Sunday, July 18, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
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.
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
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.