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Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced plans to step down after a difficult four-year term for him and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). His tenure was tainted by his handling of the U.S. request to extradite Christopher “Coke” Dudas on drug- and gun-running charges. We explore what Golding’s resignation means for Jamaica’s future, and for the ongoing role of U.S. drug policy there.
- Irvin Forbes News Manager, CVM TV, Kingston, Jamaica
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBruce Golding, the prime minister of Jamaica, plans to step aside by November. His popularity never recovered from his handling last year of the extradition of Christopher Dudus Coke, wanted by the U.S. for drug-running and money laundering. The prime minister resisted the extradition request, causing a rift with the U.S. and causing chaos in Jamaica.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWith dozens dying in gun battles in the drug kingpin's stronghold in West Kingston, the prime minister faced an avalanche of criticism for the saga. Joining us to discuss what it means for the future of the country and relations with the U.S. is Irvin Forbes, news manager for CVM TV. He joins us by phone from Kingston, Jamaica. Irvin Forbes, thank you for joining us.
MR. IRVIN FORBESPleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIPrime Minister Golding had another year in his term. Why did he step down now?
FORBESHe issued a very brief statement on Sunday. The main thing he said was that the challenges of the past four years have taken a toll on him, and he feels that it's now time for fresh new leadership. He has not gone into details about why he's stepping down. And the nation has been actually waiting on him to make some kind of statement or some deeper, broader statement about it.
FORBESBut we are still officially waiting to hear him give the details as to why he has decided to step down at this time.
NNAMDII know you went to a briefing a short while ago. Was there any clarification there at all?
FORBESWell, actually, I have not been able to -- I have not been -- I have a briefing. It is still going on, so we are still waiting to hear from the ruling party's general secretary. We expect that he will also be speaking about the party's plans for selection replacement leader going forward.
NNAMDII'd like to invite our -- just our listeners to join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think Jamaica's image suffered as a result of the violence and unrest there last year? 800-433-8850. Do you think that the U.S. drug prohibition laws should affect politics in other countries? 800-433-8850. Irvin Forbes, the prime minister never recovered from the scandal around the Christopher Dudus Coke affair. Please remind us about what happened.
FORBESWell, the U.S. had sent an extradition request for Mr. Coke from -- in 2009. The government, in effect -- some (unintelligible) that it took about nine months for a decision to be made, for that request to be granted, for the government to sign off on it, for him to be extradited. That sign-off finally came in May of 2010, so that was about nine months after the request was sent to Jamaica.
FORBESWhen the -- when Mr. Golding told the nation by a national address that the government would sign off -- sign the one for the extradition and for arrest, things in Coke's stronghold in West Kingston began to get very tense. Persons in the community started to barricade it. There began to be, you could say, overtures that they would resist any attempts of the security forces to try to arrest him.
FORBESIt culminated in May 23 of last year, 2010, with attacks on some police personnel. Two police stations were set alight and basically burned to the ground. The police -- the security forces went into the community on the 24th. It was a national holiday in Jamaica, Labor Day. The standoff lasted about three days. At the end of it, at least 73 persons officially said to have died, one member of the security forces.
FORBESAnd a month after that, Coke was finally held. He was waived his right to a court hearing. He was extradited within about two days after he was captured.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Irvin Forbes. He is the news manager for CVM TV in Jamaica. He joins us by telephone from Kingston, Jamaica, where the Prime Minister Bruce Golding has announced that he will be stepping aside by November, but has not given any details of why he'll be stepping aside. But the general speculation is that has -- it has a great deal to do with how he handled the U.S. order for extradition of drug kingpin Christopher Dudus Coke last year.
NNAMDIIrvin, the scandal escalated when it turned out that Golding's party, the Jamaica Labour Party, had engaged a law firm here in Washington to resolve the Coke affair through back channels. Tell us what happened.
FORBESWell, it emerged in parliament. It was revealed, by the then-opposition spokesman on national security, that U.S. records, (word?) records indicated that a law firm, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, had been engaged to help, it was said, in sorting out, in dealing with treaty matters.
FORBESThe prime minister, at that time in parliament, said the government had not engaged any law firm to help out, as it was believed, to help to try to broker a deal relating to that U.S. extradition request. Eventually, it did come out. Mr. Golding eventually said in parliament that he -- his party had engaged a law firm and that he as party leader had sanctioned it.
FORBESOne of the main elements of the backlash that the prime minister has suffered is that many persons have said that he essentially mislead parliament. He essentially lied to the nation when he said that there was no government contract with a U.S. law firm because that had given the impression that there was no engagement at all.
FORBESBut when he finally admitted that he had sanctioned it, his explanation was that in parliament, he was speaking as the head of government, as prime minister and not as the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. Of course, many persons weren't buying that. They said that he should have said upfront that, whether as prime minister or as party leader, he was aware of the engagement of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips.
FORBESEven if he didn't give all the details at the time, he should have at least said that he was aware of it and that he played some role in it. Eventually, there was a commission of inquiry into that, what we call, incursion into Tivoli Gardens, the stronghold of Coke. Manatt, Phelps was asked by the head of the commission to come and testify, or at least to provide some sort of input into the inquiry.
FORBESBut they did not do so on the basis of attorney-client privilege. Well, that's one of the main things the prime minister had suffered badly. A person is saying that he cannot be trusted. He does not tell the truth.
NNAMDIWhat happened and what was reported in this country is that the Washington law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips was, in fact, hired by the Jamaica Labour Party and that they were supposed to be discussing treaty issues. But at the time, it was reported that sources in the White House said that a great deal of the discussion did have to do with the extradition of Christopher Dudus Coke.
NNAMDIIrvin Forbes, Golding, the prime minister spent an enormous amount of political capital protecting Christopher Coke. But it would have been difficult to win election in Golding's own district, West Kingston, without Coke's support, would it not?
FORBESThat was a big part of his dilemma and of his party's dilemma and, obviously, the government's dilemma. West Kingston is not only in the prime -- in this prime minister's constituency, Mr. Golding's constituency. Previous JLP leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga, that's also in his constituency. So West Kingston has been a stronghold, a bastion of the Jamaica Labour Party for decades.
FORBESMr. Seaga, who preceded Mr. Golding, was a member of parliament. He was a representative for some four decades, so we're talking about deep, deep connections there. And Coke, it is widely believed and reported, he played -- he would have played quite a significant role in helping to maintain the loyalty of persons in the constituency for the ruling, JLP -- not just that constituency.
FORBESBut it is believed that its influence and that of West Kingston stretched to other areas, even to the extreme western end of the country. So, certainly, it would have been difficult for the prime minister to win elections without Coke. As a matter of fact, after the incursion, there were many persons in the constituency who were saying, how is it that a JLP prime minister allowed that kind of incursion into their community to happen?
FORBESSo there were some who have been saying that they weren't supporting him anymore.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the commission that looked into the issue, the Manatt-Phelps commission, even though Manatt, Phelps and Phillips declined to participate on the basis of lawyer-client privilege. What did the commission conclude about the role of the prime minister in all of this?
FORBESWell, the findings of the commission were -- many persons in the society, in the country, felt somewhat disappointed. They thought that something -- an issue that was so significant, an issue that had so many ramifications, they would have expected some more far-reaching findings and recommendations.
FORBESThe commission, in the end -- some persons interpreted their findings as a slap on the wrist for the prime minister, essentially suggesting that there are things we could have handled better, and that he did play a role in the extradition in that -- what some consider a mess, what some have called a Manatt mess.
FORBESBut it was nothing as far-reaching as many, especially the opposition. They were hoping that the commission would have come down harder on the prime minister, if, for nothing else, for the whole issue of truth-telling and honesty to the country. But the findings, in the end, were not as earth-shattering as most in the country expected.
NNAMDIYou mentioned some 73 people died in West Kingston as a result of this. And, clearly, Christopher Coke had a lot of support in what's known as Tivoli Gardens. Was there a sense among his supporters, and maybe among some supporters of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, that the intrusion of the United States into this by being able to simply extradite a Jamaican for trial in the United States was a violation of Jamaica's national sovereignty?
FORBESWell, among his supporters, I think the -- their preoccupation would largely have been on the rule of the JLP government and Jamaica's security forces. Of course, many persons felt -- have felt or have thought that the U.S. did play a role.
FORBESOne of the factors that many, especially supporters, look at are during the period of the -- of that incursion, there were many persons who were calling us in the media and pointing to a white aircraft, which, they said, was hovering above the general West Kingston area. And many persons were speculating that it would have been some kind of U.S., perhaps, war aircraft.
FORBESYes. There is a feeling among his supporters that the U.S. should not have been able to, as it were, impose or influence our own decision-making in that manner. The government and Mr. Golding himself, they have been arguing that the extradition request was not -- the interception of communication, the tapping of Coke's telephone was not done, and that the whole request was not in keeping with Jamaica's law.
FORBESSo what the government has largely been arguing is that the U.S. made a request which was not legal, and, hence, for us to have signed it, we would have been violating our own local rules.
NNAMDIWhat did all of this mean at the time for Jamaica's relations with the U.S.?
FORBESWell, there certainly was a lot of speculation about the impact on our relations. It took several months for a new ambassador, U.S. ambassador to Jamaica, to be named. When Pamela Bridgewater was finally named, it was after several months. Many persons felt that it was because of the -- that stalemate, some consider it, between Jamaica and the U.S. during the nine months when the request was pending and the Jamaican government was not willing to sign off on it.
FORBESThere have been a few cases where U.S. visas of Jamaicans were revoked and, in some cases, temporarily. And that was also a big talking point. Some said that the U.S. might have been using that channel to show its -- to register its displeasure with the Jamaican government's handling of the extradition.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but, as we mentioned, the prime minister, Bruce Golding, of Jamaica says he will be stepping aside by November. The party will name a successor to serve the remainder of his term. But when will elections be held to elect the next prime minister?
FORBESThat's another big matter of speculation, when exactly elections will be constitutional. It is due by the end of -- by early September of 2012. So by early next year, general elections are due. Of course, it could be extended. We doubt it will be for this year. But as to when next, we are still waiting to see.
NNAMDIIrvin Forbes is the news manager for CVM TV in Jamaica. Thank you so much for joining us.
FORBESIt was my pleasure.
NNAMDIThe ruling party in Jamaica is known as the Jamaica Labour Party. The main opposition party, which hopes to benefit from all of this, is known as the People's National Party or PNP. Once again, Irvin Forbes, thank you for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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