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GUYANA: Govt Complicity With Drug Ring Aired in New York

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Aug 4 2009 (IPS) - This small English-speaking nation, home to the Caribbean trade bloc (CARICOM), has been in the news recently due to allegations in a New York court that the government here willingly and knowingly gave surveillance equipment to a private death squad so that it could hunt down and execute more than 200 criminal suspects and opposition activists it wanted off the scene – as far back as 2002.

The details of a U.S. federal investigation into New York lawyer Robert Simels’s work on behalf of Shaheed Roger Khan – an accused drug kingpin with reputed ties to the Guyanese government – were laid out in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last September.

The allegations have not caught many of the 730,000 people in the former British colony by surprise because most feel that Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo’s administration has for some time been much too close to a violent gang of cocaine dealers and gangsters. In fact there is concern that the government has used this gang to frighten or kill off rival gangs and opposition supporters – as was the case with opposition talk show host Ronald Waddell.

Waddell, a fierce critic, was gunned down outside his seaside home as he went for a stroll in early 2006 by four well known-ex cops who today openly roam the streets and consort with government officials in full public view. Evidence from the New York case has implicated this same gang which was allegedly gifted with the equipment in his unsolved murder.

For the past week, federal prosecutors have been laying out their witness tampering case against Simels, who was caught earlier this year in a federal sting operation trying to buy off or to “neutralise” the principal witness in the cocaine trial of his client, Khan.

Meanwhile, Khan has struck a plea bargain on all his charges – including obstruction of justice and cocaine trafficking – and is now watching from his cell as prosecutors try to jail Simels for up to 10 years.

The key points emerging from the trial revolve around testimony alleging that government authorities bought high tech surveillance equipment to intercept telephone calls and triangulate the positions of users from a Florida spy shop, and then handed the tools to Khan and his gang, rather than to the police or military. The testimony shows that Khan’s gang listened into calls by dozens of people including Opposition Leader Robert Corbin.

Corbin’s mobile telephone number turned up in court evidence that Peter Myers, co- founder of Smyth and Myers – manufacturers of the equipment – provided in court during the trial.

The Guyana government put out a statement at the end of last week denying that it “bought the spy equipment and insists that there is no evidence that it was a party to any activity with the firm or U.S. authorities in the purchase and/or importation of the equipment.”

But many locals, including political critic and former presidential adviser Raymond Gaskin say that the government is in deep political trouble because there is irrefutable evidence that it is deeply involved with the drug dealers, gave them the equipment sold only to governments, turned a blind eye when they mowed down suspects or political opponents, and allowed them to later celebrate at bullet-proofed bars in the city with police conveniently on the other side of town.

The gangsters would allegedly call people like controversial Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy to report that their illicit tasks had been completed.

Ramsammy has vigorously denied any involvement at all in the saga, arguing that he is “responsible for health rather than security matters.” He is prepared to defend his name without a lawyer. Ramsammy is an American citizen.

“The whole thing is a simple matter,” says Gaskin who has been associated with the Hindu-led governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) since the early 60s. “The deal is help the government to eliminate criminal and political enemies and they are free to carry on with their cocaine business.”

The New York trial has dwarfed discussion about virtually everything else here, including a well-financed effort by the government to get money from Western nations to keep its Amazonian forest cover intact – as its contribution to a better global environment.

The trial has also forced observers to hark back to a series of events that could tie the government up squarely with the drug ring.

When a military patrol caught Khan and two other gangsters with the wiretapping equipment on the seacoast in 2002, the government became so angry that it immediately ordered the dissolution of the army’s military intelligence unit (MCID).

And when Khan played illegally tapped telephone recordings of then police chief Winston Felix who was going after his gang, the government publicly took Khan’s side. It also said absolutely nothing when Khan boasted in whole page newspaper advertisements while on the run from police that he was helping the government to stem runaway crime.

Political scientist Elvin McDavid says that the government has on its own, “created the conditions for its removal but the opposition parties and civil society are weak and appear unable to mobilise masses against a corrupt government.”

Much more is still to come in this case that has confirmed what local media and civil rights groups have been reporting for years – that the government has used its extra judicial arm with Ak-47 rifles and machine guns to be repressive and oppressive to critics.

In the case of talk show host and opposition nominee for parliament, Waddell, evidence that he was hit on behalf of government has “greatly upset the Black middle class” as many had blamed the government for his assassination, says ex-adviser Gaskin.

In the meantime, many opponents of the government are quietly lobbying the Barack Obama Administration in Washington to take action against those in power, reporting that they are turning the country into a cocaine haven and allowing armed gangsters to do as they please.

Opposition leader Corbin warned the government to pay attention to events in Honduras where angry citizens joined arms of the state to overthrow an unpopular administration – an assertion that was quickly condemned by the governing party as irresponsible.

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