Sunday, May 30, 2010

Family Fued Behind Jamaica Bloodbath

From The Sunday Times May 30, 2010

Family feud behind Jamaica bloodbath

Tony Allen-Mills in Kingston

THE diminutive don was furious. Christopher “Dudus” Coke, known to his Jamaican followers as “Bossy”, or “the President”, had spent more than a decade nurturing the political and criminal contacts who had allegedly helped him to turn a Kingston slum into the fortress base of a gangland empire.

Now everything was threatened by what the 5ft 4in godfather described in the local patois as an “eejit ting” — an idiot thing. His younger half-brother, Leighton “Livity” Coke, had gone to war with the police.

A round of tit-for-tat killings in the spring of 2005 was threatening to get out of hand. Three police officers were dead and reports were beginning to leak from the Coke family’s Tivoli Gardens stronghold of a dangerous rift between the two half-brothers.

Five years later, the nature of that rift and the future of Jamaica’s most notorious crime family — known as the Shower Posse — are at the centre of a political scandal that has rocked the island’s government, damaged the reputation of Bruce Golding, the prime minister, and erupted in a bloodbath after an attempted purge went horribly wrong.

The extraordinary story of the Coke family’s mafia-like rise to criminal and political eminence has focused on Dudus, 41, widely described as a Robin Hood-like character who dispensed civic patronage to the poor while striking murky deals with local politicians and raking in a fortune from drug and gun trafficking between the Caribbean and the US.

Yet many Jamaicans were also worrying last week about Livity, described by one source as a brutal “don in waiting”, ready to inherit Dudus’s mantle as the chief enforcer of Tivoli Gardens.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” said Rob C, a Jamaican source who has followed the brothers’ career since their notorious gangster father, Lester Lloyd “Jim Brown” Coke, died in a mysterious prison fire in 1992. “I fear Livity will be more ruthless than Daddy and his brother before him.”

As Jamaica yesterday counted the cost of a security onslaught that led to the deaths of at least 73 civilians and ended with no visible success, police urged Dudus and Livity Coke to give themselves up.

It was the first official mention of the younger Coke brother since a US extradition request for Dudus exposed the long-hidden ties between Jamaica’s so-called “garrison” communities — usually small enclaves of low-income housing controlled by criminal gangs — and the politicians who benefit from their votes.

As the member of parliament for West Kingston, which includes Tivoli Gardens, Golding has been accused of seeking to block the extradition at the behest of the most powerful gangster in his constituency.

He has been dubbed the “crime minister” amid speculation that there may be damning evidence against him in wiretaps of Dudus’s mobile phone, leaked to US authorities by a whistle-blowing Jamaican policeman. Golding has claimed that the allegations are part of a conspiracy to undermine the government.

By most accounts, Dudus imposed his authority over his half-brother after the 2005 dispute and peace was temporarily restored to Tivoli Gardens. Livity contented himself with the job of family underboss responsible for Lizard Town, a neighbouring warren of lowincome homes that also formed part of the West Kingston constituency.

Yet three years later, tension between the Coke brothers re-emerged when Eldon Calvert, the alleged leader of the Montego Bay-based Stone Crusher gang, took refuge in Lizard Town while on the run.

Dudus was said to be angry that his brother was once again attracting unwanted police attention by offering sanctuary to outside criminal elements.

“The only criminals the President wanted downtown were his own,” said one local source.

By then, Dudus was the beneficiary of numerous lucrative government contracts, ran several legitimate businesses and enjoyed effective immunity from local harassment thanks to his high-ranking political friends.

In short, he was on the way to turning himself into a Jamaican equivalent of Michael Corleone, the shrewd fictional godfather played by Al Pacino in Francis Ford Coppola’s films. To some residents of Tivoli Gardens, he seemed more like a Jamaican Santa Claus — and the last thing he needed was a hothead younger brother stirring aggravation.

Whatever the truth about the Shower Posse’s criminal dealings — and US authorities accuse its members of committing more than 1,400 murders as they built a multi-million-dollar cocaine and marijuana trade — there was no doubting Dudus’s commitment to protecting his local power base.

For years he provided the children of his tiny slum with free schoolbooks and uniforms. He paid for healthcare, gave food to the needy and allocated jobs. His posse acted as the neighbourhood’s police force and, unlike much of the rest of Kingston, petty crime in his fiefdom — about half the size of Clapham Common in London — was virtually non-existent.

He also turned into perhaps Jamaica’s most improbable music promoter and his Wednesday night “passa passa” street parties on the edge of Tivoli Gardens were renowned as the safest venues in Jamaica — nobody dared spoil the President’s fun. When the US issued its extradition demand, Bunny Wailer, one of Jamaica’s most revered reggae musicians, recorded a new song: Don’t Touch the President.

Dudus could often be found lounging at the margins of his music events, usually surrounded by pretty girls but rarely displaying any signs of his wealth.

“Dudus is not a flashy man,” said George Soutar, a Kingston lawyer who has represented the Coke family for more than 20 years.

“He has a retiring personality. If you saw him in a crowd, you’d never know his reputation and he wouldn’t tell you who he is.”

Tom Tavares-Finson, Soutar’s law partner, has said Dudus is not a Rastafarian, but admires the laid-back lifestyle.

Few inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens seem aware that their patron reputedly spends much of his time in a large plantation-style mansion he owns in the hills overlooking Kingston.

“Dudus a good youth and him keep de peace,” one of his supporters said last week. Another added: “If there was no Dudus, downtown be like Iraq.”

All this attention seemed highly improbable in February 1992, when the Shower Posse appeared to be irreparably broken and Dudus, then 22, was reeling from a series of family disasters.

His father was in jail, awaiting extradition to America on murder charges, when his older brother, Mark “Jah T” Coke, was murdered by a rival drug gang as he sped through their territory on his motorbike.

On the day Mark Coke was buried in 1992, Soutar and Tavares-Finson went to Lester Coke’s jail to tell him that his appeal against extradition had been rejected. He was likely to leave Jamaica within days.

They arrived to find their client dead, incinerated in a blaze that somehow broke out in his cell. The message to Coke’s family and friends was clear: someone had killed him to stop him from testifying in an American court.

“If you believe Jim Brown just burnt to death by accident ... you’ll believe in the tooth fairy,” Tavares-Finson said at the time.

Almost two decades later, the same concerns are being voiced about Dudus, who was variously reported last week to be seeking political asylum at any embassy that would take him; to have escaped to Venezuela, Cuba or Haiti; and to be ready to surrender to the Americans in exchange for a promise to tell all he knows.

Soutar disclaimed all knowledge of his former client’s whereabouts, but added: “I think that in all cases his life would be in danger.”

Jamaica’s Robin Hood has become the man who knows too much about the relationship between gangsters and government.

The sense that the government is not too concerned about taking Dudus alive was reinforced last week by increasing evidence that security forces were shooting on sight.

“The information I have is that they went into Tivoli Gardens with guns blazing,” said Soutar. One of his clients said: “Them police are so panicky right now they see a phone in your hand they shoot you and call you a gangster and say you shot dem first.”

On Thursday the violence spread from the slums to the city’s wealthiest suburbs, where police stormed a hilltop mansion, apparently in search of Dudus, and killed Keith Clarke, the brother of Claude Clarke, a former government minister who a few days earlier had called on Golding to resign.

Golding has promised an independent investigation of the security forces’ actions, which initially netted only four gangster guns — and neither of the Coke brothers — after several days of shoot-outs.

The number of guns found has since risen to 22, but much of Jamaica remains in shock at the scale of the violence that followed the issue of a single extradition warrant.

“We supported the need for the security forces to restore the rule of law in communities run by criminals,” said Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice, a human rights group. “But, dear Lord, not like this.”

No comments: