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The extradition saga

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Demonstrators from West Kingston put a wig on this dog as they protested along Spanish Town Road, on May 20, 2010. A month later, their revered strongman was arrested, wigged and weakened. - File
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Delano Seiveright, Contributor

It was the Tuesday, September 1, 2009 edition of The Gleaner that significantly brought to public light the request for the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke to the United States (US) on narcotics and firearm charges. Rumours of the extradition request circulated a few days before the newspaper report. I doubt anyone expected the actual extradition to occur nine months after the request. What many well-thinking Jamaicans knew was the seriousness of this particular request and the need for it to be very carefully managed.

Let's call a spade a spade. Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was viewed by most Jamaicans as a powerful area leader for Tivoli Gardens, labelled under the previous administration by Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin as the "mother of all garrisons", further demonising this community. His designation by the US Department of Justice to a list of 'consolidate priority organisation targets' only piled on more negatives.

Dudus is viewed by some as a peacemaker, disciplinarian, social entrepreneur and kind businessman, especially in the many communities where his sphere of influence is immense. Many residents boasted about the relative peace and security that he brought. To others, many uptowners included, he was a scourge, an epitome of the nexus between crime and politics. The contradictions make an explosive cocktail.

It doesn't end there. As if there was not enough of a challenge on hand, the August 2009 request for extradition came when Jamaica was reeling from the ravages of the global economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression more than 80 years ago. This only complemented an already dicey economic and social situation inherited from the previous administration. Almost all the energies of an already battered government then were focused on cauterising its devastating effects, stabilising the economy and placing it firmly on a path for much-needed growth. Integral to these efforts was the need to deal fundamentally with Jamaica's huge debt overhang and its fiscal and likely balance-of-payments crisis. The economy was literally teetering on the brink of absolute collapse and it was obvious that the Golding administration had precious little time.

Avoiding irreparable harm

The Government was actively working towards a desperately needed standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Well-thinking Jamaicans should seriously consider the effects of pursuing this particular extradition request in such a tenuous environment. A social implosion then would have done irreparable harm to Jamaica. We would have effectively killed our golden egg, tourism industry, destroyed many more businesses, caused immense capital flight, descended into a state of anarchy and spiralled in a never-ending abyss of rapid decline.

The crucial J$700-billion Jamaica Debt Exchange would have died. Likewise, the agreement with the IMF would have been postponed to our detriment. And the hundreds of millions of US dollars in low-interest loans from multilateral agencies would be in serious doubt. Jamaica could very well have been in just as bad an economic and social situation as Haiti.

As debate intensified over what many interpreted as a 'delay' in moving through with the extradition request, things began to deteriorate from a communications and public-relations standpoint. More and more people began to hold the view that the Government was actively preventing the extradition of Dudus. This viewpoint gelled with the publicity, by former Minister of National Security, Dr Peter Phillips, of ongoing lobby initiatives by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The contracting of Manatt was neither illegal nor unethical. The Government has an obligation to its citizens, no matter who they are to ensure that justice is handed down fairly. Prestigious law and lobby firms like Manatt are part of an elaborate and permanent fixture in First-World geopolitics. In a past In Focus column on this very same issue last September, I pointed out that: "The geopolitical realities of 21st-century statecraft, governance and international affairs demand suppleness, careful but fast moves, and the right connections in order to effectively address transnational dilemmas."

Government lost ground

Sadly, the Government had already lost the public relations battle; and the widespread belief that the Government was deliberately stalling the extradition request coupled with general confusion, hysteria and rumour mongering in the first quarter of 2010 solidified. Additionally, many persons were in no mood to reason on the merits of the Government's arguments about the unlawful and unconstitutional nature of the extradition request. The scourge of criminality endeared many to boast about being willing to give up some of their rights in the interest of fighting crime and violence. And truth be told, deep down hardly any Jamaican, including me, gives a hoot about the rights of an area leader or perceived don. It's a fact of life.

The Golding administration stood on solid legal ground but was forced to capitulate to the demands of civil society and the media. Unfortunately, the Government lost quite a bit of support in the nine months of confusion and hysteria.

The prime minister, in a national broadcast in May 2010, announced the signing of the extradition request, apologised, expressed profound regret and set out an elaborate atonement package with significant input from civil society. The ensuing operations to apprehend Dudus led to the deaths of more than 70 persons, multiple injuries, looting, general disorder and the razing of government buildings and private property. Jamaica made international headlines for days.

The secret MOUs

Prime Minister Golding went on to later in 2010 announce the setting up of a commission of enquiry to look into matters surrounding the extradition and the engagement of Manatt. To many political observers this was suicidal. Interestingly, the revelations from the enquiry, so far have been quite revealing and put many things into perspective. The secret and controversial memoranda of understanding (MOUs) signed by Dr Phillips are particularly significant. The MOUs, which were entered into without the approval of Cabinet and possibly the incogni-sance of the two prime ministers he served, allows local and foreign agencies the right to intercept telephone conversations on local telephone networks in an effort to gather intelligence in the fight against organised crime under a programme named Operation Anthem. Notably, but not surprisingly, this admini-stration was in the dark for much of their time in office.

MOUs of this nature do serve a real and substantive value in our country's efforts to tackle the scourge of organised crime. The challenge, however, lies with the unilateral actions of Dr Phillips on one hand, and the fact that the current administration was in the dark about these MOUs for so long. As a matter of fact, had Dr Phillips alerted key members of the Government of the existing arrangement in good time, the extradition request would have been dealt with in a clear-cut manner. Further yet, Manatt may never have had to be employed in the first place.

Dangerous actions

Dr Phillips' actions were dangerous, undemocratic and seemingly malicious. He could have easily prevented the nine-month catastrophe surrounding the extradition request by informing the Golding administration from the get-go.

One critical lesson has been learnt so far from the ongoing commission of enquiry: Absolutely no administration or individual member of any government, including Dr Phillips, should sign sensitive agreements with any entity, foreign and local, without going through a clear and defined system of checks and balances. While Cabinet and Parliament provide checks and balances for our democracy, unambiguous guidelines must be set down for very sensitive national-security issues. Dr Phillips, based on his own testimony, whatever his intentions, went on a frolic of his own without sufficient reference to the constitutional checks and balances.

Further yet, while the MOUs, from the side of our foreign partners, may have been positive, many are yet to be similarly convinced of Dr Phillips' intentions. The way in which the MOUs were entered into is enough to cause grave concern. Additionally, there is little evidence of crackdowns on dons and criminal gangs associated with the People's National Party during his tenure as minister of national security. Even more disconcerting is the surprise finding of the MOUs at the offices of the Military Intelligence Unit, after weeks of searching by State officials last year in government ministries where sensitive and highly confidential documents are filed.

Something is amiss.

Delano Seiveright is president of Generation 2000 (G2K), the young-professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party.