Thursday, April 15, 2004

Gya: No safety on land, sea, or river

Although the brazen daylight attacks on poor fishermen in the estuary of the Berbice River and off the Corentyne Coast last month do not satisfy the internationally accepted definition of 'maritime piracy', the effects on the victims would be no different no matter by what name the crime is called.

Maritime piracy is usually taken to mean "violent seizure on the high seas of a private ship, or the illegal detainment of persons in property aboard said ship for the purpose of private gain." In Guyana, however, the violence has not been on the high seas but in territorial waters. Despite location and motivation, the violent seizure of the fishing boats and private gain of the robbers have been real enough.

Over and over, groups of artisanal fishermen in small wooden boats powered by outboard engines, often within sight of land, and with the most rudimentary equipment, have been pounced on by gangs of criminals with fast boats and assault rifles. Occasionally, the fishermen are robbed of their few valuable possessions but, more frequently, their outboard engines have been taken away.

These attacks are no less than the waterborne variation of the land-based banditry that Guyana has witnessed along the coastland, albeit without the aggravation, rapes and murders. Unlike the crimes on land, however, there has been no pretence of a credible official response from the law enforcement agencies. Major arrests and prosecutions have yet to be made.
Guyana is existing in a state of lawlessness. When the Minister of Home Affairs is allegedly connected with death squads and the government refuses to investigate; when the same minister is connected with a recently killed bandit Gewan Chowtie via a gun license; when citizens are afraid to report crimes to the police because of corruption in the force, how can there possibly be any respect for law and order in Guyana? Every man, from the president of Guyana to the man on the street, is doing that which is right in his own eyes. Who don't like it, well, they could leave. How long before civil society, already fragile and under assault, splinters into chaos? What will the Guyanese goverment do then?


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