Guyana Table of Contents
In 1891 a paramilitary police force was established in British Guiana. This force became the British Guiana Police Force in June 1939 and after independence the Guyana Police Force. Headed by a commissioner of police, the force had limited paramilitary capabilities. The 5,000-member force had three major elements: a Mounted Branch trained in riot control, a Rural Constabulary, and a Special Constabulary that served as the police reserve. Additionally, a number of constables were employed by the government and private businesses to guard property.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a religious group known as the House of Israel became an informal part of the PNC's security apparatus and engaged in actions such as strikebreaking, progovernment demonstrations, political intimidation, and murder (see Cults , ch. 2). The House of Israel was led by an ardent PNC supporter, David Hill, locally known as Rabbi Washington. Hill was an American fugitive wanted for blackmail, larceny, and tax evasion. Despite its name, the House of Israel was neither Israeli nor Jewish-oriented. It was, instead, a black supremacist cult claiming that Afro-Guyanese were the original Hebrews. Cult adherents further believed that modern-day Jews were, in fact, descendants of other non-Jewish biblical peoples and were in Israel illegally. Serving as a paramilitary force for the PNC, the House of Israel had 8,000 members, including a 300-member guard force known as the "royal cadets."
A 1979 incident illustrates the House of Israel's close relationship with the Burnham administration. A member of the cult, Bilal Ato, murdered a reporter working for an opposition newspaper on July 14, 1979. The reporter had been taking photographs of an antigovernment demonstration when he was stabbed to death. Although the entire incident was filmed by other journalists, the government took three years to bring the case to trial. A former state prosecutor defended Ato. The judge reduced Ato's charge to manslaughter and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Later in 1979, as well as during the early and mid-1980s, the government used the House of Israel to break strikes and to disrupt public meetings of any group that the government felt might oppose its policies. Observers claimed that House of Israel members were accompanied by police and sometimes wore police uniforms during these incidents. In 1985 House of Israel members allegedly prevented delegates from entering the annual general meeting of the Guyana Council of Churches in Georgetown.
When President Hugh Desmond Hoyte took power in 1985, the House of Israel fell out of government favor. In July 1986, Rabbi Washington and other key House of Israel leaders were arrested and charged with murder. Washington pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a fifteen-year sentence.
From 1980 until mid-1985, organized gangs of Afro-Guyanese terrorized Indo-Guyanese communities. The groups' trademark method of entry earned them the sobriquet kick-down-the-door gangs. The gangs were fully armed and used military tactics and techniques. Gang crimes against the Indo-Guyanese included robbery and occasionally rape or murder.
Police response to the gangs caused a civic outcry. The police routinely arrived at victims' homes hours after a crime had occurred, even if notified when the crime was in progress. The half-hearted police response encouraged the growth of the gangs, which became so bold that they began to undertake daylight operations. Fear so paralyzed Indo-Guyanese communities that women in rural areas congregated most of the day by public roads, seeking safety in numbers.
Many analysts believed that the PNC sponsored, or at least tolerated, the kick-down-the-door gangs. Despite stringent gun control laws, gang members carried automatic weapons. One observer called the gangs "policemen by day and bandits by night." The gangs used tactics the PNC had employed against opposition parties, only on a larger scale and with even greater brutality. After Burnham's death in 1985, the gangs disappeared.
Data as of January 1992
Guyana Table of Contents