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EDITORIAL - The 'Dudus' Coke issue won't go away

Published:Monday | January 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

In between the euphoria over the Government's debt-rescheduling package and the outpouring of empathy and goodwill for devastated Haiti, there was another significant occurrence in Jamaica last week that, understandably, did not penetrate significantly into people's consciousness. Except, perhaps, for Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Dr Ken Baugh, the foreign minister, who had to deal directly with the issue.

The event to which we refer was the visit to the island of Julissa Reynoso, a US deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for Central America and the Caribbean. She happened to be the most senior official of the Obama administration to visit Jamaica, until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's fleeting stop in the island and short airport meeting with Prime Minister Golding Saturday evening.

Forthright public comment

There has been no disclosure of a broad over-arching context to Ms Reynoso's visit nor any announcement of a structured bilateral programme between our two countries, at least none that we can discern, which would demand her presence here. In that regard, we take our clue from Ms Reynoso's very forthright public comment about Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, ostensibly a legitimate west Kingston-based businessman, who the Americans accuse of shipping cocaine to the United States and running guns to Jamaica.

The Americans want to extradite Mr Coke - a powerful influence on the periphery of Mr Golding's Jamaica Labour Party and a critical force in the PM's West Kingston parliamentary constituency - but by most people's reasonable assessment, the Government has been stalling. The attorney general, Dorothy Lightbourne, has failed to sign the extradition order that would allow the Jamaican courts to determine whether a prima facie case has been made out against Mr Coke, or for it to be proven otherwise.

The Government wants the US to answer further unspecified questions about the indictment, declaring it is acting to protect Mr Coke's constitutional rights.

Ms Reynoso left little doubt that the Americans believe it is all waffle, telling reporters that not only was Mr Coke an "individual ... of very high interest" to the US but that "as of right now we have no intention to remove the (extradition) request".

In time, the Americans may flex their political and economic muscle on this issue. But there is another link between this case and the debt-swap initiative.

Mr Golding last week appealed to the moral conscience of Jamaicans in agreeing to give up some of the agreed returns on bonds for the good of the country. Mr Golding promised a government grounded in morality. But behind the shroud of constitutional protection - which would have made Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal envious as he was being shipped from state to state - many people see rank party calculations and opportunism.

Gov't must show its hand

It is almost foregone that Jamaican financial institutions and individual savers will take up the Government's offer of lower interest rates on more than $700 billion in bonds in the debt-restructuring deal.

It is incumbent that the Government starts to keep its side of the bargain. It is urgent that the administration table its fiscal responsibility legislation now as well as indicate with specificity how, where and by how much it will reduce public-sector expenditure.

Nice words are not enough.

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