More than extradition
Martin Henry, Contributor
One of the main reasons why the Christopher Coke extradition matter has generated such interest and passion is the hope that external pressure by the United States government will force the dismantling of garrisons.
Another obvious reason, of course, is the everlasting need to score political points in this tribally politicised society - and to hell with effective governance, and to sound reasoning for that matter. I was, therefore, very pleased when a frustrated young news reporter/producer, tired of the muddy political bickering and the media coverage of it, sought my views on clarifying the critical issues in the extradition matter as a point of fairness and balance.
This Year's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) on Jamaica by the US Department of State has been quickly reduced to merely an extradition report. The INCSR extensively covered the drugs and guns trade and corruption - and the extradition issue as a subset. Its own summary says: "Jamaica remains the Caribbean's largest source of marijuana for the United States. It is also a transit point for cocaine trafficked from South America.
"While cooperation between Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and US Government (USG) law enforcement agencies remained strong, delays in proceeding with the significant extradition request for a major alleged narcotics and firearms trafficker who is reported to have ties to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, and subsequent delays in other extradition requests, have called into question Kingston's commitment to law enforcement cooperation with the US.
"The GOJ's ambitious anti-corruption and anti-crime legislative agendas announced in 2007 remain stalled in Parliament. Five anti-crime proposals under consideration as part of an extensive agenda to address the widespread crime challenges have yet to be debated by Parliament. Jamaica is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention."
So the USG has several issues with the Jamaican Government with respect to the drug trade. The Americans are interested in staunching the flow of drugs into their country to meet insatiable demands there, and in getting someone they have described as "a major alleged narcotics and firearms trafficker" there to answer narcotics and firearms trafficking charges. We - certainly law-abiding citizens - have a strong interest in reducing the flow of arms into Jamaica, in reducing corruption, in reducing criminal activity and, yes, in protecting the rights of Jamaican citizens including those accused of serious crimes in other jurisdictions.
The USG has been tough, very tough, in dealing with the drug problem from the supply side in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the INCSR notes: "Recent assessments indicate that approximately 70 per cent of the illegal firearms entering Jamaica originated from the US." Journalist Earl Moxam is constantly asking, and I join him today: What's to be done about the supply side of our guns problem?
The Department of State has advised the president of the United States via the INCSR that: "Jamaica's processing of the extradition request has been subjected to unprecedented delays, unexplained disclosure of law enforcement information and unfounded allegations questioning US compliance with the MLAT and Jamaican law." Unfounded allegations? The prime minister of Jamaica, head of the Government of a sovereign state, has responded in a comprehensive address to the nation's Parliament last Tuesday.
Cynical about corruption, which is now ranked right up there with crime at the top of public concern, the weight of public opinion is in favour of the rightness of the USG and the wrongness of the Jamaican position. The prime minister, in a bold move, which some have rashly described as staring down the United States, told the country's Parliament that "The report includes prominent references to the Government's treatment of extradition requests and, in particular, to the request for the extradition of Christopher Coke, and it is to these issues that I wish to speak today. The Government has refrained from making any detailed public statement in relation to this matter because of the provisions of the Extradition Treaty between Jamaica and the US relating to confidentiality, a position reaffirmed in the several meetings between both sides on this particular matter. However, in view of the statements contained in the Narcotics Control Strategy Report, I am obliged to make this statement this afternoon, and the US authorities have been so advised."
Extensively outlining what the Government considered to be weaknesses, irregularities and unlawful actions in the US extradition request, and the efforts of the Jamaican Government to cooperate, the prime minister concluded: "The US Narcotics Control Strategy Report accuses the Government of 'unfounded allegations questioning US compliance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and Jamaican law', and has questioned the Government's commitment to law-enforcement cooperation with the US. We respectfully reject these assertions."
The minister of justice, Golding asserted in an awesome metaphor, will not be merely a "lubricated conduit" through which extradition requests automatically pass.
Assuming equivalence of sovereignty and mutual respect for the rule of law - and sanity on the part of the prime minister, I respect the position of the Jamaican Government as articulated by Mr Golding in Parliament last Tuesday and extensively quoted here.
Although much has changed on both sides since then, Norman Manley diplomatically lectured the Philadelphia Bar Association back in 1967 on the rule of law, holding up Jamaica as a fair, though not perfect, example of adherence to the hallowed principle at a time when Martin Luther King Jr was at the height of his powers in the civil rights movement and less than a year away from assassination.
So there are differences between two sovereign, democratic states with
strong ties and joint treaties. Rather than invoking the exercise of American muscle, we should be invoking an arbitration mechanism to resolve the impasse.
The prime minister further advised Parliament that, with respect to the cancelling of Wayne Chen's visa, "the United States authorities have advised the foreign minister that there is no connection [to the extradition matter], and we have no reason to question the honesty of the statement conveyed by the US authorities to the foreign minister". Like constitutional rights, honesty does not begin at Liguanea.
A major obstacle to rational discourse in Jamaica is our pervasive inability - or unwillingness - to separate issues. The immediate issue at hand is the lawfulness of the Coke extradition. Other issues, related but better dealt with separately, are the reduction of crime and corruption and the dismantling of political garrisons to which the Jamaica Labour Party pledged itself in the campaign for state power which it now has.
As I advised the distressed questioning reporter/producer last week, and will advise my readers today, the fundamentals involved in the lawful settling of the Coke extradition case are constitutional rights versus treaty obligations. The Government's first responsibility is to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. If the United States Government (the lion) is not prepared to replace law with muscle, and the Jamaican Government (the mouse) is not prepared to either sell out the rights of its citizens or breach treaty obligations, then surely a settlement of the issue can be found which satisfies the rule of law to which both countries are committed. And the United States has no basis on which to lecture Jamaica over rule of law breaches.
Procedural knots in the Coke extradition case, which seem to be the main problem, can be untangled. Member of the Cabinet, Minister Pearnel Charles, has said on TV that the man will be sent when the legal concerns of the Government with the extradition request have been resolved. Getting the suspect to court with proper adherence to procedure and the rule of law is now of first priority.
The organisation of urban communities into political garrisons, an undertaking at which the PNP has bested the ruling JLP 5:1, has contributed greatly to the crime and corruption described in the INCSR "as a significant threat to social stability in Jamaica" and documented in numerous reports of our own. The removal of community leaders/dons will not produce de-garrisonisation. Others will simply arise to carry on.
The INCSR says the "high-profile Jamaican crime lord" of interest to the United States government reportedly has ties to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, and "resides in and essentially controls the Kingston neighbourhood known as Tivoli Gardens, a key constituency for the Jamaica Labour Party". The absence of any domestic interest on the part of the Jamaican authorities in the profile presented by the INCSR is a matter of both amazement and alarm.
The current dilemma faced by Prime Minister Golding at constituency, national and international levels, and by the Government in general, provides an extraordinary opportunity and stimulus, a watershed moment, to change the system - as promised.