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Guyana 2014 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Guyana; Western Hemisphere > Guyana > Georgetown

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats 

Guyana is rated as Critical for crime by the U.S. Embassy. Criminal activity is a major problem, particularly violent crimes and crimes against people and property. Foreigners in general are viewed as targets of opportunity but are not specifically targeted. Violence against women, particularly in a domestic context is a pervasive problem.

Most violent crimes against foreigners have occurred in the capital. However, there have been incidents of violent crimes committed in other parts of the country as well. Serious crime, including murder and armed robbery, are common, especially in the suburban areas and the interior regions. The most recent information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime lists Guyana’s 2010 homicide rate as 18.4 per 100,000 people -- the fourth highest murder rate in South America behind Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. Guyana’s murder rate is three times higher than the United States’.

Armed robberies occur regularly, especially in businesses and shopping districts. Armed robberies of businesses/patrons are becoming increasingly common in Georgetown. Criminals are often organized, travel in groups of two or more, and conduct surveillance on their victims. Periodically, there are reports of robberies/attacks on American citizens and in areas frequented by expatriates. The press reported 108 armed robbery incidents during 2013. It is likely that many more incidents go unreported.

Criminals appear to be able to obtain weapons with ease, despite the arduous licensing requirements for the average person to own firearms. Handguns, knives, machetes, or "cutlasses" tend to be the weapons of choice. Criminals generally will not hesitate to show multiple weapons as an intimidation tactic during a robbery. Criminals may act brazenly, and police officers have been victims and perpetrators of assaults and shootings. Criminals are increasingly willing to resort to violence while committing all types of crimes.

American citizens did report hotel room break-ins to the U.S. Embassy in 2013.

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Road and driving conditions are poor. Police sporadically enforce local traffic laws, and local drivers often drive recklessly. Stop signs and traffic signals are often ignored. Drivers should remain cognizant of other cars, large commercial vehicles, mini-buses, horse drawn carts, bicycles, mopeds, scooters, motorcycles, stray dogs, sleeping animals, and free range livestock, as they all share narrow, poorly maintained roads. A combination of very aggressive drivers, along with inexperienced, timid drivers makes driving especially dangerous. Driving at unsafe speeds, reckless driving, tailgating, cutting across lanes and stopping quickly without signaling, passing at intersections, and passing on crowded streets are commonplace. Driving at night poses additional concerns due to poor street lighting and road conditions, drivers not lowering high beam lights, livestock, and pedestrians congregating by the roadside.

Traffic accidents are a major concern in Georgetown, with speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol as contributing factors. The law requires persons involved in a traffic accident to remain at the scene until the police arrive to take a report. U.S. citizens should consider their safety in deciding whether to remain at an accident scene or to proceed to a police station. Guyana does not have trained medical personnel who routinely respond to accidents. 

The use of public transportation, such as mini-buses, by anyone unfamiliar with the country is highly discouraged. The use of reputable taxis -- those offered through the major hotels and tourist agencies -- is preferable, as they are usually safer, more reliable, and inexpensive. 

Robbery and vehicle theft occur with some frequency in Georgetown and New Amsterdam. A total of 18 carjacking incidents were reported by the press during year 2013. Vehicle occupants should keep their doors locked, never leaving items in plain sight, and be aware of their surroundings. 

Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence

Although Guyana has ongoing border disputes with Venezuela and Suriname, Guyana is not engaged in any armed hostilities. The U.S. Embassy does not anticipate violence resulting from existing territorial or political controversies. Guyana is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to its border controversies.

U.S. companies and individuals have not been singled out as targets of politically-motivated violence. General and regional elections were held in November 2011 and were mostly peaceful with only minor protests and demonstrations following announcement of the election results. Elections were deemed generally free and fair by domestic and international observer groups.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is no specific threat information concerning the presence of local, regional, and/or international terrorist groups in the country. Likewise, there is no specific threat information concerning U.S. private sector organizations in Guyana.

Civil Unrest 

Some acts of violence may be politically motivated. In July 2012, arsonists razed buildings in Linden, Region 10, while protesting against the rise in the electricity tariffs. Four people were fatally shot by police ranks. In October 2012, protestors set vehicles on fire and blocked traffic for several hours in Agricola, Region 4. This followed a court ruling on a police brutality case in which a police officer fatally wounded a juvenile resident of Agricola. Though these violent protests did not destabilize the government, they raised legitimate concerns about underlying political tensions. 

Religious or Ethnic Violence 

Guyana is a multi-cultural country. Ethnic groups, consisting mainly of people of East Indian and African descent, and Amerindian groups, coexist peacefully. While incidents of violent crime appear not to be racially-motivated, political differences tend to run along racial divisions. Racially-charged statements made by prominent figures, particularly around elections, have been rejected by broad based civil and religious groups. Ethnic and religious diversity have not been directly linked to incidents of violence in recent years. 

There have been isolated incidents of violence that appear to be associated with sexual preference or identity. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

There are two main rainy seasons in Guyana (December-January and May-July). However, even at other times of the year, heavy rains are possible, and flash flooding can occur. The coastal plain floods occasionally. Serious flooding occurred in greater Georgetown and along the east coast in January 2005, causing significant damage. There has also been isolated flooding on the east coast in each of the past several years. 

Industrial and Transportation Accidents 

Guyana has adopted a low carbon development strategy; there are no current large-scale industrial initiatives other than state-controlled rice and sugar production. A limited number of consortiums have established enterprises in the mining and oil exploration sectors. Despite the increase of industrial activities, there has been no recent reporting of large-scale accidents related to this economic sector.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

Travel to the interior of the country requires planning and caution; travelers wishing to visit the interior are advised to make use of well-established tour companies for safer experiences. Medical and law enforcement resources in many interior locations are significantly less than what is available in the capital. There have been reports of tourists and foreigners being robbed while traveling in the countryside and occasional reports of bandits on rural roads and piracy on the local rivers.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug trafficking organizations are prevalent and pose the biggest challenge to law enforcement in Georgetown. Airport security and customs officials frequently detain and arrest individuals attempting to smuggle drugs to the United States or other destinations. Apprehensions of drug "mules," often U.S. citizens perceived to be able to travel easily with their U.S. passport, have increased this past year.

Police Response

Local police have resource and manpower limitations that inhibit their ability to deter or respond to criminal activity. Even in the occasions when the police respond to a crime scene, victims are asked to go to the nearest police station to file a report and complete any other investigative formalities.

Corruption is widely perceived to be common in police departments and other government agencies. Police officers often are reportedly paid off by criminal elements and are alleged to work with the criminals by either assisting or protecting them. The Guyanese judicial system is strained by limited resources and subject to threats and/or bribes. Defendants linked to drug organization often use attorneys, who are effective in getting cases dismissed or postponed until they seem no longer active. As a result, criminals go free on a regular basis. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

There is an emergency telephone number "911" for police, fire, or rescue. The fire department generally provides a timely response, while a police response, especially during the night is less dependable. The police response to emergency calls is often slow (15 minutes or longer) or not at all.

Americans who become victims of crime are advised to contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at 011-592-225-4900 x4222 or the U.S. Embassy Duty Officer after hours at 011-592-623-1992. Non-emergency email contact is: acsgeorge@state.gov.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care does not meet U.S. standards. Care is available for minor medical conditions, although quality of care is inconsistent. Emergency care and hospitalization for major medical illnesses or surgery are very limited, due to the lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation. 

Visitors are advised to bring prescription medicine sufficient for their length of stay and should be aware that Guyana's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic) are available.

Emergency medical services can be contacted by either "911" or "913" for an ambulance, but this number is not always operational, and an ambulance may not be available. There are very few ambulances. Ambulances generally do not have medical personnel or equipment on board to provide medical care; ambulances are only for transportation. People injured in accidents are often transported by taxi. There are two privately operated ambulance services that offer attendants with EMT and ACLS training:
Woodlands Hospital Ambulance Service: (Ambulance Direct numbers) 226-6000, 610-3242, 615-5000, 615-2000.
Davis Memorial Hospital has two equipped ambulances with driver/attendants trained and certified in EMT. They can be contacted through Davis Memorial Hospital at 011-592-227-2041.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

The Georgetown Public Hospital on Thomas and New Market Streets is the one commonly used for responding to medical emergencies and trauma, including traffic accidents. The hospital is located approximately a quarter mile from the U.S. Embassy and generally has adequately trained staff and equipment to stabilize those in need of attention, before medical evacuation to the U.S. or elsewhere can be arranged.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Special attention should be paid to HIV/AIDS. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations, such as commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, data from the World Health Organization shows that Guyana has among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Personnel traveling to regions one, seven, eight, nine, and ten are advised to use malaria prophylaxis.

Incidences of water-borne diseases increase during periods of flooding. Only bottled or purified water should be consumed, and special precautions should be taken when eating fruits and vegetables, especially during the rainy seasons. 

For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/guyana.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

All Americans are reminded to be aware of their surroundings at all times, and monitor local/international news for events that may impact on the local security situation. After dark, it is highly advisable not to walk or bike.

Foreigners are very visible in public and should take precautions when visiting downtown areas. Visitors should avoid wearing expensive jewelry, displaying large sums of cash in public, or otherwise appearing ostentatious. If confronted by an armed criminal, do not argue or attempt to confront him/her in any way. Quickly relinquish what you are asked to surrender.

Visitors are advised to change currency only at legitimate exchanges at hotels or airports. Visitors are strongly discouraged from exchanging currency on the street.

Travelers should use caution when opening their hotel room doors and should safeguard valuables left in hotel rooms. There have been reports of criminal incidents in the vicinities of the major hotels used by tourists and U.S. government employees. Walking alone outside after dark, even in the immediate vicinity of these hotels, is not recommended. 

Residential burglaries are less common when homes have guards, who pose a deterrent to would-be thieves.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

The U.S. Embassy is located at 100 Young and Duke Streets, Kingston, Georgetown. 

Embassy Contact Numbers

The American Citizen Services (ACS) Section can be contacted at 011-592-225-4900 x4222. The Regional Security Office number is 011-592-225-4900 ext: 4243. After regular business hours and on weekends the Embassy Duty Officer can be reached at 011-592-623-1992.

The Embassy operates a warden system to communicate with registered American citizens in Guyana. To register your stay and ensure that you receive warden messages in an emergency, please visit our website at: https://step.state.gov/step/. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Georgetown website: thttp://georgetown.usembassy.gov/service.html. The U.S. Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for Georgetown provides additional information at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/guyana.html.

OSAC Country Council Information

The U.S. Embassy launched the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Country Council in Georgetown in 2009. The Regional Security Office provides country briefings for representatives of American businesses when requested. For information on joining the OSAC Country Council in Georgetown, attending Country Council meetings, or adding your organization to our electronic mailing list for security information, please contact the RSO by calling 011-592-225-4900 ext: 4243 or email at GeorgetownRSO@state.gov. 

Further information on OSAC Country Councils can be obtained by visiting http://www.osac.gov or by contacting the Overseas Security Advisory Council in Washington D.C. at 571-345-2223.