Special Feature by Dr. Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.

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Post-shock Therapy: Analyzing the US-Guyana Criminal Deportees' Issue

Posted October 12th. 2001

Any news about US visas in Guyana is a big thing - like sermons from the mount - so dependently wired are citizens for access to this bounty. Thus it was that there was shock in the corridors of power last Wednesday, in Guyana, when negative news broke that the American government had issued a ban on the granting of US visas to government executives, workers and their families for travel to the United States. It was a punitive measure intended to force Guyana to accept one hundred and forty-one Guyanese as criminal deportees who were convicted of felonies and served jail time in the USA. But the sanction fell far short of what was warned one month earlier. The USA had indicated then that there would be a ban on issuance of all American visas to Guyana if the repatriation of criminals issue were not settled by October 6, 2001.

This problem between two friendly states highlights results from interplay of different types of bureaucratic standard operating procedures (SOPs) fueled by imperatives of the new globalised pace of decision making. The latter is institutionalized in the USA although not without errors. In Guyana, realities of the "new globalized pace," what it means and what are its implications still draw blank faces of non-understanding of the concept as we chug along, as we have for years, still perplexed and only limitedly guided by the old concept of "time is money."

It would be wrong, therefore, to criticize either side too harshly for sloth (Guyana) or impatience (USA) because each was dealing in good faith but with it's own set of insurmountables that produced deadlock. It is more important that the correct lessons be drawn from the incident even as, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Georgetown, "the Guyana government is now engaging the United States Ambassador Mr. Ronald Godard on the way forward." More than that, bigger news and, with it, bigger trouble and shock lie ahead if the American visa ban is extended to all Guyanese whether or not people are affiliated with the government. Nobody wants that!

The problem of deportees dates back a few years when the issue was raised as one of great concern at the summit of Caribbean leaders with former US President Bill Clinton in Barbados in 1997. It involved an appeal for more time by Caribbean leaders, resources for handling the problem, more discussions and a cessation of the immigration policy of unilaterally repatriating undesirables to their countries of origin. The deportees were invariably found to be unfamiliar with the Caribbean, not having lived there since early birth in many cases. Instead, after living in North America for decades where they were schooled in drug trade and immersed in other violent crimes where murder was routinely vicious, the deportees quickly out-gunned local Caribbean law enforcement, and out-thought and out-maneuvered them in new methodologies of crime commission, escape, etc. This imposed a very high cost on manpower and required monies that the small states of the region could not afford.

The problem gained wider international attention with two incidents in Guyana. The first was the "dumping" of a few Guyanese deportees by Canada at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport about two years ago. The second was the return of another by the USA. In the first case involving Canada, Guyana became a subject of bemusing whispers and giggles around the nation (especially on the cocktail circuit) and in the wider Caribbean for the intemperateness of its response which all but threatened, in a quixotic manner, a declaration of war on Canada! This brought a tongue-in-cheek (my interpretation) apology from the Canadians that itself produced more humour. Despite the lesson that this first incident had signaled, viz., that the matter of criminal deportees was top priority, not much progress was made. At least one of the reasons was sound. It concerned insufficient manpower and tools by the Ministry of Home Affairs to verify country of origin of the named intended deportees.

The second case was even more dramatic. The US had deported one criminal named Edward Garfield Gibbons who insisted he was an American and not a Guyanese. US officialdom refused to take him back and he spent over one year in the local Brickdam lockups in Georgetown. A comedic gridlock ensued with assertions, denials, claims, and counter-claims by Guyana and the USA. It turned out eventually that Mr. Gibbons was Jamaican and his real name was James Deen Collins! US Marshals finally took him from Guyana. Hmm!

Two important points need be made about this. First, these incidents took place well before the appointment of seasoned diplomat, Mr. Rudy Insanally, as Guyana's foreign minister. The comedic interlude they provided was certainly not of his making. Second, even the mighty, wealthy USA was itself having problems ascertaining the nationality of deportees. Questions: was it not reasonable then that poor Guyana would have similar problems? Should this not have led to a less harsh penalty than that imposed? In the ideal world, these moral questions make good sense. However, in the globalised arena of huge modernized US bureaucracies and puny, "muddling through" type Guyanese agencies, such interactions many times lead to illogic in which issues of morality do not cut a central decision making theme. But a valuable, innovative mix of both logic and morality was at work too. I expand.

In April 2000, for example, Guyana's Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Odeen Ishmael, lobbied over two hundred Members of Congress and other powerbrokers for action towards a solution. His note to them contained wider elements of the problem beyond mere acceptance of deportees. It expanded on many of the concerns that had been raised with former President Bill Clinton:

"By sending the criminal deportees back to Guyana where there are no rehabilitation programs to assist these persons, Guyana is being penalized by a state in whose social environment the criminalizing of these persons developed. Indeed, these persons have already served their time in prison, but they are now sent back by a country where rehabilitation programs exist, to a country which has no such programs in operation. The United States has the moral responsibility to rehabilitate these persons who have completed their sentences, since their deviant behavior is a product of the US environment in which they have resided."

This is an interesting even compelling argument that showcased real inability on the part of Guyana to cope with the problem unilaterally. Dr. Ishmael's appeal also made the case that the deportees "have no close relatives remaining in Guyana and so the traditional assistance of family for resettlement and positive absorption in the society is absent." But the American decision makers were also operating under constraints that had to be accommodated in their response based on the rule of law. They were executing provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 which forms part of the Immigration and Naturalization legislation of the United States. More than that, added pressure was increased by a ruling of the US Supreme Court that forbade the holding of criminals beyond a certain time period after they had served their sentences. This meant the criminals earmarked for deportation would have to be released back into American society.

Some good news is that "the way forward" appears hopeful. The Stabroek News of September 12, reported US Ambassador Godard as saying that the USA might be able to provide support assistance to Guyana for the repatriation of criminal deportees. However, a sore point with Guyana government officials appears to be the fact that the American decision to impose visa restrictions happened in the midst of positive negotiations where agreement had been reached over thirty-three of the one hundred and forty-one intended deportees. Examined carefully, this really is a minor factor. I reiterate the point this writer made about the globalised workplace for policymaking sometime ago.

In the wake of the globalization juggernaut, I found, most citizens in the Third World "are unable to deepen problem-solving skills and capacities for analysis. Why? Global imperatives of super satellites, super computers, faxes, e-mail, cellular phones, etc., that emanate from the First World in its relations with the Third World, shrink time and space for careful analysis before action is taken. Demands for instant decisions and actions are disorienting. And Third World cultures have different work ethics and senses of value that do not easily fit the global capitalist notion that 'time is money.' Confusion, apathy and rashness abound."



Dr. Brotherson is a Guyanese professor of political science and corporate risk-assessment consultant who resides in the USA.