Sunday, July 18, 2010

I have moved...

Egg Smiley?

Hey, Active Voice has moved to Wordpress.com, please visit us there:

http://anniepaulose.wordpress.com/

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Name is Khan...Roger Khan



Driving Miss Dudus by Hubert Neal Jr.

Now that Dudus is safely in the hands of the US justice system what can we expect the outcome to be? That is the question in almost everyone’s mind with Observer columnist Lloyd B. Smith even wondering “Should Dudus sing?” in his latest column. What kind of sentence is Dudus likely to get? Will he ‘sing’ and get a reduced sentence? Who will he take down with him? Is anyone in government going to be implicated?

Even if we’re unlikely to know the answers to these questions anytime soon, we might get some clues from looking at other extraditions similar to that of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. In 2006 Samuel "Ninety" Knowles, a Bahamian drug ‘kingpin’ with ties to Jamaica was extradited to the US on charges of “conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it.” In 2008 a US court sentenced him to 35 years in prison.

Like the Jamaican government the Bahamian government had also dragged its feet before allowing Knowles’ extradition on the grounds that he might not receive a fair trial in the United States. The Jamaican government’s argument in stalling Dudus’s extradition was that the evidence provided by the US to prove that Coke was a trafficker was obtained by wiretapping, illegal under Jamaican law.

The most notorious drug kingpin of all was Colombian Pablo Escobar of the infamous Medellin Cartel who thumbed his nose at the US for years. Escobar formed a lobby group called Los Extraditables (their slogan: Better a grave in Colombia than a jail in the United States) that bullied the Colombian government “through murder, intimidation and skilful public relations” into repealing the laws allowing extradition of criminals. Escobar then designed a cushy prison for himself in a compound called La Catedral. As Guillermoprieto tells it: “”Despite enormous controversy, the government had finally agreed to Escobar’s terms: he got to choose the prison site, in the hills above his suburban fiefdom of Envigado, and he supervised its security measures. Neither Army troops nor police officers were allowed on the prison grounds, and Escobar personally approved the hiring of half of some fifty guards--the other half to be recruited by the Mayor of Envigado--who were to stand watch over him and his associates.”

In 1992 thinking that the government, which wanted to move him to safer quarters, was going to kill him, Escobar ‘escaped’ from his prison possibly walking out through the back door in women’s clothes. He remained at large until December 1993 when he was shot and killed by Colombian security forces. Alma Guillermoprieto’s book The Heart that Bleeds, from which I got this information, has more details on all this.

Perhaps the most sensational ‘extraditable’ close to home however was Guyanese drug baron Roger Khan who was arrested in Paramaribo, Suriname on June 15, 2006. Wanted in the US for importation of cocaine into that country Khan evaded capture in Guyana by escaping to neighbouring Suriname. In Guyana his close ties to the ruling party, the PPP, had allowed him to escape arrest but in Suriname, a country with a more serious attitude towards law enforcement he was caught by the police and forcibly deported to Guyana via Trinidad and Tobago. He never reached Guyana: The Surinamese Police had evidently tipped off the USDEA who were waiting for Khan at Piarco airport in Trinidad. From there he was flown directly to the US and imprisoned.

Political  Map of  Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana
Map: Copyright World Sites Atlas (sitesatlas.com).

Roger Khan was the kind of criminal who makes Dudus look like a pussycat. He allegedly had at his disposal a paramilitary troop known as The Phantom Squad who ruthlessly terrorized and eliminated witnesses and others who stood in his way. Between 2002 and 2006 approximately 200 people are said to have been murdered by the Phantom Squad.


Roger Khan at Brooklyn Federal Court

There were several unique things about the Roger Khan case. Far from admitting to being a criminal Khan took out full page advertisements in Guyanese newspapers claiming that he was actually a crimefighter who had helped both the Guyanese and the US governments during an earlier crime wave. In a further twist during the course of his trial at an East New York district court his high profile lawyer Robert Simels was himself indicted for tampering with witnesses during his defence of Khan.

According to a March 17, 2009 Stabroek News article:

“Since being imprisoned, Khan and the prosecution have made some explosive statements about the inner workings of his criminal enterprise and other matters in Guyana. Khan’s former lawyer, Robert Simels, who, along with his assistant, Arianne Irving, is now his co-defendant in the witness-tampering charge, had stated that US government investigators had learnt that Khan received permission from the Guyana government to purchase surveillance equipment capable of intercepting and tracing telephone calls made from landline or cellular phones. The software is reportedly only sold to governments.”


Roger Khan after arrest in Suriname

The surveillance equipment in question was manufactured by UK firm Smith Myers; its co-director testified in the New York court that “the cellular intercept equipment used by drug kingpin Roger Khan had been sold to the Government of Guyana (GoG), a contention that officials here have repeatedly denied.” This despite the fact that testimony was produced in court showing links between Khan and Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy. Evidence disclosed to the court showed “that the equipment was purchased for and received on behalf of the GOG by Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy. Myers also confirmed that independent contractor, Carl Chapman, traveled to Guyana to train Khan and others in the use of the equipment.”

Among the persons killed for statements intercepted with the surveillance equipment were a popular talk show host Ronald Waddell and a young activist and boxing coach, Donald Allison. According to a Working People’s Alliance press release on July 28, 2009, Selwyn Vaughn, a former member of the notorious Roger Khan phantom squad and now informant for the US government, testified under oath about the involvement of Roger Khan and a high official in the Guyana Government, Minister Leslie Ramsammy, in the execution of PNCR member and political commentator Ronald Waddell and Agricola youth organiser Donald Allison.

For the record Ramsammy has vehemently denied that he has ever had any contact with Khan and said he has no knowledge about the surveillance equipment. As for the execution of talk show host Waddell, according to the New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID):

President Bharrat Jagdeo, when asked at a press conference on July 28, to respond to Vaughn’s testimony that Ramsammy had been complicit in the assassination of Waddell, said “Maybe if at the end of the day, all the criminals were to deal with each other we may have a better society but I am not going to sanction that. This is not government policy… but I wouldn’t lose any sleep, frankly speaking, about criminals when they kill each other.” Jagdeo also further said that “If you believe all that this informant is saying you have to also believe that he (Waddell) was a member of the Buxton gang and that he was basically in a criminal enterprise. Waddell was a criminal involved in a criminal enterprise.”

As usual the line between being a criminal and outlaw and being a legitimate businessman who was also a popular self-appointed leader is rather blurred. Khan was said to have “founded and operated a number of successful businesses, including, but not limited to, a housing development and a construction company, a carpet cleaning service, a nightclub, and a timber mill."

Though repeatedly lobbied and besieged by public interest groups to have the entire sordid state of affairs thoroughly investigated the Guyanese government has resisted. The part that sounds mind-numbingly familiar is the following quote from another article carried in the Stabroek News:

The government so far has resisted all calls for such an inquiry; it can afford to do so because it knows that significant elements of its own constituency regard Roger Khan as a ‘saviour’ of sorts. Our reporter earlier last week sought out comments from the Guyanese diaspora, and of those who agreed to say something in the Liberty Avenue, Queens area (NY), the sentiment was that Khan had “saved” Guyana. One man told her that had it not been for Khan the country would have “gone down the drain”; that the US should not have “kidnapped” him and instead he should have been left to continue the “good things he started.”

Shades of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and the ‘Don’ or ‘community leader’ phenomenon we know so well in Jamaica. But in Guyana there is an added complication that, mercifully, is absent from Jamaican politics: the vexed issue of race. As a 2009 Village Voice article alleged:


“Khan's reputation seems to diverge along racial lines in Guyana, where about half the population is of African descent and half of East Indian descent, like him. To many Indo-Guyanese, he is a folk hero, responsible for cleaning up the streets when the country's police force which is predominantly Afro-Guyanese couldn't or wouldn't, giving East Indians, who dominate the business community, a layer of protection where none previously existed. Khan has claimed, without copping to the existence of the Phantoms, to have helped the government put down a crime spree stemming from a 2002 prison break, and to have collaborated with the U.S. government in the region, most notably in the case of the safe retrieval of an American diplomat who was kidnapped off a Guyana golf course in 2003. Afro-Guyanese are more likely to associate Khan first and foremost as a leader of the Phantom Squad, a drug runner and thug, to blame for just about every suspicious death in Guyana. (Guyana, like Suriname, is a transhipping point for South American cocaine destined for North America, Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean, according to the DEA.)”

Because of his links to the the ruling PPP, Guyanese President Bharat Jagdeo stood accused of being a friend of Khan’s. Whether this is true or not, a story circulating about Khan, who like Dudus also bore the nickname ‘Shortman’, suggests otherwise. According to the tale Khan was in a particular club with friends when Jagdeo suddenly appeared causing him to ejaculate “Oh skunt boy, here cum the Anti-man!" before getting up to greet the President. As my source put it: Explanation: Jagdeo is believed to be gay -- ‘skunt’ is a popular swear word in Guyana and ‘Anti-man’ is homophobic abuse for gay men used as an alternative to ‘battyman.


Homophobia: Another trait that Khan shares with the Jamaican badman (despite their willingness to don female clothing when the situation calls for it). There are plenty of parallels in the Roger Khan and Dudus coke sagas. Both Khan and Ninety, the Bahamian drug don also had ties to Jamaica. Those who are hoping that Dudus will sing long and loud in New York, revealing the dirt on organized crime in Jamaica, should bear the following observation by a Stabroek News editorial in mind:

Those who were optimistic that Khan himself might one day supply information about his operations here as well as his connections, must have been disappointed to learn that the likelihood is he will be deported at the end of his sentence. If he knows he has to return to his homeland eventually, it is hardly likely to put him in confessional mode. It is always possible, of course, that further information may trickle out from future trials which will throw some light on the events of a painful period.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Lotus of Trinidad and Tobago: Kamla Persad-Bissessar



Fifty-nine year-old Kamla Persad-Bissessar swept to power on May 24th in Trinidad and Tobago in a historic election rearranging the balance of power in that country forever. In a country riven by racial tensions (40% of the population is of Indian origin and about 37% of African descent), where the latter group has dominated the political life of the nation this Indo-Trinidadian woman campaigned and won on a platform of multi-racialism and the promise of change. Her win was decisive, the coalition she led winning 29 parliamentary seats out of 41. The ruling party, headed by former Prime Minister Manning only managed to win 12 seats compared to the 26 it had previously held.


Persad-Bissessar, with Basdeo Panday in the background

The 24th day of the month has proved to be a lucky one for Persad-Bissessar. It was only three months earlier that she bruisingly defeated Basdeo Panday, nicknamed the Silver Fox, the leader of the United National Congress, a party affiliated with Indian interests. On February 24th of this year Kamla Persad-Bissessar was elected political leader of the UNC and on March 24th she became Leader of the Opposition. On May 26th Persad-Bissessar was sworn in as Prime Minister on the Bhagavad Gita, a symbolically important act in this multiethnic society.

Though born into a Trinidadian Hindu family, at the age of 12 Kamla was baptized a Christian, making her, like many others in this fascinating island, a ‘Hindu Christian,’ that is, someone who is culturally Hindu who has also adopted the Christian religion for reasons of her own. After and during indentureship many Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago had to convert to Christianity to access education and other such benefits.

“I think Trinidadians are very comfortable with being bi-religious,” says Toronto-based sociologist Anton Allahar. “They see Hinduism more as a culture and less as a religion. Once you accept the central tenets of Christianity you could perform Pujas and other Hindu rituals and it wouldn’t be a problem.”

According to Trinidadian pollster Selwyn Ryan, Kamla Persad-Bissessar is ‘multi-faith’. She became a member of the Baptist Church at age 12 and her husband is Presbyterian, but she is a Hindu. “I consider myself a member of all faiths” she is reputed to have said. Ryan, an Afro-Trinidadian, previously a staunch PNM supporter and adviser, is now firmly in Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s camp as are many other stalwarts of that party.

In many ways Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s political campaign can be compared to that of President Barrack Obama’s. Her embodiment of different cultures, her ability to command the respect of all different ethnic groups and her argument against the old politics of divisiveness all stood her in good stead. Her personal charisma and well-maintained figure also did her no harm.

“In the 1980s I wrote a paper called ‘The Creolization of Indian Women’” said Patricia Mohammed, a leading authority on Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad. “I was talking about the way in which Indian women in Trinidad have turned the very weaknesses associated with them--submissiveness, subservience--into strengths.” According to Mohammed submissiveness is turned into endurance, passivity becomes a talent for negotiation and these married with intelligence, the product of their investment in education, can prove to be an unbeatable combination. “So what i see with Kamla Persad-Bissessar is a coming of age, to use a cliche, and to reduce her victory only to ‘the woman thing’ is to deny the importance of race and how important this has been for Indians here and Indian women in particular.”

Race and ethnicity may not have the same sway they have traditionally had, especially with the younger electorate, according to Gabrielle Hosein, a young lecturer and activist also from the Gender Studies Department at UWI. This may explain why traditional party loyalists were willing to switch their vote at the last minute to the UNC-COP coalition that Kamla Persad-Bissessar represented.

Crucial to her victory, according to Hosein, was the support of the COP, the Congress of the People, an influential group representing a diverse range of interests across race, ethnicity and even class. “If you went to COP meetings you saw working class people, both Africans and Indians who may have been fed up of both the PNM and the UNC. The COP was a palatable alternative. In my mind they gave a lot of validity to the UNC and allowed them to become the national party that they would never have been otherwise.”

Panday’s decisive defeat at the hands of Kamla Persad-Bissessar as leader of the UNC may also have played a role. “She fought an excellent campaign. It was so clean. Basdeo Panday was busy bad-talking her saying she was a drunkard, she couldn’t lead, how incompetent she was and she systematically praised him, saying he was her guru and she was his disciple...she ran the cleanest campaign. I was so proud of her.”

Despite her evident enthusiasm for Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Hosein, who is author of an outspokenly critical video blog called “If I Were Prime Minister” in which she had mercilessly parodied the mismanagement of the previous administration, says she will continue her vigilant monitoring of the new leadership. “I’m actually looking forward to making fun of Kamla because i think the blog is a no-holds barred statement of what we see that’s wrong around us and the need to fix those things.


If I Were Prime Minister, video blog by Gabrielle Hosein

“The blogs are not going to stop because what we’re called on now to do as social movements, and activists and citizens is to be hyper-vigilant because neither the UNC and the PNM--in fact no political part--is free from corruption, they all need to be held to account. I think the population needs to follow up on the vote by being active citizens and monitoring the processes of governance. I think the more people on the ground who are questioning and making demands of Kamla, the easier it will be for her to govern.”

PS: This piece was originally written for The Pioneer in India, which carried an edited version of it in May. In light of PM Persad-Bissessar's visit to Jamaica to attend the CARICOM Summit i thought it might be worth reproducing here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why is Dudus called Dudus?


Ambassador Dudley Thompson in African-style shirt

Why is Dudus called Dudus? And what is the right way to pronounce his name?

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are to be found in the New York Post rather than any organ of the Jamaican media. People in the know here, or people with a working knowledge of runnings in Tivoli Gardens have always said that the name is prounounced Dud-dus (thanks @JustSherman) to rhyme with 'cud' or 'bud' and not 'Dud' to rhyme with 'good' or 'wood' which is how most people here pronounce it.

You'd think local media would make an attempt to get it right but of course very few have done so. As for speculating on the reasons for Christopher Coke's nickname it takes the foreign media to do that. The New York Post tells us that of Jim Brown's three sons:

The youngest was Christopher, who earned his nickname "Dudus" -- pronounced DUD-us -- because he wore an African-style shirt favored by Jamaican World War II hero and Cabinet minister Dudley Thompson.

Dudley Thompson is a character in his own right (see above), so its rather interesting that Cuddly Duddly might have inadvertently lent his name to Jamaica's most notorious don. Of course some might say Dudley is no angel either...but that's another story.

Read more of the NY Post article here:

Fortunately for us there is a ray of hope on the media horizon in Jamaica with the establishment of On the Ground News Reports (@onthegroundjm), an invaluable source of news in the wake of the May 23rd assault on Tivoli. At first i was wary of the tweets coming from OGNR but then i noticed that almost everything they tweeted was later confirmed in the mainstream media. OGNR was providing the news live and direct almost as it happened.

In fact they were the 'social media' that the information minister Daryl Vaz was fulminating against when the government cracked down on media here denying them access to Tivoli and its environs.


Las May, The Gleaner, June 28, 2010

There has been some speculation as to the people who started ONGR and whether its a new kind of political high jinks but an interview with the founder today provides a lot of information on the way this innovative news gathering service operates. Check it out here.

Meanwhile i was happy to be quoted
again in the international media (The New York Times' Lede blog, a Village Voice blog and in an Associated Press article ) on the Dudus imbroglio. Channel 4 News in London also asked me to contribute a piece which i did, see it here:

And for a laugh check out ONGR's spoof on the Jamaica World Service with Paleface, Tony Hendriks:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crying out for Peace in Jamaica: The Extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke


Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrives in New York to face drug trafficking charges on Thursday June 24, 2010. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)


In Jamaica farce, intrigue and tragedy remain inextricably intertwined. The fugitive don, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, on the run since May 24th, is finally in the United States where he arrived earlier this evening (see photo above). Coke was intercepted on the outskirts of Kingston on June 22nd by the Jamaican police while they were supposedly conducting random spot checks on passing motorists. There was a J$5 million dollar bounty for information leading to his arrest.

We’re told that he was being escorted by charismatic preacher Reverend Al Miller to the US Embassy in an abortive attempt at surrendering to American authorities who were clamouring for his extradition. We’re also informed that he was sporting a curly black woman’s wig when the police stopped the car and that he thanked them for sparing his life. These are titillating details but who knows if we’ll ever know the whole truth?



Meanwhile jokes abound about the principals in this sordid drama with imaginary headlines such as “Miller to be charged for attempting to export Coke!” being bandied about the public sphere. The irrepressible Reverend has subsequently been charged with harbouring a fugitive but didn't let that prevent him from going to watch The Karate Kid this evening.

In an irreverend post titled Bad Man Nuh Dress Like Girl Kei Miller ruminated on the reports of cross-dressing by gunmen and dons:

That’s why this sentiment of ‘bad man nuh dress like girl’ is always kind of funny – because in a country where Dudus and the dear departed Natty could wear wigs and frocks whenever their minds took them to do it; and in a country where any tour of dancehall will feature a few male dance crews who always offer, on public display, the most profound and sometimes magical performances of Jamaican queerness; and in a country where bad men run across garrison communities – one hand holding onto their uzi guns, and the other lifting up the hem of their frocks so as not to trip, then we know the real truth – that bad man dress however de rass him want to dress. And that’s exactly what makes them de real bad men.

In a matter of weeks Coke has gone from being the most feared gang leader or strongman in Jamaica to a figure of scorn and ridicule after Police released photos of him wearing a wig and looking like an earnest church-going matron. Many are convinced that the police deliberately placed the wig on his head before photographing him in order to humiliate him and raise doubts about the awesome powers he is supposed to possess.

This morning Coke appeared before a Jamaican Resident Magistrate at a maximum security facility in Kingston. At 2 pm he was flown out of Norman Manley International Airport to New York to face charges of drug and gun running there. The nation which had waited with bated breath to see if Coke would actually leave the island alive heaved a sigh of relief. His ill-fated father, the legendary Jim Brown, was set ablaze in his Kingston cell on the eve of his extradition to the US for similar charges. That was in the nineties.

After the intense military and police activity of the last few weeks, with violent raids being conducted all over Kingston while security forces were desperately seeking Dudus, his final capture and impending extradition seem almost anti-climactic. Only in March this year the Police had worried aloud that the country's 268 gangs might act in concert to create incidents throughout the country to distract lawmen if there was any attempt to capture Coke. The violent reprisals that accompanied the raid into Coke’s stronghold, Tivoli Gardens, on May 24th have not recurred since his arrest two days ago.

Coke himself seems surprised and grateful at the restraint shown by Jamaican Police when they intercepted the car he was travelling in with Reverend Al Miller on May 22nd. The Police, once famously described by Bob Marley as being “all dressed in uniforms of brutality” seem to have finessed a textbook arrest of the country’s Public Enemy Number One with no shots fired and not a drop of blood shed. This is contrary to the way they normally deal with suspected criminals.

The unexpectedly peaceful capture of the country’s most wanted man, the sustained assault on criminal gangs and their leaders, and the cautious upward movement in the value of the local dollar have given Jamaicans cause for optimism about the future. If there are any successors waiting to pick up the reins after Coke’s departure they have yet to appear. A large number of dons and gang leaders have prudently turned themselves in to police custody since the State of Emergency which has now been extended for another month, was first declared.

Ultimately leaders such as Dudus Coke derive their power from catering to the needs of impoverished communities by providing them with versions of ‘local government’ that the elected government seem disinterested in or unable to supply. If Jamaicans want to prevent their country from slipping back into the clutches of the narco-trade they have to figure out how to deliver democratic governance to all their citizens instead of a chosen few.

Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice sang Peter Tosh in his famous song Equal Rights. Ultimately its only equal rights and justice, yoked together for all citizens, that will deliver lasting peace in Jamaica.

In the meantime questions linger over why Christopher Coke didn’t turn himself in to Jamaican authorities before May 24th thus saving the 74 lives expended in the military operation to take back Tivoli from the ‘rebels’ who had barricaded it supposedly to defend Coke. It was their alleged attack on four police stations that provoked the intense assault by the Jamaican armed forces in which so many lives were lost in West Kingston.

One version of events has it that this happened just when the Reverend Al Miller was about to accompany Dudus Coke to the US Embassy on or around the 23rd of May. There were reports in the media of meetings between the US authorities and Dudus’s legal team that seemed to have fallen through.

The question is was there a deliberate attempt by interests unknown to sabotage an earlier, potentially peaceful surrender of Coke to the US authorities? By whom and to what purpose? Was there indeed a clash of differing agendas as Tom Tavares-Finson, once again speaking as Dudus’s lawyer today, has suggested? If so, what was the agenda? And whose agenda was it?

Meanwhile Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke remains an intriguing and tragic figure. Except for the unflattering bewigged photo circulated by the police after his arrest Coke was never shown in the Jamaican media wearing handcuffs or otherwise displaying signs of someone whose freedom has been severely curtailed. In contrast the very first photo of Coke after he landed in the US shows him with his arms handcuffed behind him (see photo above). The message is clear; as far as the United States is concerned Coke is a vicious criminal. In Jamaica however, his status is far more ambiguous.

Before appearing in a Kingston court today to waive his right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica Coke issued a statement to the Jamaican public asking them to pray for him:

I have, today, instructed my Attorneys that I intend to waive my right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica and to proceed directly to the United States under the terms of the Extradition Laws and treaty between Jamaica and the United States of America. I have taken this decision of my own free will and have done so even though I am of the belief that my case would have been successfully argued in the Courts of Jamaica. I take this decision for I now believe it to be in the interest of my family, the community of Western Kingston and in particular the people of Tivoli Gardens and above all Jamaica. Everyone, the whole country, has been adversely affected by the process that has surrounded my extradition and I hope that my action today will go some way towards healing all who have suffered and will be of benefit to the community of Tivoli Gardens. Above all I am deeply upset and saddened by the unnecessary loss of lives which could have been avoided, be it of members of the Security Forces and over eighty (80) residents of Tivoli or any other innocent Jamaicans that has occurred during this time. I leave Jamaica and my family in particular Patsy [Coke's mother] with a heavy heart but fully confident that in due course I will be vindicated and returned to them. Pray for me and God bless Jamaica.

- Christopher Coke

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sister Dudus Coke: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly....


Clovis, Jamaica Observer, June 23, 2010

“Have you caught that guy yet?” was a question frequently thrown at me in recent weeks by friends and family abroad who remembered hearing about Jamaica’s elusive don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke in the international media coverage that followed the deadly raid on his citadel in Kingston which left 74 Jamaicans dead in late May.

I was getting ready for a party I was hosting to launch a series of artworks called “The Hunt for Dudus” by Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr when a friend called with the news that Dudus had finally been captured. While the details are still filtering through to an excited public and before i actually write a proper blogpost on the subject i thought i'd share these unforgettable images with you. Soon come with the rest of the post!


Dudus as church sister, in wig...photo released by Police. Allegedly the car also contained a pink wig just in case a more preposterous get-up was required in a hurry.



Above: The indefatigable Reverend Al Miller, who was supposedly escorting the hapless don to the US Embassy when their car was intercepted by the Jamaican police.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tivoli Girls take aim at Soldiers


The Gleaner, Las May, June 15

While Jamaicans along with the rest of the world take in the World Cup, the media here have been poking fun at recent events such as the state of emergency and the routing of criminals from their innercity citadels. The Las May cartoon above is priceless i think, in this regard.

Crime has indeed plummeted with hardly any murders taking place although a major art heist was reported a couple of days ago when thieves raided the studio shared by artists George Rodney and Lois Lake-Sherwood making off with artworks and antiques.

Meanwhile back in Tivoli Gardens where the female population is getting antsy because of the sudden disappearance of their menfolk, go-getting women are hitting on JDF soldiers according to a story in The Star today which announced that "A shortage of men in west Kingston is said to have caused female residents to be fighting for the affection of soldiers who are now posted in the community."

A resident opined:

"Bway, to some extent yu can't even wrong dem because a pure woman deh a west Kingston now, most a di man dem run weh and dem probably naw come back, suh di woman dem affi fight fi wah dem want."

You can read all about it here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Post-script to Soldiers and Police in Jamaica

Well, the local media have been pipped once again. According to the Guardian (UK) in an article titled From Kabul to Kingston "Army tactics in Jamaica resemble those used in Afghanistan – and it's no mere coincidence."

"For two weeks, the Jamaican army and police have fought gun battles in Kingston. The many allegations of human rights abuses committed by the security forces – including extrajudicial killings and the disposal of bodies – have received almost no international attention. Nor have the linkages between the Jamaican crisis, the security establishments in the US, Britain and Canada, and the mutations of the "war on terror".

But strategy and tactics deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being applied in Jamaica. Drones fly over Kingston, and were used in the 24 May assault to select targets. On 7 June, Tivoli residents discovered that to enter or leave the area they had to produce "passes" issued by the police (revised, after protests, to restrictions on movement after dark). There is blanket surveillance of electronic communications in breach of Jamaican privacy protections – indeed, it was the illegal provenance of some of the evidence against Christopher "Dudus" Coke that initially held up extradition proceedings."

In fact in Hubert Neal's painting mentioned in the previous post he had included the figure of a triangular shaped plane hovering over Kingston Harbour and then attempted to erase it leaving a ghostly shape. The soldiers were quite excited to see this. "The spy plane! the spy plane!" they exclaimed.

One day hopefully we'll hear the whole nine yards. I've thought from the beginning that this was a well-executed plan, with outside assistance, designed to breach the fortress of Tivoli on grounds of capturing Dudus which would bloom into an all-out assault on Dons and their gangs.

The problem is that even in times of uneasy peace the human rights of the poor were routinely violated. How can we assure ourselves that they are not victimized in this so-called war on crime?

Meanwhile in Britain "David Cameron today (June 15) issued a formal, state apology for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" killing of 14 civil rights marchers by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry 38 years ago."

Will we ever have closure here on the killing of 73 civilians in Tivoli on May 24th?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Soldiers and Police in The Hunt for Dudus





Photos above by Hubert Neal Jr.

A frequently heard comment in the wake of the May 23rd assault by Jamaican security forces on Tivoli Gardens is that Jamaica Defence Force soldiers are far more civil and easy to trust than the police. The latter stand accused of shooting to kill without any consideration for whether the target is actually a suspected criminal or not. The soldiers on the other hand have been accused at the most of paying too much attention to the young women of Tivoli, an area that has remained under curfew ever since the barricades of Tivoli were demolished.

Of course the soldiers too are alleged to have participated in some questionable activities such as the hasty and unauthorized burial of bodies in makeshift coffins during the siege of Tivoli. But their reputation has fared far better than that of the much reviled and feared Police Force accused of wantonly killing young men in the affected areas. According to a Trini friend who generally knows about such things, a state of emergency is an opportunity for rogue police to go around eliminating those who are their partners in crime in times of peace--those who abet them in drug dealing, illegal taxi operations, extortion among other things. If true, this could explain the outrageously high number of casualties in the operation to capture Dudus--who of course, remains free and alive.

The Hunt for Dudus has inspired Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr., who arrived in the island on May 20, just before the 'Operation Take Dudus Alive' unfurled. Neal, an artist in residence at Roktowa on Pechon Street around the corner from Coronation Market and Tivoli Gardens found himself the recipient of an unlikely studio visit a few days ago when three groups of soldiers decided to patrol the old Red Stripe Brewery where he works along with the Haitian artists who are part of the 'Trembling Heart' project.

The soldiers allowed themselves to be detained by Neal's painting in progress, titled--what else--The Hunt for Dudus. They questioned him closely about his representation of the storming of Tivoli, disapproving of the low number of soldiers depicted (see photos above and below). On the whole however they were quite animated by the work they saw and their unorthodox art critique thrilled Hubert who documented The Studio Visit on his blog The Visual Poets Society.

Photos below by Annie Paul

The Hunt for Dudus by Hubert Neal Jr. (work in progress)


Dudus in between his bodyguards above and terrified woman and child below


A beaming Neal...


The most potent paintings i think are the two below, Hubert's depictions of the torture chamber the media described finding in Tivoli. I'm particularly moved by his interpretation of the grave found with a skeleton buried upright in it (below right).



Last Saturday we were part of a visit to award-winning writer/sociologist Erna Brodber's home at Woodside, St. Mary. As part of her Blackspace project she has documented various sites and relics dating from the days of slavery. One of the things she mentioned was the existence of what she referred to as a 'punishment hole' somewhere in the vicinity. What's that, I asked.

Well, sometimes slaves were punished by being buried upright up to their necks for days on end, said Erna. Wow, i thought, the Tivoli Punishment Hole was no doubt a variant of this time-honoured method of torture.


Erna Brodber at the entrance to the Woodside Community Centre

If you come to Roktowa next Sunday for the opening of Laura Facey's show Propel you can see Hubert's painting and work by the Haitian artists as well. In addition to Laura's marvelous drawings, prints, carving and sculpture there will also be Nine Night singing. The show is curated by Melinda Brown. Click
on invite below for address and map to Roktowa.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Desperately Seeking Dudus 2: The Person behind the Persona


Las May, The Gleaner

On May 8 I had occasion to talk to Tom Tavares-Finson, Chris Dudus Coke's erstwhile lawyer (who stepped down as part of his defence team on May 18, citing conflict of interest) at a mutual friend's birthday party. Can you talk about Dudus I asked, unable to resist my reporter's instincts.

"You mean that figment of the collective imagination?" Tom responded playing his legal role to the hilt; according to him, Dudus was an ordinary man on whom every abnormal event--the revoking of visas, crimes of various kinds, resignations--was being pinned with abandon. I was more than willing to engage in a spirited discussion on this unlikely portrayal of the nation's Public Enemy No. 1 but, alas, was deterred by frantic hand signals from my host who was afraid that the ensuing argument might derail his party.

I don't think anyone there could have guessed that within two weeks Tom's beloved Tivoli would be torn to pieces by Jamaican armed forces searching for Dudus who was barricaded in there. And apart from the one or two nondescript photographs circulating in the media there was hardly any information on this man now hunted on grounds of being a dangerous criminal mastermind by the United States.



This was the same man whose power enabled him some months ago to defuse the simmering rivalry between the Gaza and Gully factions by mounting the West Kingston Jamboree in Tivoli where the rival Dancehall DJs at the head of the two factions, Vybz Kartel and Mavado, performed on stage together (see video above). Dudus is also reputed to do a mean Gully Creeper but unlike our business and social elite he shuns the limelight remaining a shadowy, mysterious figure who by all reports craves 'ordinariness' and 'normalcy'.

Finally this morning, Jamaica's Sunday Gleaner has shed some more light on this retiring character in an excellent article by Tyrone Reid called "FROM MATH WHIZ TO WANTED." For once we're able to read a story like this in the local media and not in the New York Times, on BBC or CNN. The Gleaner reporter tracked down people who knew Coke at Ardenne High School, and uncovered information suggesting that the young Coke was anything but a ganglord in the making. In fact he was one of that rare, endangered species in Jamaica, a natural mathematical talent.

"The math teacher remembered Coke as one of his elite batch, picked at the end of the ninth grade.

Having breezed through CXC math Coke tackled the dreaded additional mathematics (add math) in Grade 11 and scored a Grade B - the second-highest mark.

"Math is the only universal language, and he spoke it very fluently," the teacher reminisced. "I taught him for five years straight. Basically, he was the model student; very quiet, and there were no problems in terms of discipline," said the educator.

Reid's story goes toe to toe against The Sunday Observer's rambling reminiscence by journalist Tino Geddes of Tivoli and its various Dons, most of whom he seems to have known closely.

Dudus is not a run of the mill ordinary Joe, looking to make some money and in search of power. He has never been and he will never be regarded by those who have known him, in that light.

I have personally known all the previous 'dons' of Tivoli Gardens. I had a special affection for Massop; I was closely involved with Bya; I watched Jah T go through high school at Wolmer's; I was particularly close to Jim Brown, and although not as close to Dudus as I was to his father, the younger Coke has commanded my respect.

Dudus has undeniably captured the nation's imagination. At the recently staged Calabash Literary Festival the open mic segment was dominated by references to both Dudus and Tivoli. As news broke that his brother Livity and sister Sandra had both turned themselves in to the Police stories started swirling.

Was it true, enquiring minds on Facebook wanted to know, that Livity Coke was on Twitter and when rumours of his demise were reported he immediately tweeted saying "See mi yah"? The urban legends surrounding the Coke family continue to grow yet there have been no images in the media here of either Sandra or Livity or any further information about them.

The Jamaican media is puzzling in its tendency to conceal rather than reveal the news. Tightlipped and taciturn at the best of times, it took the New York Times to carry an article on the extrajudicial killings by the security forces in Tivoli. With the exception of Lloyd D'Aguilar, my former co-host on Newstalk 93, who took it upon himself to visit Tivoli in the wake of the assault on it, and report on what he found there, no other major news media here has followed up in a serious way on the 'collateral damage' caused by the breaching of Tivoli.

In the aftermath of the events of May 24th the BBC had footage of masked gunmen in Tivoli fortifying themselves and the community (see below). A reliable source informs me that this footage was actually shot by a TV Jamaica cameraman who had access to the individuals in question yet TVJ declined to air the exclusive video allowing the BBC an unnecessary scoop. The local television channel's reticence in airing the footage shot by its own cameraman remains a mystery.



What amazed me about this BBC footage that i watched over and over again in my hotel room in Barbados was that much of the early scenery shown, with police dodging around corners of buildings was right outside the National Gallery of Jamaica. The Gallery's walls are slightly pockmarked with bullet holes now and the fighting outside was so intense that a security guard was trapped inside the Gallery for 5 days.

"How did he survive? What did he eat?" I gasped when told this by the Executive Director of the Gallery, Veerle Poupeye.

"Well, he had access to the coffee shop. Thank God we stock three different flavours of muffins there," she replied laughing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Desperately Seeking Dudus...Letters from the Dead

"They seek him here,
they seek him there,
those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel."


Dudus is far from being the Scarlet Pimpernel but the Jamaican armed forces are certainly busy seeking the mild-mannered Christopher Coke in every nook and cranny of the country. Even the Mayor of Kingston's house wasn't spared in the security forces' hunt for Jamaica's Pimpernel.

It now appears the armed forces executed a well-planned and stealthy assault on Dudus's citadel, Tivoli Gardens, on May 23rd. The scenario didn't play out quite as feared back in March when Police expressed concern that the country's 268 gangs might act in concert to create incidents throughout the country to distract lawmen in the event of an offensive on Tivoli.

National Security Minister Dwight Nelson went on record then saying that "Government was focusing on preparing strong anti-gang legislation that would target, infiltrate and dismantle criminal gangs.

"The legislation, Nelson said, would also identify and arrest members of criminal gangs; ensure long sentences for gang members; conduct a thorough historical and proactive investigation into the activities of gang members; and develop intelligence as to each member's association with and participation in gangs."

With the speed at which Dons and gang members have been turning themselves in, one fervently hopes that the said legislation is in place to put them away for a long time. Meanwhile the security forces must be congratulated for keeping deaths down to under a hundred although the various charges of wrongful detention, wounding and killings by the armed forces must also be fully investigated with those responsible for the wanton taking of life duly punished. The New York Times had an article today about extrajudicial killings by Jamaican police, something that's a problem even when there's no state of emergency.

Life has more or less returned to normal on the rock except for those who lost family members in the clash and for those who remain on the run. The tragedy is that the parts of the city where gangsters unleashed violence are the same areas which have long been the killing fields of Kingston.

At the Caribbean Studies’ Association's 35th annual conference in Barbados, May 24-28, eerily titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean,” many of us recalled the previous CSA conference in Kingston last June which included a commemorative walk for victims of violence organized by Sistren and the Peace Management Initiative. The walk started outside the Hannah Town Police Station (the first building to be burnt down by the gunmen protesting Dudus's arrest last week) and proceeded along Hannah Street, Slipe Pen Road, past the Kingston Public Hospital culminating in a ceremony at the Monument to Children killed in Violence outside the KSAC offices on Church Street.











As the pictures above from the Letters from the Dead walk show, it was mainly women who marched, each one holding an image of a slain family member. An article in Guyana's Stabroek News documented the process preceding the performance as recorded by Honor Ford-Smith and Alissa Trotz:

Weeks before the march took place, workshops with women from different communities explored the ways in which people remember and forget urban violence. Women discussed the different circumstances that result in the shooting and death of diverse victims and the enormous pain and waste that it has caused. For several, forgetting was an attempt to cope with the pain of loss, but it was also to avoid the desire for revenge that was triggered by remembering, raising the important question of how to link memory with reconciliation as one constructive response to violence. Participants found it difficult to share their stories publicly and in a collective setting. One woman who had lost all of her children to violence spoke of her complete isolation, of shutting herself in her house, of leaving her yard and being completely disoriented on a street that she had inhabited for years. Her story is deeply symbolic of how the violence both produces and continues to be produced by alienation from neighbourhood and community, spaces that we so often associate with nurturing and bonds of solidarity.

The performance on June 3 vividly dramatized elements of the workshops. Women, men and children gathered in the yard outside a church in Hannah Town. Dressed primarily in black, heads tied with red cloth, each person bore witness to the devastating effects of violence on families and communities. During the workshops, participants had selected images of those they had lost. As we took to the streets that afternoon, we were surrounded by faces of the dead mounted on placards, pinned to shirts, hung on a cord around the neck. On a poster held up by one elderly woman, an infant lost to gun violence stared out solemnly at those gathered in the churchyard.

As the procession began its trek through downtown Kingston, participants formed a long line, bearing 35 yards of red cloth that rippled like water, symbolizing the blood of the thousands killed in community wars over the last decades. Two young women dressed in white – cultural workers from Toronto – performed the part of ghosts or spirits, urging the marchers on to the final destination. Women led the marchers in church hymns punctuated by clapping. Some bore a coffin that had been made locally – it is tragic how many funeral parlours one can find in inner city Kingston – and that linked urban wars in Canada to those in Kingston through the use of repeating images of the black youth murdered in Toronto. Onlookers – asking questions or greeting familiar faces – were urged to join the march. Scholars who are members of the Caribbean Studies Association from around the world and who were holding their annual conference in Kingston, also joined the walk which was part of the performance programme of the conference.

The ‘walk’ culminated outside the office of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, at the site of the Secret Garden and Monument to the Children, dedicated in late 2008 to remember those killed under violent and tragic circumstances since 2000. The bronze sculpture depicts the face of a weeping child, with names of the dead inscribed around its perimeter; almost three sides of the monument had been filled with hundreds of names, children ranging in age from a few months to 17 years. As a young woman sang a tribute to the dead children, the red cloth was laid down on the pavement and placards and mementos laid along its length. Before a large gathering that had collected on the street, Sistren member Afolashade explained the purpose of the moving commemoration, and invited workshop participants to the microphones to share the letters they had written to their dead and to ‘post’ them in a specially designed letterbox. Audience members were also asked to read a few letters aloud. Others read fictional responses from victims of violence; in one particularly telling letter, a young man imagined his dead friend urging him not to link memory to retribution because that would only continue the cycle of violence. Music by reggae musicians including Ibo Cooper – from Third World – and others accompanied the readings. After the last letter was read, witnesses were invited to walk around the cloth. People pointed out faces they knew. A woman exclaimed in shock when she realized that a male friend of hers was among the dead. There was silence as people circled the monument to read the names of children. One woman who had been leading us in song along the march collapsed on the sidewalk in grief, surrounded by other women trying to comfort her.

The question is what sort of ritual will we need to hold now for the inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens and others who were victims of Operation Desperately Seeking Dudus?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Post-Calabash Glow: Vintage 10


Jack Sprat's at Jake's, last evening after the Bash ended

Calabash 2010 was magical. For those of us who came from Kingston it was like a huge lung purifying the putrid air of the preceding week. Attendance was surprisingly good, probably because most people wanted to escape the pressure cooker the city had become.


Lion in Winter, Wole Soyinka...

Bereft of my usual techie Calabashmates who all decided to take a break this year, and staying at less than Lyric-al lodgings, I was apprehensive about how this tenth staging of Calabash would treat me. I needn't have worried, it turned out to be the best one i can remember attending in a long time. The programme was tight and well-put together and the quality of the writers more even than in previous years.

The organizers seemed determined not to mention the turbulent times the country had just been through but of course individual authors felt no such compunction and on Friday evening Diana Macaulay read out a 'non-poem' called Open Mouths she had produced in response to the blood-letting in Tivoli.

...

on the other side of the barricades
well thinking Jamaicans listen to radios
as they do when the open mouth of a hurricane threatens
waiting for bulletins
will the storm turn away this time?

the city is tense
the city is in lock down
the travel advisories are issued
the airport road is open for now
the open mouths on the verandahs are silenced by seclusion


Diana Macaulay

Banton, one of my Calabash companions this year, had actually been shot at downtown by the armed forces who saw him peeping out from the Red Stripe Brewery where Roktowa is located. He had never been to Treasure Beach he said, could he come along? He proved to be invaluable, regaling us with stories about the different, wondrously named snappers (fish) to be found at Greenwich Farm. The God Bless Snapper, so called because 'you see which part Jesus finger print one side a him' and the Dogfeet Snapper which you steam 'coz im gummy, you don't fry dat fish deh.' He also told us about a band of 'robber police' called Four the Hard Way who used to terrorize the residents of various downtown communities.


Liming at Jack Sprat's w Kim-Marie and Banton


My Calabash 2010 crew--Hubert Neal Jr and Banton. All the photos
in this post, save the very first one which i took, are by Hubert Neal.


Back to Calabash proper, Wole Soyinka was asked by Paul Holdengräber why he had once compared Kingston to Lagos. Had he noticed the mini-insurrection in Kingston organized to welcome him? Soyinka talked about his association with Sheila Graham's Area Youth Foundation among other things and the arbitrary mapping of Africa by Europeans saying sardonically "What white people have put together let no black man put asunder."

He recited several poems including "Your logic frightens me, Mandela" a few excerpts from which i present below.

"...Not for you the olive branch that sprouts
Gun muzzles, barbed-wire garlands, tangled thorns
To wreathe the brows of black, unwilling Christs.

"Your patience grows inhuman, Mandela.
Do you grow food? Do you make friends
Of mice and lizards? Measure the growth of grass
For time’s unhurried pace?
Are you now the crossword puzzle expert?
Chess? Ah, no! Subversion lurks among
Chess pieces. Structured clash of black and white,
Equal ranged and paced? An equal board? No!
Not on Robben Island. Checkers? Bad to worse.
That game has no respect for class or king-serf
Ordered universe. So, scrabble?

"Tell me Mandela,
That guard, is he your prisoner?"

Soyinka also talked about the 'Ogun element' saying he didn't believe in 'good' and 'evil' beings; everyone has a bit of the Ogun element in them; Ogun is a protagonist who uses violence when necessary. Soyinka was a closet glutton for peace he said, but not a pacifist.

Lean and elegant, with his white mane and sonorous voice, Wole Soyinka was probably the highlight of Calabash 2010.

Another highlight was the reading from The Last Enchantment by Neville Dawes, father of Kwame Dawes the Programme Director of Calabash. Winston “Bello” Black launched the reading by gesturing towards the recent warfare in the country when he said, "We are in a new Jamaica where there are no born JLPs or born PNPs, we are all born Jamaicans." Leonie Forbes followed with a sparkling reading, her acting abilities allowing her to inhabit the various voices with aplomb. Minister of Agriculture Christopher Tufton started his segment by saying that on behalf of himself and "Peter Bunting, the only other parliamentarian brave enough to be here today: We promise to do better." Bunting is the General Secretary of the Opposition Party. Surprisingly Tufton was also very good at animating the voice of Anansi and the entire reading was quite memorable.

Regrettably I missed many of the poets; poet Sudeep Sen, who was flown in from Delhi, was nervous about following in the wake of the hugely popular Billy Collins but held his own, with his "brand of simplicity and unfussy, musical words" to quote William Abbott.


Sudeep Sen and moi

Alas, I also missed the live performance by Freddie McGregor and Etanna the first night, as well as Russell Banks and
Sharon Olds' readings which i heard were excellent. I did however manage to catch the huge non-clash between Colin Channer and Mutabaruka on Saturday night, a musical healing that truly rubbed the pain of the previous week away. It was astonishing how many of the songs both Muta and Colin played really 'spoke' to the bloodletting in Kingston of the week before.

The closing performance/reinterpretion by the Calabash Musical Ensemble (Wayne Armond, Seretse Small, Stevie Golding and others) of Marley's album Uprising released thirty years ago was also exceptional, with the words to songs like 'We no know how we and dem ago work it out' this out or 'WE...CAN MAKE IT WORK' seeming eerily of the moment.

Calabash 2010 rocked, it really did. This literary festival provides a neat model for similar ventures that could showcase the best that Jamaica has to offer. Congratulations are due to Colin Channer, Justine Henzell and Kwame Dawes. May a thousand Calabashes bloom.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Don of a New Era Part 2: The Gideon continues


Sign in Barbados

Well, the Gideon (local slang for Armageddon) continues. Last night it seemed as if things in Kingston had simmered down but this morning i checked into Twitter to hear that the armed forces were lobbing grenades and perhaps bombs at a house in E. Kirkland Heights, a very upscale neighbourhood in Red Hills, Kingston. “The template of violence in jamaica has changed ova d las week. Its now an insurgency with all the relevant weaponry” tweeted one of the people i follow. “I wanna see the police deny this one. Grenades an bombs are the new weapon of choice for the state now.”

No idea whether the Police suspect that Dudus is holed up in there or some other Don. Things unravelled very quickly. On May 17th Prime Minister Bruce Golding addressed the nation saying apologetically that he was finally giving the go-ahead for the signing of the papers to extradite Dudus to the US, something he had resisted for 9 months. To many of us it was clear that the US had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse; pressure from the local media, business and other interest groups had also mounted in the weeks leading up to this astonishing about-face.

As i said before Dudus’ lawyer Tom Tavares-Finson was furious. He would take the matter to court the next day he said but the following day we heard that he had removed himself from the team representing Dudus due to conflict of interest issues; issues however that had always existed. All I can say is, do not use this as an excuse to slaughter innocents in Tivoli, an angry Finson was heard saying in interview after interview on radio and tv. His words would prove prophetic.

The day after Golding’s speech it was announced that a warrant had been issued for Dudus’s arrest. That would have been on May 18th. The rest of the week was tense with everyone expecting the Police and Army to invade Tivoli at any minute but the armed forces seemed unusually tolerant, waiting patiently for Dudus to turn himself in. Actually they were waiting till the weekend of the 21st, a long weekend with the 24th being a holiday in Jamaica--Labour Day--to make their move.

On the 23rd a number of colleagues and i were at the airport waiting to catch a flight to Barbados to attend the Caribbean Studies’ Association's 35th annual conference presciently titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean” when i saw a tweet saying that shots were being fired in the vicinity of Tivoli. It’s going down i said to one of my colleagues, a leading Jamaican criminologist, the war is beginning.

I wouldn’t say so he said calmly, assuring us that his information was that Dudus was willing to turn himself in to the US authorities and was expected to do so any minute now. Well, that turned out to be misinformation of the highest quality. By the time we reached Barbados we heard that a state of emergency had been imposed and I’ve literally been glued to Twitter and online media ever since.

In fact I’m happy to report that my tweets were actually picked up by the New York Times blog The Lede in an article called Following Jamaica’s State of Emergency Online. Channel 4 in London contacted me to see if i could write a piece for them on Dudus which i did. My comments appeared in their story Jamaica death toll rises as unrest continues.

Here is an excerpt from it:

Dudus has been an extraordinary provider for the inhabitants of Tivoli.

What makes him exceptional is that he has also managed to forge coalitions between gangs across party lines and across the country when needed because of the respect he commands. His reach extends beyond his immediate community across all kinds of borders and is a testament to his abilities as an astute leader.

Had he been legit and able to run for election he would have probably created a modern, efficient Jamaica the likes of which have yet to be seen, but of course one where personal freedoms may have been more circumscribed than they are today.

The problem is his links to the underworld do not permit the state to continue the tacit alliance with him and others like him that have persisted to this day.

The question is how do you take the milk out of the coffee once the two have been mixed. That is the predicament Jamaica finds itself in.

Meanwhile the Gideon continues and while many of us would like to comfort ourselves by thinking that this is a necessary bloodletting, a purge of the criminal elements in society, the truth is otherwise. Discriminating between criminals and law-abiding citizens is not as easy as we think particularly for the Police force, members of which are known to wield their ‘license to kill’ with wanton disregard. i received a heartbreaking message from a friend about the execution of a young man she personally knew, by the police, a story which was reported in the media under the headline “Cops kill three men in Back Bush.”

One of the men was well-known to my friend and no criminal. Here is part of the heartbreaking message i received from her this morning:

"Picked up one of my neighbours on the road only to hear that Ian Gordon, a sweet young dread who ran a little "venue" in Irish Town square was killed by the police. Hard to believe he would be involved in anything - he would always ask me if I had dominos, or other games, that I could give him because he liked to have lots of games for people coming to his place. On Sundays I would sometimes take him down to town and he always said he was going to visit his 2 daughters. He had a lovely girlfriend, also a dread, and it was a joke in Irish Town how they were always together. Anyway I'm sure this Observer story of how he died is accurate, and this is probably happening to young men all over Kingston. Very depressing. "

It turns out also that the early morning raid on Red Hills i mentioned earlier was in pursuit of Dudus who was believed to be holed up in a house there. In the process of flushing him out the armed forces have killed another innocent man, Keith Clarke, the brother of former minister Claude Clarke, who lived nearby, by mistake.

Mr. Seaga, former Prime Minister is also concerned about the safety of the residents of Tivoli Gardens, his former constituents and has broken his silence. I conducted an interview with him in January this year in which i asked him about his relationship with Dudus and the fact that he had once placed him at the top of a list of wanted men that he provided the Police with in 1994. I'll post relevant portions of the interview later.

Time doesn’t permit for me to write much more right now. I’m still at the conference in Barbados but will end with two lighthearted takes on what is a truly dread situation back home, (to use Jamaican parlance).

The photo posted at the top of this blog is actually a piece of graffiti seen in Barbados on the day the armed forces went into Tivoli Gardens in pursuit of Christopher Lloyd Coke--Dudus. The blog that carried it said “This sign was seen today (Monday May 24 Bank Holiday) on the left-hand side of Collymore Rock Road going towards Wildey from Bridgetown.” Dudus's reach clearly extends beyond Jamaican shores.

And of course Jamaicans being Jamaican still have a mordant sense of humour. The following dance poster was making the rounds on email and facebook.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bradygate continued...

Update: Today was the most unsettling exciting day in the last decade or so. Around 3 pm started to hear rumours that 'war' was going to break out because the Prime Minister was going to announce that the extradition proceedings agaist 'Dudus' Coke were going forward. A feeling of panic began to spread and there was a stampede to get out of downtown where the rumours started circulating around 11 in the morning. By mid-afternoon everyone was on the road trying to reach a safe place. Top 10 ways to get home quickly proclaimed a blog...

The most interesting thing was that the US Embassy sent out an announcement saying a talk it had planned to hold at the Institute of Jamaica tomorrow was being postponed. I found the title of the talk interesting. It was called “Congress and the President: An Invitation to Conflict” and should have been delivered by one Don Baker. hmmmmmmmm. Doesn't Bruce own a bakery?

At the appointed hour Bruce Golding addressed the nation looking suitably contrite and apologizing profusely. Then he announced that the Attorney General was going to sign the relevant papers so that the extradition could proceed. Dudus' lawyer, Tom Tavares-Finson was reputed to be livid with anger; he would defend his client in court he said.

More on the runnings tomorrow.
Time for bed now...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bradygate...The Don of a New Era, Part 1



Mr Golding has now admitted to parliament that he authorised the hiring of a law firm to lobby senior US State Department officials on Mr Coke's behalf Photo: AFP/GETTY (Daily Telegraph UK)


Las May, Daily Gleaner, 15 May 2010 (our cartoonists are world class)

I feel it for Bruce Golding
. Who could have predicted the woes that would befall his first two years as Crime Minister, er, oh, LOL, i mean Prime Minister. I know what his wife Lorna means when she says we must read between the lines because he isn't free to disclose everything. My first reaction when i heard that he had admitted sanctioning the Manatt, Phelps 'initiative' from the get-go was that someone or something had forced his hand. Only something far worse staring him in the face could have made owning up to having played fast and loose with the truth seem like the better alternative.

And i feel it for him because this turn of events has nothing to do with him personally, or the Jamaica Labour Party for that matter. It's just the way the cookie crumbles in countries that are well on their way to being narco-democracies. I'm amazed at the amount of moral indignation being directed at the PM by members of the media. C'mon! It's not a matter of morality is it? It's a matter of how to decriminalize a country. Not easily done. The Colombians might have a tip or two and the Haitians. Forget about decriminalizing ganja or gay-ness, this is an entire country that has been hijacked by criminality. How is a government to cope?

Granted the PM could have handled the entire matter differently from the beginning. But he was playing by the old rules like all politicians have done so far. And he's been jerked to reality by the powers-that-be. This is a power struggle. That's what we have to realize. And to win this power struggle we need the new, the young, the strong and the able...because only they know how to negotiate the new rules that are now in effect. Alas, our criminals too are world-class and internationally competitive.

In the meantime a spurious facebook page purporting to be that of Dudus Coke is making the rounds in cyberspace. It's a no holds barred version so if you're under 15 or an Ayatollah or a member of Jamaica's Moral Majority you might want to make a hasty switch to a less profane website.



Finally, take a look at National Dish by Michael 'Flyn' Elliott below. As a painted image it pretty much captures our predicament as a society. And for a variety of innovative takes or interpretations of the state we're in you must visit the National Gallery's Young Talent V which opened today. It is an exciting show that signals the resurgence of the visual art scene here. Here is a link to my photos from the opening.


National Dish by Michael 'Flyn' Elliott