An official investigation has begun into the bloody operation that dislodged Jamaica’s most wanted man from a fortified city stronghold. The politician at the helm of government at the time claims he was forced to sever all ties with the drug dealer because he had not only become a political liability but also because he had been hiding fugitives in the community.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, then the parliamentary representative for the West Kingston Tivoli Gardens garrison community that had traditionally supported his then-governing Jamaica Labor Party, told a commission of inquiry this week that community leader and convicted area strongman Christopher “Dudus” Coke had to be let go both as a party supporter and as the main contact person in the community after it had become clear that he was a criminal mastermind and narcotics dealer.
Until heavily armed police and soldiers moved in to arrest Coke and dismantle his political and underworld stronghold at the behest of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in mid-2010, Coke had operated his multimillion-dollar cocaine exportation, enterprise extortion and gun smuggling businesses with virtual impunity because of his strong and well-acknowledged ties to various governments, those ran by the JLP in particular.
Now that Golding is out of government and perhaps the most important witness in the inquiry, his testimony is being closely followed by Jamaicans at home and abroad in part because of the strong and open links Jamaican politicians had with him. Coke has since been extradited to the U.S. and is serving more than 20 years in prison on drug smuggling and other charges.
“The security forces informed me sometime close to December 2007 that there were some men wanted by the police for serious crimes from the Stone Crusher Gang. These men were being hidden in Tivoli Gardens. The police said that if they left Tivoli Gardens, they would be easier to apprehend. It was my belief that strangers of that nature could not have been in Tivoli Gardens without his knowledge,” Golding said, explaining his reasons for severing ties despite being the member of parliament for the area.
Golding was also forced to deal with allegations that police and soldiers had used excessive force in several days of gunfighting with gangsters hiding in military-style foxholes, behind barbed wired fortifications and sniping from rooftops, among other things. In all, more than 70 people died, including a handful of policemen and soldiers. Most of the others were civilians or gunmen supporting Coke.
Facing tough questioning from attorneys, Golding maintained that the bulk of those killed were gunmen openly engaging security forces as they moved in to arrest a man who was commonly known as the area’s “president.”
“I’m concerned at the failure, up to now, to establish that the majority of these persons are persons who were engaging the police in gunfire,” he lashed out, noting that none had had been shown to “die of cardiac arrest.”
Attorneys had testy exchanges and sparred with Golding several times during the hearings. In one incident, attorney Deborah Martin pointed to official reports about the economic loss Jamaica suffered from the siege in the capital, the bad publicity the tourist island received internationally and the general fallout. The United Nations had put the figure at $258 million. Golding argued that the U.N. was not able to arrive at such a figure.
Said Golding, “With the greatest of respect, they wouldn’t have the competence to provide that figure. They wouldn’t have the competence to make that measurement.”