The year in review 2002
Re- Stabroek News January 2003
Two thousand and two was the year Guyana lost her innocence. Life went on as it always does, and ministers held press briefings, parties made statements, managers took decisions in this or that sector, and accidents happened. But the normal panoply of life receded into insignificance in the face of a tidal wave of crime whose accompanying violence was of such an order that even ordinarily cynical citizens were stunned.
The appearance of this ‘new’ crime, did not mean that we were spared from any of its traditional manifestations. There were still enough old-fashioned murders, choppings, domestic violence, theft, fraud and the like to provide proof, if any were needed, that even without the ‘new’ bandits, this was not a law-abiding society.
While the ‘new’ crime trend can be dated to the end of February with the escape of five high-profile prisoners from Camp street, it has to be said that thereafter it was still not clear in every instance whether a given incident was associated with their banditry or whether it was something independent of their activities.
Finally, politics came to contaminate the story, more particularly in Buxton, making it problematic sometimes to trace the causal links between events, which would allow for some coherent sequence to be established. As the year closed, the full context of the criminal activity to which the residents of Georgetown and the lower East Coast had been subjected over a period of ten months, still had not been altogether elucidated.
NB The dates of the reports appearing in Stabroek News on which the statements below are based are italicised in brackets.
The problem of banditry revealed itself even before February 23. On January 12, armed bandits in a car robbed three bystanders on the Lusignan Railway Embankment road, subsequently kidnapping another three and robbing them too before releasing them (January 14). A little over one month later on February 17, armed bandits raided the Golden Pagoda restaurant in Alberttown (Febraury 18).
A feud between a cash crop farmer and cattle farmers in the Crabwood Creek area, ended in the murder of four people, including a fifteen-year-old boy, Shailendra Rajpaul. Following the discovery of their charred remains on a farm, the police raided a suspect’s home, where they found an arms cache in a fowl pen. Five people were subsequently charged with the killings, including a Canada-based couple and a schoolteacher (January 18, 21, 22).
There was no decline in the number of women being killed by their male relatives. In January it was a mother of three, followed by another mother in April, while the following month a man stabbed both his ex-wife and his girlfriend to death (January 27, April 22, May 27).
The killing which aroused the greatest public interest prior to March, however, was that of Camille Seenauth, whose body was dug up by police on February 15, from a shallow grave in a yard in Second street, Alberttown. The woman charged with her murder was self-styled spiritualist, Patricia Alves, who was reported to have included the beating of followers in her repertoire of religious practices (February 16, 17, 18, 19, 23).
On the narcotics front, it was reported that the US Drugs Enforcement Agency and CANU were investigating the discovery of cocaine in a wildlife shipment that was suspected to have originated in Guyana (January 18); three men were subsequently charged locally in connection with the find (April 6). In May, CANU scored a signal success when 1,871 pounds of marijuana were discovered in a container on the wharf (May 24).
The problem of piracy continued in 2002, with a report on April 20 of pirates in the Berbice river. A Coast Guard spokesman was to say later that the army needed more resources to fight piracy (May 6), while on the illegal importation front, the Deputy Commissioner of the Customs and Trade Administration conceded at a shipping conference that Customs lacked the resources to combat smuggling (May 22).
On February 23, Mashramani Day, five prisoners shot and stabbed their way out of the Georgetown jail setting in train a sequence of events whose denouement still had not come at the close of 2002.
Andrew Douglas, Dale Moore, Shawn Browne, Mark Fraser and Troy Dick, whose faces graced police wanted posters for the next few months, had been in possession of an AK47. Four of them had been on remand on charges of murder and/or armed robbery, while the fifth, Fraser, had been serving a sentence of twenty-five years for robbery.
In the course of their escape, the prisoners shot the guard, Roxanne Winfield, on the inner gate, after she had refused to hand over her keys, throwing them into a corner instead, and then stabbed to death twenty-one year-old prison officer, Troy Williams, who was on the outer gate and had rushed to her aid. A police press release on the day of the escape had identified Shawn Browne as the man who did the shooting (February 24, 25, 28).
Eyewitness reports indicated that following their exit from the Camp street door of the prison, the escapees then hijacked a car in the vicinity of George street. While the five were in the process of hijacking a car, witnesses said two neatly-dressed men who appeared to be prison officers, stopped a police car some distance away. The two men had earlier been seen attempting to halt cars in D’Urban street, apparently with a view to chasing the escapees. The police retreated, said witnesses, after the felons shouted “Shoot!” and the hijacked car then turned into Princes street (February 25, 26; March 3).
The gang next made their appearance at the Ruimveldt well, where they ditched the car they had seized in George street, in the Mandela avenue trench. They then proceeded to hijack a second car, after first evicting a woman, her mother and her baby at gun and knife-point. From there they drove to Dennis street and the University of Guyana road where they abandoned the second car (February 25, 26). Thereafter, for all the public knew, they evaporated into thin air.
Prison Officer Winfield who sustained a serious head injury as a consequence of the shooting, underwent an operation in the Georgetown public hospital performed by a Trinidadian neurosurgeon. She was subsequently flown to Trinidad for further treatment, and although she improved beyond all early medical expectations, the indications were that she might never be able to resume a fully normal existence (February 25, 26, 27, 28; March 6; April 19).
On the day following the break-out, February 24, Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj announced the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry into the escape which was to be chaired by Head of the Police Complaints Authority and former Chancellor of the Judiciary Cecil Kennard (February 25).
Long before the commission submitted its report, however, the matter of the overcrowding in the Camp street jail was raised, Dr Luncheon giving the public the assurance that prison reform was high on the government’s agenda, and that in the interim, security in the penal system would be strengthened (February 28). A month later, the Minister of Home Affairs announced that the search was on for a 100 acre plot for a new prison facility (March 20), although when the year closed, a suitable spot had still not been identified.
Earlier that month, Chancellor of the Judiciary Desiree Bernard had urged magistrates to deal with the case backlog in the court system, since 41% of prisoners in Camp street were on remand (March 10).
However, the inquiry report, whose contents were released in May-June, placed the primary responsibility for the breach not on overcrowding, but on negligence (May 1). It recommended disciplinary action of one kind or another against certain prison officers, as a consequence of which three were sent on leave and one transferred (June 14).
The commission concluded that a breakdown in discipline, the ignoring of procedures and the inexperience of officers had been major contributory factors to the jailbreak of February 23; the officers had just been too friendly with the inmates. In addition, the report criticized both police and prison officers for their conduct following receipt of a report that a gun had been thrown over the prison wall. The 90-minute search of the Camp street facility which was conducted thereafter was inadequate, said the commissioners (June 5,8,9,14).
After making good their escape on February 23, the bandits staged their next appearance on the evening of February 25, when they hijacked Oliver Insanally’s car in the city. The following day they held two Securicor guards at gunpoint in Festival City, stripping them of their weapons. Making their getaway in Insanally’s car, they took the opportunity to spray the Ruimveldt Police Outpost with bullets as they drove past (February 27).
On March 6, bandits - at least three of whom were identified by eye-witnesses as fugitives from February 23 - robbed an Annandale food mart and the home of its owners, Vivekanand and Jane Parasram. There were several people in the shop at the time, and although the owner and a staff member were brutalised, no one was shot. The robbers drove off in a mini-bus which had been left outside with its keys in the ignition, and which belonged to a friend of the proprietors (March 9).
The next incident of gun violence took place in America street on March 10, when Errol ‘Taps’ Butcher was injured in a drive-by shooting outside his place of business. He died the following day (March 11,12).
Almost two months later, his son, Shawn Butcher, was shot and injured in a similar drive-by shooting, this time in Albouystown (May 6). Another son was to be killed in similar fashion in the second half of the year.
In what was to become an all too familiar pattern, a private hire car was hijacked in Kitty on March 15, and its driver thrown out behind the Eccles Industrial Estate. The five bandits in the car took the driver’s ATM card, and forced him to reveal his pin number. They subsequently withdrew $75,000 from his account, but the police had already been alerted, and an Impact patrol car chased the carjackers, exchanging gunfire with them at the corner of Commerce and Regent streets, as a consequence of which Gregory McClennon, 34, who had been driving the bandits, was shot dead. According to the police, he had been charged with rape and robbery under arms in 1995 (March 16,17,18).
Two days later another car was hijacked by two bandits, this time at the corner of Garnett and Middleton streets. They approached the vehicle on foot, and then pushed a woman and her young son out (March 18).
As the public had now learnt, a carjacking was invariably the prelude to a robbery, and on this occasion it occurred near the Friendship koker on the East Bank the following day (March 18). At around 4:15am the occupants of a route 42 mini-bus and the passengers in a hotel taxi were robbed by six bandits wearing bullet-proof vests. The bandits had forced the driver of a trailer loaded with cane to block the road. They escaped the scene by hijacking yet another vehicle, the one in which it was presumed they had driven to the area having ended up in the trench (March 20,21).
On March 21, Police Commissioner (ag) Floyd McDonald said that the Mashramani Day gang had expanded. Five days later the police offered $500,000 for information which could lead to the recapture of the escapees. For the actual capture of the men, an initial bounty of $2.5M had been offered, a sum which was later increased to $10M (March 26; April 6).
Yet another taxi driver had his vehicle hijacked - in Camp street this time - and found himself forced to drive to Linden (March 22).
Four days after that, three Alberttown jewellers found themselves under attack by motor-cycle gunmen, who fired shots and robbed them of money and gold, while on March 30, there was another carjacking in Sheriff street, following which the patron of a barbecue hut on the Montrose public road was robbed by five armed bandits who arrived in a car (April 3).
On May 14, the police issued a wanted bulletin for Kwame Pindleton in connection with the robbery committed on the Alberttown jewellers, as well as shooting a man in the leg in Bent street (May 15).
Up until this point, no policemen had been killed by the bandits, but in the month of April, that was to change. The first to die was Senior Superintendant Leon Fraser, but the day before he met his end, the five escapees hijacked three cars, and robbed their occupants, including a Canadian couple and a GDF officer, Christine King. The first vehicle was taken in Queenstown, the next in Buxton, and the last in Meadow Brook Gardens. There had also been an abortive attempt to seize a vehicle belonging to the managaress of the La Familia Country Club (April 3,5).
It was the last car to be taken which the police found in a forest clearing at Yarrowkabra on the Linden-Soesdyke highway on April 2. Acting on intelligence, a party of twelve policemen, including Fraser, went to the area, and located the vehicle some five miles inland, along with a tent which was pitched a little distance away. The party split into two, Fraser leading the group which moved towards the car. According to Stabroek News’sources, three gunmen were believed to have been resting in the car at the time.
Ordering his men to wait at the entrance to the clearing, sources said, Fraser moved towards the vehicle alone. It is thought that the men inside the vehicle might have been alerted to his approach by the sound of a twig snapping, because all of a sudden a volley of rapid gunfire rang out, and Fraser fell forward. A post mortem revealed he had died of a single bullet wound to the head. The bandits escaped into the dense bush (April 3,4,5).
The aftermath of the killing of Buxtonian Shaka Blair by the Target Special Squad (TSS) on April 6 - the day of Fraser’s funeral - introduced another element into the crime saga. The police claimed they had gone to Blair’s house in Buxton at around 1:00am to question him after his fingerprints had been found on vehicles used by the bandits, and that they had shot him after he had discharged a loaded firearm at them. This account was disputed by his wife, who had been present in the house at the time, as well as other relatives, who said that Blair did not have a gun, and had been killed in cold blood. Subsequent forensic tests on his hands showed no evidence of him having fired a weapon (April 7,13).
Already angered by TSS tactics in the village which Buxtonians claimed were intended to terrorize them (January 22), residents dug up the Embankment road and blocked it with debris (April 7,8). On April 9, thousands took part in a PNCR-organized march through the streets of Georgetown protesting the killing (April 10). Towards the end of April WPA executive member Eusi Kwayana in a private capacity initiated criminal action against Senior Superintendant Steve Merai of the TSS for the murder of Shaka Blair. However, this was set aside on the order of Director of Public Prosecutions Denis Hanomansingh. Kwayana subsequently moved to the court to quash the DPP’s decision to stop the murder charge (April 23,26; May 24).
The funeral of Blair on April 15 degenerated into chaos, with persons in the procession throwing missiles at the police, who first fired in the air, and then at the hostile assembly. In a statement, the police said that they had been fired on from the crowd. After dispersing the gathering, some people came back with implements and dug up the road, although they too were eventually dispersed with a combination of tear gas, pellets and live rounds. Several persons were injured in the melee, including Mark Nelson, who sustained a gunshot wound. After four hours of disturbances, the police managed to restore order with the help of the army (April 16).
It was at the funeral of Shaka Blair that the first of a series of handbills was circulated claiming a political role for the five escapees. Entitled ‘Shaka Lives,’ it was signed ‘The Five Freedom Fighters,’ who, it was claimed, would not leave the country but would stand and fight for the “African-Guyanese nation” just as the sea bandits Walter Ralegh, Francis Drake and Henry Morgan had fought for England and had been honoured by the Queen. Commissioner (ag) McDonald in a full-page advertisement in the press referring to the leaflet, adverted to the criminal records of the five concerned, encompassing murder and armed robbery, among other things (April 19).
The second leaflet which appeared in May, threatened police units, government officials and their families, and was condemned by the PPP/C, the WPA and the PNCR (May 4,7). Other handbills followed.
Later in the month the President linked TV personality Ronald Waddell as being associated with the circulation of the inflammatory leaflets; Waddell responded that if the President had evidence to support this, the proper course of action would be to turn such evidence over to the police. The latter had themselves issued a statement earlier indicating that they suspected some involvement with the leaflets on Waddell’s part (May 25).
Before Shaka Blair was laid to rest, however, the bandits had made their presence felt again. On April 9, a couple - Andre Ramphal and Marceline Basdeo - were kidnapped, and their car used in an armed robbery on the home of Mohan Persaud in Dadanawa street, Section ‘K’ Campbellville, the following morning. There the bandits held Persaud’s wife at gunpoint and ransacked the house, firing their guns both inside and outside. However, after being shot at by nearby residents with licensed firearms, whose fire they returned, they were forced to retreat. They abandoned their car in Pike street, following which they hijacked a Four Runner outside the American School. That vehicle in turn was ditched behind the canefields near the Water Conservancy. Subsequently, the police said that they had exchanged gunfire with the men in Buxton after they had abandoned the Four Runner, and they believed that they had injured Dale Moore (April 11,12,13).
The missing couple, who claimed to have been kidnapped outside the Hotel Tower and held in a Bel Air house from which they made good their escape, turned up unharmed on April 11 (April 11,12,15; May 4).
A mystery shooting on April 13 at a house in Bachelor’s Adventure left a teenager dead, and another man, Melroy Goodman, nursing bullet wounds in the hospital. Goodman’s name was to resurface later in the year. He was reported to have told police that a channa bomb had been thrown into the house prior to the shooting (April 14).
On the evening of April 12, Sheik Asweem and his wife who went to assuage their hunger in a Chinese restaurant on Mandela avenue, were held at gunpoint by two bandits and robbed (April 14).
April 15, the morning of Shaka Blair’s funeral, saw the shooting to death of a second policeman, Harry Kooseram, who was riding his bicycle to Viglance Police Station when a man approached, pulled out a gun from a paper wrapping, and fired six shots directly at him (April 16). A month later the police issued a wanted bulletin for Compton Cambridge in connection with his killing, as well as for shooting Brian Chester and his reputed wife (see below) (May 15).
An armed robbery carried out by three men on the Saywacks’ residence in Campbellville on April 21, ended in the shooting by police of a suspect, Selwyn Shepherd, in Agricola, although the accounts of the police and residents in the area as to how he came to be shot differed substantially. He died from his wound the following day (April 23).
On April 24, one of two men in a car was injured in a drive-by shooting in the ironically named ‘Go-Slow’ avenue in Tucville. Two suspects were held by the police (April 25,26). By this time, major criminal incidents were occurring on an almost daily basis, and the following day it was a Wortmanville couple, Wooed and Sara Phillips, that was forced to experience the trauma of being attacked and robbed at gunpoint. After the robbery, the wife was kidnapped by the bandits, and later dumped in ‘C’ Field Sophia (April 27).
On April 27, the Chester family of Brusche dam, Friendship, had their first encounter with the bandits, when Brian Chester and his reputed wife were shot and injured by two men who were tentatively identified by some eye-witnesses as escapee Sean Brown and another man, Compton Cambridge (see above). The lower flat of their home was also peppered with gunfire.
Around this time more roads were dug up in Buxton (April 28).
The bandits, however, had not finished with the Chester family, and Brian Chester’s life was threatened subsequently, while an eyewitness to his earlier shooting was subjected to physical torture, including pistol whipping. Both the Chesters and other residents complained that the Vigilance police would not come into the village (April 30). Eventually, the Chesters were to be chased out of the area altogether in brutal fashion.
On May 1 we reported that the police had taken a ‘hands off’ stance to Buxton-Friendship, and that a police source had said that the law enforcers could not endanger themselves by walking into what might be traps. The southern portion of Buxton-Friendship, the source said, was effectively blocked, and it would not be advisable to send policemen on foot into an area which was deemed hostile.
In that issue too, we reported on divisions in the community, with one faction claiming that there was infighting among the villagers about the protection being given to the Mash Day escapees. However, another faction denied this.
Some residents told this newspaper that the roads had been dug by criminal elements to make it impossible for police to access the area, and that the situation was now out of control.
In a press release, the police expressed concern for the apparent support being lent to criminal elements in Buxton-Friendship (May 2). A day later McDonald said that the police were working on a plan to mend relations with those villages, and he denied that any instructions had been issued to members of the force not to go there (May 4). On May 3, a police patrol ventured into the southern portion of the village, but was forced to retreat after shots were fired (May 4).
In a pattern which was to become all too familiar, a butcher was beaten and robbed when doing business in Buxton (May 5), while an electrical contractor and his workers were robbed in the vicinity of Brusche dam after their vehicle ran into a ditch. For their part, the police warned drivers of the danger of using the Railway Embankment road in the Buxton-Friendship area and advised them to avoid this route altogether (May 7). One of their own vehicles was shot at a few days later in the area (May 12), and on May 19, the police were asking the public for assistance in relation to identifying the occupants of two vehicles who shot at members of the Buxton community on the Railway Embankment road (May 23).
The general atmosphere of unease in Buxton and neighbouring villages lent itself to rumours of shooting on May 14, which closed the schools in the district, although on this occasion there had been no such incident (May 15).
Gunmen made their brutal presence felt yet again on May 3, this time in New Haven, where they beat and robbed Patrick Seebaran and his wife, the owners of Patsan’s, and injured two Advance Security guards while fleeing the scene in two vehicles. There were eight of them in all, armed with high-calibre weapons, and they had apparently followed the victim home from his workplace in one car, while the other car was waiting at his home. They subsequently ditched one of their vehicles in Stone avenue, and hijacked a taxi (May 4,6).
In relation to this incident, four persons - three men and a woman - subsequently appeared in court charged with being accessories after the fact of felony, while one of the men was charged in conjunction with the five escapees with the robbery itself (May 9). A week later, a magistrate issued an arrest warrant for the five escapees for robbery-under-arms committed on Patrick Seebaran (May 17).
The day after the New Haven attack, it was the turn of the police to make the news, when they laid siege to a residence in Premniranjan Place, Prashad Nagar, in which the bandits were reported to have been living. When it was over, the top flat where the bandits were believed to have been staying, was found to be empty, although there was evidence of recent occupation, including blood-stained gauze. While the police claimed that they had been fired upon, residents as well as the physical evidence suggested otherwise. The police subsequently said that attempts had been made by the bandits to hijack a car in Delhi street during the operation. Exactly when the bandits had managed to make their escape from the house was not established, although one hypothesis was that it might have been even before the police opened fire on it. Another report suggested that the escapees from the house may have hidden out in the Civil Aviation Authority building next door (May 5,6,7,9).
On May 8, we reported that a detective corporal attached to the Brickdam Police Station was on open arrest after he had made a call to the father of escapee Dale Moore at about the time the police laid siege to the Premniranjan Place home.
The morning of the Prashad Nagar siege, the police had also raided a house in North Ruimveldt where bandits were alleged to have been staying, but it too was empty, although, again, showing signs of recent occupation (May 5).
Another drive-by shooting took the life of a US-based Guyanese, Mark Anthony Sancho, on May 6. Two of his three companions were injured at the same time when gunmen in a passing car opened fire on them as they were driving along Mandela avenue in the early hours of the morning (May 7).
The next appearance of the bandits came in an unexpected form, when Andrew Douglas was seen on local television in a video-taped recording, dressed in army fatigues and clutching what appeared to be a gun. He appealed to the public to understand that his fight was one for justice for himself and others locked away awaiting trials. The Prime Minister referred the matter to the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) for advice on how to proceed against the stations which had shown the tape (May 10,11). However, the ACB responded that it was not within its mandate to sanction TV stations (May 17). The Prime Minister then asked the committee to reconsider its position, and was still pressing it on the matter at the end of the month (May 19,29). However, proprietor of Channel 28, Tony Vieira, suspended a staff member connected to the Evening News programme for one month in connection with the airing of the tape (May 23).
It was reported that two bandits hijacked a taxi in Kitty on May 8, the driver recognizing one of them as being Sean Browne (May 10).
While up to this point civilian victims had been beaten during armed robberies, they had not been killed. That was to change the day before Mother’s Day. A young Annandale businessman and his wife, Ramdeo and Mahadai Persaud, were each shot twice in the heart in their bedroom after bandits had taken them upstairs demanding money. Six heavily armed gunmen had entered the premises at around 7:30pm, and the three children had been kept under guard downstairs, while their parents were killed in the upper flat. The execution-style murders prompted the holding of a Defence Board meeting (May 12,13).
On May 14, armed bandits went into the Health Mart, Grocery and Variety store on Garnett street, and robbed a business associate of the proprietor, escaping on his motor cycle, and two days later, two unmasked bandits raided Jairam’s General Store in Saffon street, killing security guard, Chaitram Etwaru (May 16,17).
Where the last-mentioned robbery was concerned, it did not take long for three suspects including a seventeen-year-old boy to be arrested; one of them, it was reported, had been brought in by his father. The police said that the investigation into this killing and robbery would assist them in solving the earlier one in Garnett street (May 18).
The above arrests notwithstanding, the bandits continued their marauding ways by striking twice in one day on May 20. One of the victims was Ramesh Persaud, a businessman of Mon Repos and the brother of Ramdeo Persaud, who had been killed along with his wife in Annandale on May 11. They stole over $2M in money and jewellery.
Their second strike was Lambert Electronics and Electrical Contracting Services in Charlotte street, from where $600,000 in Guyana and US currency was taken (May 21).
Killing of police personnel
The bandits’ focus of attention reverted once again to the police with an attack on a mobile patrol which went to investigate a suspicious-looking vehicle at the back of Coldingen on the evening of May 25. Residents said that the two gunmen who opened fire on the patrol had hidden in the area, and had been waiting for the police. Four members of the force were wounded in the attack, and one of them, Sherwin Alleyne, died of his injuries two days later (May 27,29).
Bandits did not escape the law on May 27, when they robbed gas-station owner, Colin Lovell, at Coverden on the East Bank. After making good their escape in his car, they were pursued by public-spirited citizens, and elected to ditch the car and plunge into the Demerara river. Only three of them were seen emerging from the water, and these three were subsequently picked up by the police at Timehri, who said that they were all ‘pork-knockers.’ Four men were later charged (May 29,30).
On May 30, we reported on the disappearance of a taxi driver from BC cabs, who had last been heard from on the evening of May 24. His car was later found abandoned at Coldingen (May 30).
The most brazen attack up to this point came on the night of May 30, when two carloads of gunmen opened fire on the Alberttown police station just after 10:00pm, killing rural constable, Andy Atwell. The constable had been just outside the station entrance in the yard when the gunmen started shooting, and he was struck by four or five bullets. He was the fourth policeman to be shot dead in just under three months (May 31).
On the morning of Saturday, June 1, bandits clad in bullet-proof vests and helmets stormed the Commerce House cambio in Regent street, riddling the City Constabulary office with bullets in the process. Inside the cambio the gunmen shot dead accountant Ramnauth Persaud and injured the owner, Kennard Gobin, before making off with an undisclosed sum. Gobin later said that the assailants had fired at their chests. The same cambio had been the target of bandits three years earlier (June 2,3,5). The following day some cambios closed their operations temporarily because of security concerns (June 6).
On the same day that Commerce House was targeted, two bandits robbed a jeweller at gunpoint while he was sitting in a car in Annandale Market street; the gunmen escaped by running in the direction of a sideline dam leading to Buxton (June 2).
During the night of June 5, the Everything Music store in Robb street was pillaged to the tune of $1M worth of instruments and equipment (June 6).
There was a reversal in favour of the police the following day when wanted man Compton Cambridge was shot and killed at his girlfriend’s home in Nabaclis by members of the force following a shoot-out. There were conflicting accounts from the residents and the police concerning the circumstances surrounding his death, the residents alleging that along with three other men he had run out of the house after his ammunition had been exhausted, and had not been killed in the house itself. Subsequently, the police said that Cambridge had been wanted for seven murders, including those of four policemen (June 7,8).
Buxton, part 2
Following Cambridge’s death, residents of Buxton appeared on the Public road and blocked the passage for all vehicles. It was reported that commuters and operators had been ejected from their buses, and that some had been beaten. One bus had been driven to Company path and had had two of its wheels removed and windscreen shattered, and the other had had all the windows on its left side broken (June 7,8). The Buxtonians also blocked the Embankment road, which had been repaired by the army on May 29, after which it had been blocked once more, and then reopened (May 31). During the night of June 6, it was blocked and dug up yet again (June 8).
On June 6, the army officially launched Operation Tourniquet, with the aim, among other things, of cutting the supply line to criminals. The exercise began with control points and roadblocks manned by army and police personnel along the East Coast road.
At a press briefing, Buxton residents expressed their unease about army operations in their village (June 8).
The army’s presence notwithstanding, there were reports of Buxtonians continuing to attack vehicles and passers-by, and of them setting fires. There were also armed robberies during the funeral of Compton Cambridge on June 14, one of the victims being a Universal Airlines employee (June 16,18,26). Mini-bus operators and commuters also complained that the road-blocks were causing long delays on the East Coast, but the GDF asked the public to be patient (June 22). At the end of the month the army said it was reviewing its Tourniquet operation, and might increase its strength in the area (June 29).
The epidemic of digging ditches across the Embankment road was to spread to other villages, including Bachelor’s Adventure (June 28).
On June 8, a businesswoman was strangled during an armed robbery on the store she ran with her husband in Beterwervagting. Residents told this newspaper that they suspected that the perpetrators came from within the village, and on the following day a suspect was arrested (June 9,10). On June 13, the police told Stabroek News that they had released the suspect, and had held another man instead in connection with the murder/robbery, and that they were looking for two others (June 14).
A few days later, bandits stormed the unpretentious home of the Bhagwandins at Hope, East Bank Demerara. They beat the couple, particularly Suresh Bhagwandin, whom they threatened to kill, and terrorized their four children. The two youngest boys went on their knees to beg for their father’s life, and the bandits eventually left with the only items of value the family possessed - $15,000 worth of jewellery (June 12).
Their June 13 raid on a Vergenoegen, East Bank Essequibo home, however, ended in the shooting to death of Claudette Ng-See-Quan, and the wounding of her sawmiller husband, Hilton. The bandits, who arrived from the river in a speedboat, had stormed the residence/business at about 1:25am, firing shots all around. They carted off about $400,000 plus a shotgun and two pistols. Outside, they also took a $500,000 Yamaha outboard engine belonging to Deonarine Boodwah (June 14).
Linden had remained relatively unaffected up to this point by the crime wave, but on June 14, the town got a taste of the violence which areas lower down the Demerara river had been subjected to for three-and-a-half months. At approximately 3:05pm gunmen opened fire on a TSS mobile patrol about ten yards from the Wismar Police Station, seriously wounding Constable Rawle Thomas, who had to be airlifted to Georgetown, and slightly injuring two other officers. Thomas died three days later on June 17. The bandits were pursued and intercepted on the Linden-Soesdyke highway, but they abandoned their vehicle, and disappeared into the bushes (June 15,18).
In the early hours of the following day, three bandits held up and robbed six people returning from a party, who had just pulled up in a mini-bus outside a North East La Penitence home. Two of the victims were policemen and two others, overseas-based Guyanese. They lost cash and jewellery (June 16).
At around the same time there were reports emanating from Bartica of a boatload of suspicious-looking men wearing bullet-proof vests cruising up and down the Cuyuni river, and at the end of the month, a boatload of armed men was spotted off the West Demerara Coast, suggesting that the bandits’ mobility on water was in no way inferior to that on land (June 16,29).
On June 16, we also reported on the hijacking of a taxi two days earlier in Lamaha Gardens. This car was to make its reappearance - albeit badly damaged - in dramatic fashion on the day of the same report, when three bandits ran it into the Vlissengen road trench after trying to outrun a 4x4 driving at speed behind them. Emerging from the car apparently uninjured, the gunmen flagged down a Sunset taxi which carried them north along Irving street. There were conflicting reports about what transpired when the bandits took the taxi, and the police later held the driver, plus another one who had driven the first driver home. An eyewitness told Stabroek News that fifteen minutes after the bandits fled, one of them returned, went into the trench, and took a pouch away. The police, who arrived about twenty minutes after the car skidded into the canal, later found two black haversacks, a shotgun, a machinegun and 88 rounds of ammunition, among other items (June 17,22).
The army was to reveal that it was because of road blocks put up on Sunday morning on the East coast, that the bandits ended up in the Vlissengen road canal. Their hijacked car had been headed up the East Coast at around 6:45am when it saw the cordon and turned back (June 22).
In addition, it was also reported that the previous night the same bandits had held up a food store at the corner of New Market and Thomas streets and made off with a large sum of cash (June 19).
On June 17, an Executive Cabs driver foiled a hijack bid by quick thinking in Sophia. The following day, the police came under fire at Bagotstown from gunmen they had been trailing along the East Bank road in the early hours of the morning. The gunmen escaped through the streets of the village (June 19).
The police on June 20 issued wanted bulletins for the second time for men they sought in connection with robbery and murder, namely, Romel Reman, Kwame Pindleton and Shawn Gittens, and the next day they raided a Creen street house looking for three wanted bandits. They emerged empty-handed, however, although a teenage mother was taken into custody (June 21,22).
On June 24, the army arrested an AWOL member of the GDF for whom several wanted bulletins had been issued, along with the driver of the taxi he was travelling in, and a woman. They had been stopped at a roadblock at Good Hope on the Railway Embankment road, and a 9mm pistol and 13 rounds of ammunition had been found in the vehicle. Around noon, there was a fracas in Buxton when the army was reported to have attempted to detain a twelve-year-old boy. They released him, however, and arrested his cousin instead, which produced a protest on the part of Buxtonians (June 25).
In the early evening of the same day, three heavily armed gunmen abducted a woman, Gem Rodrigues, and her six-year-old son from outside the Let’s Dance studio on Woolford avenue. Commissioner (ag) McDonald was later to say that the incident appeared to be the result of some “skullduggery” (June 25,26,29). They were to be eventually released.
On June 26, gunmen turned their attention west, when a former sugar worker, Mohamed Kayan Baksh, was gunned down under his home in Meten-Meer-Zorg at about 11:30pm. The bandits also sprayed the house with gunfire, in addition to another house close by, after its occupant looked out of the window (June 28).
On the same day another white car had been hijacked by bandits, this time in Alberttown (June 28). It was a prelude to yet another shooting drama which occurred the following day.
At around 11:40am a police patrol spotted wanted man Kwame Pindleton and three others in a white car (which it was later discovered was the same one that had been hijacked in Alberttown) at the corner of Vlissengen road and Barr street, Kitty. The gunmen opened fire, and then sped off with the police in pursuit. As the gunmen turned into Middleton street from Drury lane, they shot at a cyclist, but stopped their car just over Garnett street where they hijacked another one, injuring the owner in the process. They continued firing as they exchanged vehicles, as a consequence of which Constable Pareshram Khali of the Impact Base sustained a gunshot wound.
The bandits eventually drove to Sheriff street, and on reaching the junction of Mandela avenue and Homestretch, four of them were seen disembarking from their hijacked vehicle. They approached a grey Prado waiting in a line at the traffic lights, and one of them opened fire on it. The Prado was being driven by Shelly Morgan, wife of auto dealer, Peter Morgan, and she had a child passenger. The woman managed to extricate her vehicle from the queue of cars, and drove off with the gunmen in pursuit. The bandits were to disappear subsequently somewhere in south Georgetown.
In a strange twist, Shelly Morgan’s brother-in-law who had later gone to the hospital to visit her, was held by the police after they had searched his car, and found a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with seven live rounds, ten spent shells and one live round for an AK 47, a dreadlocks wig and a bullet-proof vest. He was charged and remanded to prison when he appeared in court at the beginning of the following month (June 29; July 2).
Aside from the administration’s allegations about PNCR involvement with the escapees and their activities (see Politics) the government and the police force had varying responses and analyses in relation to the banditry at different points during the year. Among the first, coming from the police in early March, was that the escapees should turn themselves in, a plea which McDonald was to repeat in May. In mid-March, Dr Luncheon told the public that the emphasis was on co-ordinating information-gathering from the joint services, and increasing the number of special units operating across the country (March 8,17; May 3).
Towards the end of March, the President slammed the tabloid approach of some media, which he said had embarked on a concerted campaign to tarnish the image of the GPF. He also urged the police to examine means by which its members could be better protected (March 23).
The annual Police Officers’ Conference produced no public recommendations concerning the violent crime situation (March 24), and it was the Minister of Home Affairs who next had something substantial to say, when he stated at a Caribbean/UK Forum that narcotics trafficking and the supply of illegal arms and ammunition were Siamese twins, and that reducing the demand for drugs and guns was to be emphasized (April 10).
On April 18, the President assured the representatives of the private sector that the police had a handle on crime, and the following day that the local law enforcement agencies were using an intelligence-based strategy to recapture the five prison escapees (April 19,20). A few days later Luncheon told the media that the emphasis of law enforcement was on intelligence and crime scene analysis (April 25).
In May, Luncheon admitted that information was being leaked to the escapees, which had enabled them to evade capture. He also ventured the opinion that the shooting spree was linked to gang warfare (May 9). Towards the end of the month, however, Jagdeo associated the crime wave with the increase in the number of deportees in the country (May 23).
The PPP/C’s planned march on May 26 against crime was postponed on account of the weather, although a few people did march from the Industry Public road to Lusignan (May 27).
The Minister of Home Affairs cautioned the nation that not all crimes were linked to the escapees, and that the police had made breakthroughs in solving some robberies (May 28). He was later to observe that Guyana’s porous borders, particularly those with Brazil and Suriname, were partly responsible for the large number of illegal weapons in circulation here. On the same occasion, he also said that a review of the police force was underway (May 30).
At the beginning of June during a press conference held in New Amsterdam, Jagdeo admitted that inadequate intelligence was hampering the police in their quest to recapture the escapees and the other criminals associated with the banditry, while a few days later, Luncheon conceded that the sophisticated weapons of the bandits put police officers at a disadvantage (June 3,7).
Shortly thereafter, the President stated that the crime fight was the government’s top priority (June 8), and that $100M would be allocated to the police force (see Police).
The President’s statements were to be reinforced by Luncheon, who told the media that internal security was top priority (June 13).
(Excluding law enforcement and prison officers)
January 4 - Dennis Ulric Haywood, the ‘Mighty Intruder’ (Calypsonian) (January 15)
January 26 - Lachmee Kalicharran (Culturalist and media personality) (January 27)
January 26 - Andrew Murray (Boxer) (January 28)
March 1 - Dr Balwant Singh (Pathologist) (March 2)
April 6 - Coomar Ramnauth (Simap engineer) (April 9)
May 6 - George Camacho (Former GTM manager and past president of GCC) (May 10)
June 16 - James Lewis (Owner of Waterchris) (June 17)
June 26 - Bertram Hamilton (Guyana Teachers’ Union president) (June 27)
The year began on a comparatively optimistic note, with President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Hoyte reporting progress in the dialogue (January 4). A week and a half later, Jagdeo was even more enthusiastic, referring to "tremendous advances," and suggesting that attacks on the process were politically motivated to serve the interest of some faction or other in the PNCR (January 15). On January 17 we reported that the Joint Committee on Depressed Communities had been reconstituted, and on January 21, that the Joint Committee on the Radio Monopoly had recommended legislation to end that monopoly, and allow political parties fair access to the state media.
If the nation believed that progress was being made on the political front, then that belief was misconceived. The PNCR and the Justice For All (JFA) party organized a large march through the streets of Georgetown on January 25, to protest against police brutality, extra-judicial killings, discrimination, unemployment and an attack on JFA leader, CN Sharma, the week before in West Demerara. Hoyte indicated that the protest campaign against injustices would be stepped up (January 26).
By March 7, the opposition leader was making it known that the implementation of dialogue decisions was disappointing, although he still believed in the dialogue, the alternative to which was the barricades (March 8). The following week at a press briefing he said that Dr Luncheon was not acting in good faith in relation to implementing the decision to have PNCR representatives appointed to state boards and commissions (March 15). Finally, in a letter dated March 14, he proposed to the President that the dialogue should be put "on pause" until the decisions in relation to it had been implemented (March 16).
When the government presented its annual budget of $68.9B on March 15, Hoyte led his parliamentarians out of the Assembly, saying the situation in the country had become "very dangerous." This was the first sitting in the house since December of the previous year on account of the impasse between the government and opposition over the composition of parliamentary committees created by constitutional amendments (March 16). Some days later the PNCR said that it would not participate in the business of Parliament unless there was some movement on the menu of measures (March 23), and as it had indicated it would, the party skipped the budget debate (March 26).
In response to Hoyte's allegations about the dialogue, Jagdeo countered that much progress had been achieved, and in relation to the state boards, said that 50 out of the 63 PNCR nominees had been appointed (March 21).
At the end of March, PNCR Chairman Robert Corbin stated that the party would step up extra-parliamentary action for good governance, and on April 9, it organized a large march to protest against the killing of Shaka Blair by the TSS in Buxton (see Crime), Hoyte setting the deadline of the following day for the government to disband the squad (April 10).
The administration stated that it would not be disbanding the TSS, and the PNCR was back on the streets three days later. On that occasion, however, the demonstration - much smaller this time - was in confusion, with verbal abuse being hurled at party leaders by a breakaway faction. When General Secretary Oscar Clarke attempted to lead the crowd along the pre-arranged route, a section diverted and persuaded others to go to the cricket ground, where a Test match was in progress (April 13).
Six days later, with reference to the chaos at the Shaka Blair funeral, the PNCR was to say that it was the consequence of external interference (April 18).
The quality of the political atmosphere further deteriorated when at a press briefing Dr Luncheon called the activities of the PNCR and some sections of the media as "terroristic," and blamed this for the level of lawlessness in the society. He went on to remark that the opposition party's anti-police stance had led to disrespect for members of the GPF who as a result were being killed and physically assaulted on a daily basis (April 17).
The main opposition party responded by saying that it was not anti-police, but anti-TSS (April 19).
A month later Jagdeo went further, and identified Ronald Waddell not only as an author of the handbills in circulation (see Crime), but as one of the persons in the PNCR leadership linked to the escapees. He went on to state that the main opposition party could not disassociate itself from Waddell who had been on their list of candidates for the 2001 election. Responding, Waddell said that the President's conclusion that he was a leader of the PNCR because his name had appeared on the list of candidates for that party, must have raised eyebrows even within the PPP/C (May 25).
On May 29, in addition to saying that the PNCR continued to trumpet wild charges against the PPP and that it made "veiled and unveiled threats," Luncheon - indicating Gajraj as his source - repeated the allegation that the opposition party had firm linkages with the five escapees. He did not elaborate. The main opposition party strongly denied the charge, PNCR central executive member Lance Carberry saying that his party did not condone lawlessness and illegality. If Luncheon and the PPP/C had the evidence to support their statements, he said, then the authorities should take the necessary action (May 30).
Following Luncheon's first 'terroristic' claim, Amnesty International had cautioned the government about the use of inflammatory language, a caution which the administration deemed hasty and ill-advised (April 23,24).
On April 18, the PNCR announced that it would pursue a policy of active non-co-operation with the government, a stance which the administration dismissed as "ludicrous" (April 19). However, the President and Leader of the Opposition did meet on the matter of Winston Felix's proposed appointment as Commissioner of Police (April 21).
In order, it said, to get around the parliamentary deadlock, the cabinet appointed two commissions - women and rights of the child - which the PNCR stated was ignoring the constitution (April 25; May 4).
In a letter dated April 23 to the head of state, Hoyte set out in full the reasons for the suspension of the dialogue, and the decisions agreed which had not been implemented. Some of these were the presentation to parliament of the policy paper on land allocation, the electrification of De Kinderen, the laying in Parliament of the report from the joint committee on national security and border issues, the question of the state boards, the non-establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commission, and the fact that no legislation had been drafted in response to a report submitted by the Committee on the Radio Monopoly.
Jagdeo had replied to the initial criticisms at an earlier stage (although his letter was not made public at the time), saying that the report from the Radio Monopoly committee was with the AG's chambers, and that the only reason the report of the border committee had not been tabled in Parliament, was because the Foreign Affairs Sectoral Committee was not in place. He did not know, he said, why the 12 PNCR nominees had not been appointed to state boards, but if Hoyte asked the question, he would seek to find out. Where De Kinderen was concerned, he observed that the regularisation of squatting areas was a lengthy process, but as soon as this was completed, then the community would be electrified. On the matter of the Ethnic Relations Commission, there had been a delay in dispatching the letters to the various organizations to be represented on it, because the constant demand for documents had placed an undue burden on the Clerk of the National Assembly (April 26).
On May 9, Jagdeo wrote to Hoyte requesting a meeting on the stalemate over the parliamentary bodies, and while Hoyte agreed that it would be in the national interest for them to meet and resolve the parliamentary impasse, he said that it was necessary that a conducive framework first be devised. To that end, he suggested that their representatives should meet and document for the two leaders' consideration, the points of difference between them on the matter of the committees (May 24).
Hoyte also indicated that his party would not allow the government to act outside the constitution by appointing commissions (which it had earlier indicated it would do), but speaking on May 24, President Jagdeo gave the assurance that the government would not seek to appoint the various commissions unilaterally (May 23,24,26).
On the same day, PNCR protestors blocked access to Parliament during a sitting which their party representatives again did not attend (May 25). Procurement legislation which was tabled at that time, was rushed through all its stages in six days, a haste which earned criticism from professionals and the Auditor General, the former of whom also had reservations about the bill's content (May 30).
On June 5, Luncheon told the media that Guyana would be able to access external support to combat domestic terrorism, and that as a signatory to the new OAS anti-terrorism pact, legislation would be enacted dealing with terrorism (June 6).
On June 14, the PNCR took to the streets again, among their number being people from Buxton, Kwakwani, Everton and Linden. Some of the demonstrators from the bauxite regions had already marched around the city on May 17, and from May 18, they had set up camp in the Main street avenue opposite the Prime Minister's residence.
The June marchers protested, among other things, about extra-judicial killings, the situation in the bauxite industry and government corruption, and they hurled abuse outside ministries as well as the Prime Minister's home. As with previous marches, a section broke away, despite the efforts of the party chairman to keep them in formation (May 19; June 15).
On June 20, the PNCR denied that statements made at a public meeting about removing the government were seditious, as had been alleged in a Sunday Stabroek editorial (June 22).
On June 18, Jagdeo was to respond positively to Hoyte's proposal in May (see above) about their representatives meeting to clarify outstanding issues; however, he wrote on the assumption that this would be preparatory to a resumption of the dialogue. Hoyte at the time was out of the country, but the PNCR stated that Hoyte's suggestion had been confined to the matter of the parliamentary committees, and in any case, the allegation of terrorism against the party would have to be withdrawn before any form of co-operation with the government could be resumed. A governing party spokesman replied that the demand was just a way of avoiding resumption of the dialogue (June 19,26).
The year 2002 was an extraordinarily painful one for the Guyana Police Force, which lost twelve of its officers killed by bandits (see Crime). In addition, CANU lost one officer in the same manner. The police total for the twelve-month period represented exactly half the number who had been killed in the line of duty between 1913 and 2001, to whom the force dedicated a monument in the Police Officers' Mess compound on January 30 (January 31).
It did seem, however, that the number of allegations of extra-judicial killings had diminished in comparison with previous years, although there were some high-profile ones, more particularly those concerning Shaka Blair (see Crime) and Wesley Hendricks. The last-named was shot and killed in his Wortmanville home by the 'Black Clothes' police (May 11).
Earlier in the year, on January 1, Brian King, who had been shot in the mouth by a policeman on December 3 of the previous year, died. The release from the GPF claimed he had attacked a policeman with a cutlass, a version of events which was received with scepticism in several quarters. For its part, the Bar Association called for an independent probe of police killings (January 4,6,11). Two months later, it was announced that an inquest would be held into Brian King's death (March 9).
In February, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) released figures for the number of persons killed by the police between 1980 and 2001. The total was 239, with 105 of these having been killed since 1995. The report stated that the first five and the last five years under review had high averages of 15 deaths per year, while 1997, had the highest figure for the period - 28 deaths. Over the same time span, 18 people had died in police custody, said the GHRA (February 20,23).
At one of his weekly media briefings in April, Dr Luncheon was adamant that there would be no commission of enquiry into extra-judicial killings (April 25).
The following month the Chicago Sun Times carried a story about the Thomas Carroll hearing relating to the US visa scam, in which the prosecutor was reported as saying that members of Guyana's TSS had been used as enforcers for the illegal operation (May 21). A few days later, the President told the media that these reports would be probed (May 25). A fuller account of the 'Black Clothes' criminal activities in connection with the scam emerged in June, when Carroll was sentenced to 21 years and ten months in jail. Among those implicated had been the late Leon Fraser (June 14). Shortly thereafter, Minister Gajraj said that at this stage the police had no evidence on which to prosecute members of the force who had allegedly been involved in the fraudulent scheme (June 16). In the second half of the year, the government agreed to disband the TSS.
In the first month of 2002, former Chancellor Cecil Kennard was appointed the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority. He told Stabroek News that he wanted to restore confidence in the authority, and that one of his aims was to have it properly staffed (January 13). However, on May 18 we reported that certain posts still had not been filled, owing to accommodation constraints.
Other complaints about the police during the year related to the length of time which it took them to respond to reports of banditry, and/or the fact that they were poorly equipped to discharge their function effectively.
For example, in the Annandale food mart robbery in February, victims complained that the police took an hour to respond (February 3), and the following month in the case of the Alberttown jewellery robbery, those who called the police said they were told that ranks were not available at either Alberttown or Eve Leary (March 27).
The armed robbery in Montrose was different, insofar as the Sparendaam police who were at a nearby function came immediately. However, they were equipped with neither vehicle, nor bicycle, nor radio to communicate with other stations who might have been able to intercept the assailants (April 3).
Finally, in June, President Jagdeo announced that $100M would be made available to equip the police force in order to upgrade their capacity to confront the bandits. He also declared the government's intention of setting up an elite squad, similar to a SWAT team, a comprehensive reform of the intelligence sector, the establishment of a specialised training centre for police ranks to expose them to modern anti-crime methods, making available to them training in the use of modern weapons, the introduction of tough new anti-crime legislation as well as laws to allow the monitoring of deportees, speeding up the issuance of gun licences to qualified citizens, and the immediate payment of $1M to the families of the five officers killed up to that point (June 8).
The government had also secured the assistance of the United Kingdom in reforming the police force, and two British officers came in April, to advise in that regard (April 30).
In May, a massive recruitment drive for the police force was announced, since it had lost 375 ranks the year before, and had only seen a net inflow of 90 (May 3). The following month the police denied that there had been resignations from the East Coast stations on account of the crime situation, although this newspaper was told that one detective constable had resigned from Vigilance (June 6,7).
At the same press conference announcing the recruitment drive, Commissioner (ag) McDonald revealed the crime figures for the year 2001. The incidence of indictable crimes was down, he said, but that of armed robbery was up (May 3).
There were also some inquests during the year involving law enforcement killings. The two generating the most public interest were the Mandela Avenue Three and Linden London. Neither was complete when the year closed.
In the case of the latter, the army and police gave contradictory accounts of how London died, army witnesses testifying that the bullets came from the direction of the police (May 24) and a police witness saying that it was possible that the police and the army had fired at London (June 5).
In March, the police mounted one of their intermittent campaigns against boom boxes (March 2), and at the end of the month, they announced that ranks had been enrolled in Portuguese classes for duty in Region 9 (March 20).
The Fire Service was kept busy in 2002, and Mothers in Black could find no consolation in the road death figures.
A fire in Kitty on January 3, started by a three-year-old playing with matches left five people homeless, while the following month another family of five was made homeless by a fire of unknown origin in Alberttown (January 4; February 5).
In the early hours of January 26, Lachmee Kalicharran, culturalist and media personality, perished in a blaze at her Kitty home; she was apparently preparing to go to the airport when the fire started. Neighbours called the fire service, and one was told that she had already called them herself on her cell phone. According to one fireman, the fire had begun in the middle of the house, and since it was grilled all around and there were padlocks on the front and back doors, she may not have been able to escape. By the time firemen broke in, she was already dead (January 27).
Two weeks later on February 10, two children perished in a fire in Wismar (February 12), while an early morning blaze on February 12, left another five people without a roof over their heads on Regent road (February 13). The business and residence of M Primo & Sons was consumed by flames on February 24, and on March 8, a large conflagration took four houses leaving 40 persons devoid of shelter (March 9).
Fire of a different kind - a brush fire - caused a shutdown in the Linden power supply on March 8 (March 9), while fire of a more conventional kind destroyed two houses in Foreshaw street towards the end of the month. Two children in the apartment where the blaze was believed to have started were rescued by a man visiting another resident (March 28).
A huge conflagration on Joseph Pollydore street incinerated five houses and left 71 people homeless on May Day. It was suggested that a kerosene stove might have been responsible for igniting the flames (May 2).
The LBI Mandir burnt in the early hours of June 24; the origin of the fire remained a mystery (June 26). On June 27, it was New Amsterdam's turn, when the store and bond of A Ally & Sons was razed by another blaze of unknown origin (June 28).
Where road accidents were concerned, the year began badly on January 11 with a bus ploughing into a canter truck at Greenwich Park, West Coast Demerara, killing three teens outright and causing eight to be hospitalized. A fourth teen was to die the following day. An eyewitness said that the bus had been speeding (January 12,13).
In February the Health Ministry revealed that more than 54 per cent of surgeries at the Public Hospital in Georgetown, were due to road accidents (February 5).
This statistic apparently had little effect on drivers, and on February 12, a speeding mini-bus killed a six-year-old on the Railway Embankment road at Bachelor's Adventure (February 14).
It was the police themselves who became victims when three of them were hospitalised and four others were treated and sent away after a mini-bus struck them from behind while exercising on Regent street on March 5. A far more serious accident on the same day claimed the lives of six persons in an incident involving a car and two container trucks on the Linden-Soesdyke highway near Kuru Kururu (March 6).
In April, three more persons died when a car went into a trench at Rosignol (April 16), and at the end of the month a further two were killed in a collision between a Land Rover and a mini-bus on the East Berbice highway (May 1).
June opened with the death of a man and woman and injury to six others after a mini-bus slammed into the back of a truck at Coverden (June 5), while towards the end of the month a woman on a pedal cycle lost her life when she was struck by a truck (June 23). Minister Teixeira received an injury when a mini-bus hit the rear door of her vehicle on June 28 (June 29).
Houses which collapsed featured in the first half of the year, the first one leaving a mother and eleven children homeless in Middle road, La Penitence, although subsequently De Sinco came forward with an undertaking to build a house for the family (January 25; February 5). The second case did not end so fortunately. In that instance a father of two in McDoom was killed, two people hospitalised and two others hurt when their house fell; one occupant said that trucks had likely rocked its foundations (June 19).
During 2002 flooding affected several regions, but Black Bush Polder in particular took a battering from the inundations, causing farmers to besiege the land office at Mibicuri. Order was restored after police reinforcements had been called to the area (May 3; June 15).
The preliminary report on the breach in the East Demerara Conservancy Dam which had occurred the previous year, found the contractor, the supervisor and the authorizing agency all culpable for its failure. It was stated that the project to raise the height of the dam had neither been properly conceived, nor properly executed. In April, cabinet found B K International and the Drainage and Irrigation Board culpable, and recommended penalties and remedial action, while the following month, the administration filed a $50M lawsuit against B K International
(March 9,22,23,24; April 13; May 1,18; June 3).
There was embarrassment in March, when the first cruise ship to sail up the Essequibo river got stuck on a sand bank (March 28), and in June, there was embarrassment for the army when its plane ran into a hangar (June 21). The hapless harbour bridge had one of its periodic encounters with a tug and barge during May, and was put out of commission for a time as a consequence (May 27).
The year opened with Dr Kenneth King being named as Guyana's ambassador to the European Union (January 3). Early in the first month too, Prime Minister Sam Hinds expressed the government's frustration at not being able to exploit potential off-shore oil resources because of the actions of Venezuela and Suriname. He also said that the maritime boundary agreement between Venezuela and Trinidad signed more than a decade ago, infringed on Guyana's off-shore territory. Two days later he was to add that Guyana was taking steps to ensure that this country's territory was not compromised by the Trinidad-Venezuela maritime border pact (January 6,8).
Despite the visit of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Davila at the end of February, who announced that President Chavez would come to Guyana during the year (February 27,28; March 1), little was heard of relations with Venezuela for the year. President Chavez who faced a crisis at home in April and another one at the end of 2002, did not come here.
Suriname, however, was a different matter. The President went to Paramaribo in January, in the hope that there would be some movement on the CGX issue (January 9,19). On the 29th of the month the two countries signed a declaration to support co-operation in a number of areas, including joint exploitation of their maritime resources. In addition, Presidents Venetiaan and Jagdeo agreed that the Border Commissions should set up a sub-committe to look at best practices and modalities which could assist the two governments in taking a decision regarding joint exploitation (January 29,30).
While the sub-committee did meet following postponements requested by Suriname (April 26; May 17), there was still no advancement on the CGX issue to record when the year closed.
In April, Guyana and Brazil clinched deals in five areas (April 19).
The economy, business, commerce, projects, etc
The year was not a good one for the economy, which aside from all the other factors was severely affected by the crime wave. Various organisations or their representatives spoke out during the first half of the year, including the National Association of Regional Chambers of Commerce, which described the crime situation as paralysing the nation (June 6). For his part, the President in his Republic Day address undertook to pursue foreign investment; however, other factors apart, the instability in the country militated against any success in that department (February 23).
On February 14, we reported that growth for the previous year had been estimated at 1.9 per cent. In May, Auditor General (AG) Anand Goolsarran stated that Guyana's public debt for 2000 had increased by $9.9B over 1999, to $315B. In his report on the public accounts for that year he said that in US dollar terms the external debt had decreased by US18M, but that the internal debt had climbed by $7B (May 26). The AG also reported that the Consolidated Fund had not been reconciled since February 1988 (June 4).
Minister of Finance Saisnarine Kowlessar announced his annual budget on March 15, and for the fourth consecutive year there were no new taxes. The active measures announced by the minister encompassed incentives for value-added investments, a reduction in the entertainment tax to aid the ailing cinema industry, tax concessions for the tourist industry including the abolition of the room tax, and $2B expenditure on poverty reduction.
The PNCR walked out of the Assembly before the speech began (see Politics), while after it, other commentators expressed themselves less than overwhelmed by the minister's offering (March 16,17).
The minister told Parliament that the $2B to be spent under the poverty programme was to be distributed between SIMAP, the Poor Rural Communities Project, the Poverty Programme, the Basic Needs Trust Fund and the Linden Economic Advancement Project (March 16). (Where the last-named project was concerned, we carried a report on its launch on February 12, and outlined its various aspects in our edition of June 9.)
One of the budget announcements by Kowlessar had been the commissioning of a study on tax reform, concerning which the Private Sector Commission had views to express. The body also said that the economy was still stagnating (March 22). The study was undertaken by the US Fiscal Affairs Department, and was completed before the end of June. It recommended broadening the tax base through eliminating evasion, introducing VAT, eliminating or reducing discretionary exemptions to a minimum, and raising the income tax threshold, among other things (June 23).
In another measure designed to boost tourism by providing a framework for the industry's operations, the long-awaited Tourism Authority Bill was passed in May (May 10). The following month, however, Minister of Tourism Nadir said that the media must be more responsible in their reporting, implying that their coverage of the crime wave had caused cancellations at hotels and tourist resorts during the peak season (June 16).
In the mining sector, the problems in the bauxite industry dominated the year, Bermine's operations at Kwakwani grinding to a halt in May. The precise reasons for this were a source of some dispute between the Prime Minister and others interested in the industry, and two days later Hinds was to say that Kwakwani's plight was not as dire as had been claimed by the PNCR (May 12, 15,16). Bauxite workers were among those demonstrating in the capital during May, camping out in the Main street avenue at night (see Politics).
On May 23, the President and Prime Minister assured bauxite workers that the government would take over key services at Kwakwani (May 24). The following month, Bermine workers voted for a merger with the other state-owned bauxite enterprise in Berbice - the Aroaima Bauxte Company (June 21).
Where gold mining was concerned, we reported that only 337 illegal foreign miners had been registered when the amnesty for them to come forward ended on December 31, 2001 (January 4,5). We also reported that gold had registered its highest ever output (January 7), and that the gold mining company of Omai was exploring options for going into bauxite mining at Linden and/or Everton (January 27).
In the rice sector, government and the banks finally reached a deal over the debt owed to the banks by 1,200 small rice farmers. This arrangement encompassed those whose outstanding principal did not exceed $10M; the large planters, it was stated, would have to make their own approaches to the banks (February 2). Three months later, Minister of Agriculture Navin Chandarpal was complaining that the commercial banks had been tardy in restructuring the debt of small farmers. The rice crop, he said, would fall 20% below projection. In early June the restructuring hit yet another snag (May 15; June 4).
On January 26, we carried a report stating that a US$60M loan had been sealed for reform of the sugar sector, and on April 16, that the World Bank/Caribbean Development Bank was to fund half the cost of Guysuco's modernization. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that there would be no sugar levy for 2002, and on an optimistic note, CEO of the sugar corporation, Brian Webb, said that sugar was set to rebound (May 19).
In the department of infrastructural projects, things were not so rosy. In March, Ballast Nedam walked away from the Berbice River Bridge project, and while the next-ranked consortium indicated its definite interest, nothing had been finalized by the end of the year (March 16,25). Work on the Takutu bridge was interrupted temporarily at first owing to the death of two Brazilian workers, and then again beginning in March to facilitate a state audit by the Brazilian authorities. Despite this, Guyana moved ahead with proposals for setting up facilities on this side of the river (March 22; April 8; May 8,12). In June it was made public that the Mekdeci construction company would upgrade the Lethem road, and that new tolls would be instituted (June 19).
Where banks and mortgage companies were concerned it was reported on February 1 and 28, that Demerara Bank's after-tax profits for the previous year had declined by $38M, while Guyana's first merchant bank had recorded a $4.4M loss (April 15). Citizens' Bank increased its profits to $111M (February 28), while GBTI declared its after-tax profit up by 16.7 per cent. The CEO of the last-named entity, RK Sharma, said that liquidity in the commercial banking sector was high (April 16).
The New Building Society declared a profit of $204M towards the end of April (April 23).
It was not a good year for Mazaruni Granite Products Inc (MGPI), the Kayman Sankar Group or Willems Timber, the last of which went into receivership (June 1). A receiver was also appointed for two Kayman Sankar companies (March 15).
The Revenue Authority filed suit against Mazaruni Granite in March for $57.6M in PAYE taxes deducted from workers salaries, while the Trinidadian company Taipan Shipping Ltd filed suit against MGPI for US1.8M for breach of contract (March 15,16).
The company did get a court decision in its favour in relation to a maritime lien which had tied up its barge in the US Virgin Islands (April 2). On May 16, we carried a report indicating that a Trinidadian bank might move soon against the company to recover a US16M loan, and on May 23, that a consensual judgement had been granted, under which MGPI would repay Taipan US$241,000.
More cheerful news was provided by Neal and Massy, whose Guyana group's performance was deemed satisfactory (January 6), and from Banks DIH which declared a $694M net profit (March 10). Guyana Stores' profit margins were declared to be still low, although sales were good (March 24).
In addition, Hand-in-Hand's acquisition of GNCB Trust was approved (March 2); the organic cocoa growers of Region 1 were certified (March 28); the luckless CGX bought a 25 per cent interest in the Georgetown block (April 24); Didco opened a US16.6M poultry farm (May 14); Courts opened a $45M store in Bartica (June 1); The John Fernandes group opened a $45M supermarket in Regent street (June 17); and the Barama Company was granted tax concessions for its Essequibo project (June 30).
There was no relief for consumers from the utility companies in the first half of 2002. GT&T proposed a big increase in the cost of local calls before the year was properly under way (January 7), city water tariffs went up from January 1 (January 9), and GUYWA duly followed suit shortly thereafter (January 11).
The hike in tariffs announced by the power company drew different responses from two separate government officials, with the President not assisting in the clarification process. However, that the administration was not happy with the increase was not in dispute, and it was halved for the month of February. In March, the full impact of the hike was further deferred, although GPL maintained that despite the fact that it had earned an after-tax profit of $188.6 for the previous year, it needed $1.6B to earn the full rate of return. In response to government claims of inefficient management (the administration had asked for a review of the entire management contract at the beginning of the year on account of its displeasure with the service, as well as GPL's failure to meet targets), it said that its schedule for a reduction in line losses had been affected by lack of capital.
In May, the electricity company sought a final 13.9% tariff increase, a figure which was challenged by the Public Utilities Commission. The charges were lowered by 2% from June 1, and later it was announced that the government was moving to reduce the fees paid to GPL's expatriate managers. (January 14,23,30; February 1,5,7,8,14; March 8,15; May 27; June 2,4,12,24).
GT&T early in the year expressed its dissatisfaction with rates, saying its viability had been threatened by big changes in international settlement rates, as well as "regulatory inertia" (January 12).
Some months later, Atlantic Tele Network (ATN), the parent company of GT&T, moved to the US courts to block an IDB US18M loan for an information technology project in Guyana. It had earlier been lobbying against the project.
ATN said that the project would infringe on its monopoly rights on data transmission guaranteed under its 1991 licence. The company had been in negotiation with the government on ending its monopoly since early in the year, and at the end of the half year, the phone company expressed itself willing to go to arbitration on this and attendant issues, in accordance with a proposal made by President Jagdeo (June 19,24,25,26,27,30).
On May 31, we reported on the merger of GUYWA and the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners.
On January 5, we reported Minster of Labour Dale Bisnauth as saying there had been 232 strikes in 2001. At the beginning of the first month too, a pact was signed for a $765M incentive payout for the sugar industry (January 9).
Commuters were left stranded towards the end of the first month of the year when mini-bus operators went on strike in the city, on the East Coast and in Berbice over the announcement by Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj that legislation would be introduced to make the wearing of seatbelts mandatory, and over police enforcement of the regulations in relation to boom boxes. Demonstrations which began peacefully in Berbice, turned unpleasant. As the strike involving the Route 50 buses continued on the following day - January 29 - the strikers became more hostile, attacking working buses. The city and East Coast buses had returned to work on that day, but the strike widened again on the following one, with strikers assaulting working drivers, and insulting passengers. The police arrested 15 people for causing obstruction.
Getting little sympathy from the public over the music issue, at least, the buses blocked city streets on January 31, and on the first day of the new month, drivers from many routes stormed the East Bank in a massive cavalcade led by CN Sharma and Mark Benschop. They ejected commuters from working buses, flouted the traffic laws and abused policemen. The strike subsequently fizzled out (January 29,30,31; February 1,2,3).
Meetings with the Guyana Public Service Union did not have a successful outcome, the government formally rejecting arbitration in the dispute, and the talks for wages in 2002 commencing before a settlement had been reached on 2001 (January 11,18,27; February 1; April 6).
The trade union movement was as divided as ever at the annual May Day gathering (May 2), although on May 5 we were able to report that the Guyana Trades Union Congress would meet the breakaway unions (GAWU and NAACIE) in an effort to end the impasse.
A report dated January 8 stated that the locally manufactured retrovirals were already in use, and at the end of April, Minister of Health Leslie Ramsammy gave the assurance that all HIV patients would get the drugs (April 29). Earlier that same month it had been announced that an AIDS hotline which was open to callers after hours, had been set up (April 5).
On January 23 we carried a report that the Georgetown Public Hospital would do abortions by March, and on April 14, that a medical transcription company was to invest $2.5M in a base here.
On April 17, a US$80,000 low vision unit was opened at the Georgetown Public Hospital (April 18), and on June 2 we reported that a $20M private hospital was under construction at Anna Regina.
Wrangling over the Medical Council continued for some weeks, ending in court (January 25; February 19; March 8,10,15), as did a case involving the transfer of a doctor from the New Amsterdam hospital (January 8,23; February 13).
Perhaps the greatest problem for the health service during the year came in April, when nurses flocked to a US recruitment drive (April 24).
The rehabilitation of school buildings continued during 2002, the Taymouth Manor Primary School costing $39M, for example, being opened in January (January 10), and Beterwervagting in May (May 29).
However, not all schools were so fortunate. An example of the latter was Winfer Gardens in East street, which had been closed by the PTA on account of its deplorable state in January, and which it was said, the Ministry had promised to rebuild by March. The ministry moved the children to two buildings in Woolford avenue and Thomas Lands, the former of which was also in such a dilapidated condition that in June, after a march through the streets of Georgetown, the PTA gave an ultimatum to the ministry to repair the school by Sunday, June 2, or they would close it
(June 6). When the year ended, there was still no new building on the East street site.
On January 14, we reported on a five-year strategic plan for education, and on February 6, on the new primary level examinations - three of them - intended as an instrument of continuous assessment to replace the SSEE.
Early in the year the matter of corporal punishment came up for discussion again, following an incident on February 15 where a teacher allegedly fractured a child's ankle after pelting her with a stick. Minister Henry Jeffrey recommended dismissal for teachers administering corporal punishment outside the rules (March 1).
That warning was apparently no deterrent, as only ten days later we carried a report about primary school students being beaten with a mop stick (March 10).
At the beginning of the year it was announced that 100 Guyanese were to take up Cuban scholarships (January 25), while in March, Dr James Rose, after some initial uncertainty, was confirmed as the University of Guyana Vice Chancellor (March 2,9).
Arguably, the main problem for the education system was the same as that for health: the recruitment of personnel by US agencies. On January 19, hundreds of teachers flocked to a seminar at Le Meridien Pegasus where the New York City Board of Education was seeking to recruit teachers (January 8,17,20).
Government and related agencies
The cabinet went on its annual retreat in January, the President emerging to announce a range of objectives for the year, including the ending of the government's radio monopoly. He also indicated that the Office of the President would monitor the ministries' programmes (January 12).
Early in the year, Chancellor Desiree Bernard appointed Senior Counsel Rex McKay to review the criminal justice system, and former Chancellor Kenneth George to review the Civil Rules of Court (January 16).
Among the loan contracts signed during 2002, were those from the IDB covering US$33M for roads and US$22M for poverty reduction (January 19).
In February the Caricom Heads of Government meeting in Belize decided that the Regional Programme for Animal Husbandry and Agriculture (REPAHA) should be closed, and its operations merged with the Guyana School of Agriculture at Mon Repos (February 8).
On March 11, we reported that funding for Iwokrama was drying up, and on March 18, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had stayed approval of the Amaila Falls hydro-power project until further assurances had been obtained on the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The Forestry Commission (GFC) was in the news in 2002, beginning when it found evidence that members of the Region 10 Forest Producers Association were logging illegally in the Moraballi Forest Reserve (February 24). In March, it was Dr Luncheon's turn to cross the path of the GFC when he instructed it to pay $886,766 to a former forest ranger whose services it had terminated. The attorney for the commission, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat had no such authority (March 31; April 5,18,22,28).
At the GDF officers' conference in May, President Jagdeo indicated that he wanted army input into civil works (May 10), while Auditor General Anand Goolsarran in his report stated that the army had breached tenderboard and other procedures (June 7). Goolsarran made the same charge against the Supreme court (June 19), while he said that Works Ministry building contracts contained irregularities (June 22).
May 26 saw the traditional announcement of the national awardees, with Chancellor of the Judiciary Desiree Bernard topping the list.
At the beginning of June, the Office of the President assumed direct responsibility for wildlife trade, removing it from the jurisdiction of the EPA (June 3).
Later that month, during an investigation into his department, Commissioner of Customs and Trade Administration Lambert Marks held a dramatic press conference alleging that he had been pressured over the clearing of containers. He accused his superior, Commissioner General Edgar Heyligar of interfering and not acting to counter claims that he (Marks) had acted irregularly. In response, Heyligar said that Marks' allegations were simply a figment of his imagination. But the commissioner had more. He said that at a later date he would be speaking out on matters such as corruption in high places, overseas properties and bank accounts, drug trafficking and money laundering, the drug-related murder of Herman Sanichar, the back-track related murder of Lloyd Bacchus, and the murder of a Customs officer at Grove.
The following day, Marks was given a 48-hour ultimatum by the Office of the President to substantiate his claims of malfeasance in high places. It turned out that what had appeared to be a fireworks display, was in fact a damp squib, since Marks then informed the Head of the Presidential Secretariat that he had no more information on corruption to offer (June 19,20,22).
The two containers that sparked the row between Marks and Heyligar were opened on June 20. An investigation had been ordered by Heyligar after allegations from some businessmen that certain importers received preferential treatment from the CTA. The Commissioner General later told this newspaper that the investigation now encompassed 19 containers, and whether these had been handled in a proper manner. He was not probing Marks, he said (June 21,23,26,27,28).
Heyligar was to resign in the second half of the year.
Chairman of the Elections Commission Steve Surujbally made it clear that it would not be possible to hold local government elections in 2002 (March 31), and a bill postponing the elections once again was passed in the second half of the year.
The month of January opened with the Mayor of Georgetown accusing city officers of ignoring the decisions taken by the council, and calling for an investigation into its present structures (January 5).
Some days later, Minister in the Ministry of Local Government Clinton Collymore said he would not be conducting any investigation into the affairs of City Hall until a probe by the Auditor General (AG) had been completed (January 13). That probe subsequently found evidence of irregularities in relation to a sum exceeding $1.6M. Goods worth that amount purchased by City Hall from AH&L Kissoon could not be accounted for, said the AG. Collymore then wrote to the acting Commissioner of Police Floyd McDonald requesting that the police launch an investigation (May 14).
In April, the city councillors voted for a 50% increase in their stipends, and it was announced that the capital's budget had been set at $1.6B (April 10,11). Around the same time a technical team from the city of Huntsville, Texas, delivered the unpalatable news to the New Amsterdam council that the town was broke (April 13).
(See also Crime)
In June, the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting ruled that seven TV stations had infringed the conditions of their licences, and that four of them were to be warned that a future transgression could result in suspension or revocation of their licences (June 28,29).
* On January 30 we reported that the Committee for the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr had this year selected Guyana's Ambassador to the United States, Dr Odeen Ishmael, for the King Legacy Award for International Service.
* Dr Winston McGowan was appointed to the Walter Rodney Chair of History in February (February 28).
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