May 31, 2010
BISHOP HERRO BLAIR MET WITH DUDUS
BY NADINE WILSON
CONTRARY to a widespread claim that alleged drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke wanted to make a deal with United States (US) authorities, Political Ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair yesterday disclosed that the alleged don was more interested in taking his chances with a local court instead.
Blair, who also chairs the Peace Management Initiative, told his congregation at the Faith Cathedral Deliverance Centre in Kingston yesterday that he had met with the reputed gang leader twice, prior to last Tuesday's visit to Tivoli Gardens with Public Defender Earl Witter.
The first visit was the Wednesday before, during which time he spent two hours speaking to Coke, whom the US Government had indicted on arms and drug-trafficking charges last August.
"If I go back to Wednesday, two weeks ago, I received a call and I went to Jamaica House. I was requested by the government to go into Tivoli Gardens to see if I could negotiate the surrender of Mr Coke," he said, adding that he later met with the Opposition People's National Party to get their approval, as well.
The ombudsman said that following the approval from both parties, he waited until he was given permission by 'a contact' to go in to see Coke.
"I spent two hours with him. I came out, thank God, safely; I can't tell you what I saw, but just imagine what I saw," he said.
"At that time the place was already fortified and the officers were preparing to go in I begged of them, please if you go in remember there are innocent lives that must be saved," Bishop Blair said.
It was the following day that a group of Coke loyalists, mostly women dressed in white, took to the streets to voice their support for the man who many said was 'next to God'. During the melee, they took to blocking roads in sections of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, setting up huge barricades as the security forces seemed to watch helplessly from the sidelines.
But, according to Blair, he had still been in dialogue with Coke, up to that point.
"The negotiations went on until Saturday. I got a call from the security forces who gave me the permission to go back to Mr Coke, with an offer from the United States Government that he turn in himself in," he said.
"He (Coke) feels, or he felt at that time, that his best bet was to wait on the rulings of the court because he felt that the Jamaican courts would treat him better than the American courts, and that's where it ended up until Saturday evening when the security forces decided to go into Tivoli Gardens," the pastor told his congregation which sat quietly listening to his account.
But instead of turning himself in, Coke evaded the security forces which by Monday were engaged in a shootout with a group of Coke's supporters, some of whom it has since been revealed were paid up to $100,000 per day to defend his turf. Military personnel have since revealed that they suspected Coke had fled Tivoli Gardens as early as 4:00 pm, while the operations in the area were going on.
Police said that 73 civilians and three members of the security forces died during last week's civil unrest, which quickly spread to other sections of West Kingston and halted commercial activities in some sections of the Corporate Area.
On Saturday, Public Defender Earl Witter issued a public appeal for Coke to turn himself over to the authorities in the interest of the people. Witter said that he and Blair stood ready to facilitate the process.