“I think it is an attempt aimed at transforming the paramilitary (phantom) forces from the previous PPP government into formal institutions—a case of bringing the phantoms out of the shadows into the formal State Apparatus. Note that the unit is located in the regions. That is quite significant,” Dr. Hinds told Village Voice News on Saturday.
Last Wednesday (June 16), the Joint Services Council and the Home Affairs Ministry condemned claims that the new regional security support team announced by Government will be another ‘black clothes squad.” The black clothes squad, which was formally known as the Target Special Squad, was notorious for allegedly committing a series of extra-judicial killings in the early 2000s. After much public pressure the unit was disbanded, but not after leaving a trail of bloodshed.
During Monday’s (June 14) sitting of the National Assembly Members of the parliamentary opposition were shocked when it was revealed that the Irfaan Ali Government had made a lot of headway in establishing the unit and was seeking financing to operationalise it.
However, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira sought to allay fears that the new security unit being created by the administration will not usurp the functions of the established forces and there is “nothing conspiratorial” about it. But Dr. Hinds told Village Voice News that whenever a government acts in such a secretive manner, its actions are not accidental.
“It is quite striking that the government came to the National Assembly with a done deal. What is even more striking is that the opposition seems to have been taken by complete surprise. Often the opposition would have been tipped off in advance by some informer on a matter like this. The extreme secrecy therefore suggests that this is a particularly sensitive operation that appears to have larger political implications and that is part of a larger scheme than meets the eye,” he reasoned.
Before the National Assembly, MP Teixeira explained that the Regional Joint Support Team, which was decided on by the Defence Board back in April, involves both the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF). According to her, it aims to develop operational capacity in crime fighting. But Dr. Hinds said he is not buying the explanation proffered by the Government that the Regional Joint Support Team is a routine crime-fighting initiative.
“Is the government saying that the regular police force is incapable of effectively fighting crime? Then, why not invest in upscaling or updating that capacity? Why form a new outfit?” the Political Scientist questioned.
Dr. Hinds submitted that the establishment of the crime fight unit is a strategy by the government to ensure that it gets control of the country’s security apparatus. “The PPP has historically been paranoid about its inability to command the loyalty of the predominantly African Guyanese armed forces. When it returned to power in 1992, it attempted without much success to encourage Indian Guyanese to join the police and army. It then transitioned to a strategy of co-opting sections of the top leadership—a strategy that from all appearances that was more successful. But given the fact that favored officers have retired, it now has decided on a new strategy of creating new structures,” he further reasoned.
He said it was not so long ago that the Government during the Budget Debate signaled its intention to draft a legislation to create a new border patrol unit to supplement the GDF and the Police Force.
“I think this new Regional Joint Support Team is part of that larger initiative to create parallel security units to the established ones. This is taking the criminalization of the State to a higher level —a case of the formal fusion of the outlaw elements into the legal security architecture,” Dr. Hinds posited.
He added: “I am willing to speculate with some confidence that this is a new domestic Spying Unit that is aimed ultimately at curbing political dissent under the guise of crime fighting.”
The situation, Dr. Hinds said, is worry on two fronts – it broadens the government domination praxis beyond the political executive to the armed forces, and it is the beginning of a new over-militarized State and Society.
“Guyana has been down this road before. But now in the era of Oil, in the context of a new domestic and geo-politics and economic dispensation, we are seeing the rise of enforcer-institutions aimed at facilitating and enforcing the misappropriation of our oil-wealth and at frustrating and putting down dissent,” Dr. Hinds contended.
Political Analyst, Dr. Henry Jeffrey, in his weekly Future Notes column titled “Follow the votes,” said the move by the PPP/C Administration to establish the Regional Joint Support Team comes as no surprise. He posited that the Irfaan Ali Administration is attempting to acquire additional support within the security forces. Like Dr. Hinds, Dr. Jeffrey questioned the secrecy surrounding the establishment of the body.
“Ms. Teixeira requested this sum from a ‘democratic’ legislature without being able to give any details of what it is to be expended upon. Indeed, she did not explain how this force will be different from what exists, why the existing arrangements could not be expanded and upgraded to do the same task, the totality of the projected infrastructural and human resources that will be involved, and so on,” he reasoned.
He posited that the regime’s decision to establish the crime fight body in the manner it has done leads to great concern that it is up to no good and notions of resurgent Black Clothes squads.
Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon, during a press conference on Thursday, also expressed concern. He said the Government Chief Whip failed to provide a clear structure of the unit though indicating that guns and ammunitions, uniforms and 32 vehicles including ATVs would be purchased.
Describing it as a secret unit, Harmon submitted that the move by the Ali Administration signifies that it lacks confidence in the army and the police force to secure the State. “I have taken note of a release from the Joint Services, but the release does nothing to quell the fears and suspicions of Guyanese citizens who lived through the trouble times under the Bharrat Jagdeo Presidency,” the Opposition Leader said. He made it clear that the Opposition objects to any unit that is similar to that of the phantom squad.