An official probe into the mid-2010 police and army operation to flush out Jamaica’s most wanted criminal heard on Monday testimony from the man at the helm of government at the time saying he had cut off all ties with the area bad man because he had been officially informed about the extent and depth of a well funded criminal enterprise that he ran.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, then the parliamentary representative for the West Kingston Tivoli Gardens garrison community that had traditionally supported his Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), basically said that community leader and convicted area strongman Christopher “Dudus” Coke had become a political liability and he had been forced to cut all ties with him based on intelligence from security forces.
Until heavily armed police and soldiers moved in to arrest Coke and dismantle his political and underworld stronghold at the behest of the US Drug Enforcement Agency in mid 2010, Coke had operated his multi-million dollar cocaine exportation, enterprise extortion and gun smuggling business with virtual impunity because of his strong and well acknowledged ties to various governments, those run by the JLP in particular.
Now out of government and the main witness in the inquiry, Golding’s testimony is being closely followed by Jamaicans 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 gunfights with gangsters hiding in military-style fox holes, behind barbed wired fortifications and sniping away from rooftops at police and soldiers among other tactics.
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 for the commission, the army and police, Golding maintained that the bulk of those killed were gunmen openly engaging security forces as they moved in to arrest a man that was commonly known as the area “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 and Golding had testy exchanges and sparred with each other several times during the hearings. In one case, Attorney Deborah Martin pointed to official reports about the economic loss to Jamaica from the days of seige in the capital, the bad publicity the tourist island received internationally and the general fall out.
The United Nations had put the figure at $258M. Golding argued that the UN was not in a position to arrive at such a figure.
“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.”