Research Report

In Transit: Gangs and Criminal Networks in Guyana

Taylor Owen
Alexandre Grigsby
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2012
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 59
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 13-23)

    Guyana is an anomaly in South America. As the only English-speaking country on the continent, Guyana identifies primarily with its fellow former British colonies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, rather than its immediate Hispanic, Portuguese, and Dutch neighbours (Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname). Relative to other South American states, Guyana’s population is small—only 750,000 people, 90 per cent of whom live along the Atlantic coast—leaving the country’s vast interior sparsely populated (Mars, 2010, p. 257). Georgetown, the country’s capital, is Guyana’s largest city with just over 200,000 people, followed by the cities of Linden...

  2. (pp. 24-28)

    Historically, scholars examining the interactions and structures of gangs have focused their efforts on criminal organizations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Much of the literature describes gang relationships and their characteristics in major US cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. While this research has provided excellent theories to help explain the gang phenomenon in the Western world, it is of limited use in the study of gangs in the Caribbean.⁹ Indeed, the cultural and social factors that can influence gang activity vary widely from one country to another, making it difficult to replicate...

  3. (pp. 29-34)

    In view of the aforementioned structural factors and Guyana’s history of political gang violence, Guyanese gangs may be divided into three separate categories: small local gangs, political gangs, and large-scale criminal gangs. While there may be some overlap between the categories, notably the latter two, this typology provides a useful overview of the types of gangs that operate in the country.

    Like most countries in the Caribbean, Guyana has a number of local gangs and notable criminals. Unlike other countries in the region, however, Guyanese gangs lack many of the characteristics that tend to define street gangs.19 Local officials, journalists,...

  4. (pp. 35-40)

    Guyana is fertile ground for gang and organized criminal activity, largely because corruption is endemic in most levels of the country’s political and official institutions. Indeed, it would not be possible for such large quantities of narcotics to be trafficked through Guyana without significant institutionalized corruption. According to Transparency International, Guyana is the second most corrupt country in the Caribbean, narrowly beating Haiti, which is generally regarded as one of the most corrupt states in the Western hemisphere (TI, 2010, p. 8). In a 2000 World Bank survey of Guyanese public workers, 92 per cent of respondents noted that corruption...

  5. (pp. 41-44)

    The Guyanese government has faced considerable challenges while grappling with the country’s gangs and criminal networks. Shortly after the 2002 prison break, the government, in concert with the opposition, established a commission of inquiry to examine the actions of the Disciplined Forces—the GPF, the Prison Service, the Fire Service, and the Defence Force—during the violence. The panel consisted of several prominent and well-respected members of Guyanese society, such as judges and retired military officers. In 2004, the commission presented its final report to Parliament—with 164 recommendations. The focus of these recommendations was the proposed modernization of the...

  6. (pp. 45-46)

    In comparison to its Latin American and Caribbean neighbours, Guyana exhibits limited gang and organized criminal violence. Strong street gangs such as Jamaica’s posses or Mexico’s cartels are generally absent. Nevertheless, there is real cause for concern as Guyana’s local gang and organized crime issues have the potential to develop into a much larger problem. This assertion is supported by three observations.

    First, there is a sentiment in Guyana that the arrest of Shaheed Khan, the country’s most notorious drug trafficker, means that gang and violence problems are largely a thing of the past. However, many of Khan’s associates still...