Guyana is South America's new drug smuggling route


GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Drug traffickers are running increasing amounts of marijuana and Brazilian cocaine past outmanned Guyanese authorities, exploiting a new route to the United States and Europe, officials say.

The small but growing traffic in cocaine was largely due to Colombian drug lords who have moved their laboratories into the jungles of neighboring Brazil to refine coca paste into cocaine, said Sgt. Ronald Geer, head of anti-narcotics operations for the Guyana national police.


Their 'mules' then transport the drug eastward over the poorly guarded border into Guyana, where they catch airline flights bound for the United States and Europe. The new route avoids Colombia and Venezuela, where authorities have stiffened efforts against trafficking, officials said.

'We know there has been a sharp increase in cocaine through Guyana and Georgetown, mostly small couriers,' said Robert Candelaria, agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Caracas, Venezuela.


'It's an emerging problem. If nothing is done it could grow considerably more,' the DEA agent said.

The United States reacted to the drug traffic last month by supplying four 36-foot patrol boats to police and customs officers in Guyana, an English-speaking country of 800,000 people on the northeastern coast of South America.

The number of Guyanese arrested on drug-possession charges around the world has soared, with the number detained at foreign commercial airports rising from two in 1981 to 53 last year, the DEA reported. There have been 38 arrests this year through the end of August.

Geer and Candelaria said most of the cocaine was still moved in relatively small amounts of a few kilograms or less, not in the planeloads that characterize shipments from Colombia.

But over the past three years, the amount of marijuana seized shot up almost 2,500 percent, from 4,700 pounds in 1984 to 100,528 pounds last year. The amount of cocaine picked up by officers rose from 3.7 pounds in 1984 to 18 in 1986, Geer said.

The rule of thumb in law enforcement is that the amount of drugs seized usually represents only about one-tenth of what's getting through.

Indictments on marijuana charges, meantime, about doubled, from 181 in 1984 to 356 in 1986. Those for cocaine rose from three to 22.


For the first eight months of 1987, the seizure figures dramatically declined, but Geer said the drop did not indicate less trafficking so much as worsening enforcement -- including the loss of three of his best officers when theyemigrated to the United States.

Figures for the first eight months of 1987 showed some 3,250 pounds of marijuana had been seized and 307 people indicted on marijuana charges. Only 10 ounces of cocaine had been picked up by authorities and charges had been leveled against only two people for cocaine, Geer said.

The flood of Guyanese emigrating because of worsening economic conditions -- estimated at 3 percent of the population annually -- may also be contributing to the trafficking, he said.

Geer said most marijuana was being grown along rivers near Georgetown on plots of one acre or less. It was then sent directly to the United States or through Caribbean islands.

He described it as potent as the famed Jamaican 'ganja.'

'We've been making more cases in smaller amounts, which shows we've not been hitting the larger dealers, just the retailers and users,' said Geer, a stocky man in an open-necked shirt. He spoke across a desk crowded with confiscated drug paraphernalia and a pillowcase-sized bag of marijuana.


His narcotics operations squad has only 10 men and no drug-sniffing dogs. Until the patrol boats arrived from the United States last month, police had only one vessel to search thousands of miles of coastline and rivers -- including the 6-mile-wide Corentyne. And to cover the country's 83,000 square miles of jungle, mountains, swamp and scorching savanna, police have had to rely on the military for aircraft.

'We don't have anything,' Geer said.

In Brasilia, Paulo Marro, a spokesman for Brazil's federal police, declined to detail law-enforcement efforts against clandestine laboratories along the Guyana border.

However, he said that at the end of June Brazilian police destroyed 5.3 million cocaine plants and destroyed four processing laboratories at sites along the Colombian border.

'We have been receiving some information about the area near Guyana and we are working on it,' Marro said in a telephone interview. 'We are alert to the problem and our main concern is preventing Brazil from becoming a producer and exporter of cocaine.'

adv for release Oct.

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