and Brazil, particularly with regard to the crossing of vehicles. It was explained that this is a joint effort involving officers from the Guyana Revenue Authority and the Police Force.
In 2022, Guyana and Brazil also signed two institutional cooperation agreements with regard to fighting and enforcing additional preventative measures in a number of security areas, including trafficking in firearms, ammunition and explosives, as well as money laundering. Through the signed agreements, the countries will also facilitate the exchange of information on public security, prevention and the fight against organised crime.
The ministry also noted that government is increasing human resource capabilities in the area of investigating, detecting and prosecuting gun related offences by recruiting experts to work in the Guyana Forensic Laboratory including forensic scientists, fingerprinting experts and ballistics specialists. It is expected that these experts will also do training programmes, in particular, with the Guyana Police Force.
Though the foregoing were deemed commendable efforts in the eyes of
Guyana’s former public security minister, Kemraj Ramjattan, he said it would all be for nothing if the enforcement bodies are not strengthened.
He said: “The scrutiny that ought to be in place especially at our border with Brazil has loosened. We need more men on the ground. We also need to admit that the gate for the proliferation of guns has widened. Guns are not only making their way into Guyana from Brazil but other parts of the world and that should worry authorities. The country is yet to put in place a holistic strategy.”
Ramjattan also said Guyana desperately needs a heavy injection of surveillance and human resources to give real meaning to its new regulations. Otherwise, he fears the country would be at risk of becoming “a lawless oil republic.” He said: “That is a consequence we must avoid at all cost. A piece-meal approach will take us back to square one.”
Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Godfrey Statia also agreed that enforcement will be key to the country’s success in dismantling illegal firearm networks. “Guyana’s borders stretches from the Orinoco to the Corentyne where boats can enter through varying check points. This has been, and still is, a border problem,” the Commissioner General stated.
He recommended that there be strengthened partnerships with the coast guards, Guyana’s Maritime Administration and other government agencies to tackle the issue in a methodical manner.