Welcome…to the Hotel Krasnapolsky! (to the tune of Hotel California)

a further brief account of a visit to Suriname and the charming Hotel Krasnapolsky…

Rhonda Fredericks poses in front of works by Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi…

So as i said we stayed at the Hotel Krasnapolsky in downtown Paramaribo. I liked the fact that when i finally arrived in my room at 3 am after travelling incessantly on Caribbean Airlines which wouldn’t allow us out at Piarco to get some doubles even though there was a 3.5 hour layover there, and after all that you couldn’t even get a real drink on the plane to calm your nerves because for some inexplicable reason they had no alcohol on board,  when i finally got to my room hungry, thirsty and starving at 3 am it was incredibly welcoming to find a little care package waiting with slices of cheese and bread, peanut butter, chocolate spread and a bottle of water.

Bedroom suite at Krasnapolsky

Likewise when we departed a week later, also at 3 am (the airport is almost in Guyana, an hour away and the flight was at 6 am) each of us received another care package with an apple, bottled water, bread, cheese and a boiled egg, albeit without salt or pepper. It would be a few days before I would learn that Carlos Fuentes once said that sex without guilt is like a boiled egg without salt, the twitter feed was buzzing with Fuentes quotes the day his death was announced. Carolyn Cooper managed to find a vagrant Rastaman at the airport who was happy to receive whatever was left of our Krasnapolsky care packages. I hope he was luckier with the salt situation (an Ital Rasta would’ve eschewed salt anyway) but at any rate Dear Dear Krasnapolsky Hotel, you made us feel loved and cared for on leaving tantalizing Suriname. The only complaint i might have was the patchy wi-fi in my room and the Protestant work ethic of the cleaning staff who liked to start their working day very early, practically dragging you out of bed to clean your room.

This time the wait at Piarco was much shorter and Carolyn and i nearly missed the connecting flight so deep in conversation were we. Actually she was trying to mark papers and periodically showing me the most egregious samples of what passed for student English and it wasn’t until we suddenly heard a voice on the loudspeaker announcing a final boarding call for Caribbean Airlines flight 455 to Barbados and Kingston and urging passengers Cooper and Paul to show themselves immediately that we realized that everyone else had inexplicably boarded the plane without our even noticing a thing.

Short Stories’ by Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi, Fort Zeelandia. Kit-Ling posing in front of her paintings.
Issue 5 of ARC which has just hit the newstands

Some of the other enjoybable things about the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) conference we had just attended were the art exhibit ‘Short Stories’ by Kit-Ling jon Pian Gi and the launch of ARC no. 5, the latest edition of that remarkable art publication by Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins, two women from Bequia and St Vincent. If you haven’t seen it yet, get copies, they’re likely to become collector’s items for they’re produced in limited editions with the highest production values imaginable. Rarely has the region seen such an uncompromising commitment to international publishing protocols and standards. May ARC have a long and eventful life.

Paramaribo, Suriname…

A brief account of the 2012 Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) conference in Paramaribo, Suriname

The erstwhile queen of Holland used to be in the city centre, Paramaribo; when the country detached itself from its former colonizer the Queen was banished to the banks of the Paramaribo river where she looks forlornly over the water….
Jamaican music is big in Suriname…as it is elsewhere in the Caribbean and all around the world…
Angeletta Gourdine rocking it at a karaoke bar in downtown Paramaribo…

The last few weeks have been filled with travel, and I’ve enjoyed moving from place to place much more than I usually do. The most recent trip was to Paramaribo in Suriname at the beginning of May. I was invited to be one of the featured speakers at the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) annual conference, held this time in Paramaribo. We stayed at the charismatic Hotel Krasnapolsky, the site of the conference.

A highlight of this second trip to Suriname, for me, was hearing Cynthia McLeod, author of ‘The Cost of Sugar’ and one of the premier writers in Suriname regale us with stories of how she began writing, of her desire to write a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type historical romance set in Suriname, and being mistaken for a cook when she appeared at the grand building in Amsterdam where a subsequent book was launched.

Another highlight was the food, for Suriname is a gastronomer’s delight, with cuisines from Java, China, India, the local Creole and Dutch competing for your belly. The Garden of Eden in Paramaribo is the best Thai restaurant I’ve ever eaten at and Joosje Roti downtown saw me return several times with fellow conferencers in tow. The owner/manager there runs a tight ship, with roti and curry rolled out on trolleys, an ultraclean establishment and delectable Jalebis for dessert. Dumpling # 1 (yes, that’s the name of the restaurant) satiated my perpetual craving for dim sum and the amazing Indonesian restaurant we went to in the Javanese sector was something to remember (if anyone can tell me the name of the vine in the photograph above i’d be grateful).

The conference itself was well organized and a lot of fun. Another highlight was a book called Kuis (Chaste–in English) which had the most provocative cover i’ve seen in a while. About a goldsmith commissioned to design a chastity belt for a young woman the cover bore the image of a delicate diamond-studded gold chastity belt snaking around slender female loins. The actual chastity belt in the photograph was made by a South African jeweller for a client in London who ordered it for his bride to wear on their wedding night.

Unfortunately (for me) the book was in Dutch but the author Rihana Jamaludin read excerpts translated into English which sounded quite compelling. The book is a local reading choice for high school students who previously had to choose exclusively from Dutch titles. Not surprisingly its their top choice…

My Name is Khan…Roger Khan

What kind of sentence is Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke likely to get from a US court? Will he tell all? Who will he implicate? An examination of what happened in the case of Guyanese drug baron Roger Khan might provide some clues…


Driving Miss Dudus by Hubert Neal Jr.

Now that Dudus is safely in the hands of the US justice system what can we expect the outcome to be? That is the question in almost everyone’s mind with Observer columnist Lloyd B. Smith even wondering “Should Dudus sing?” in his latest column. What kind of sentence is Dudus likely to get? Will he ‘sing’ and get a reduced sentence? Who will he take down with him? Is anyone in government going to be implicated?

Even if we’re unlikely to know the answers to these questions anytime soon, we might get some clues from looking at other extraditions similar to that of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. In 2006 Samuel “Ninety” Knowles, a Bahamian drug ‘kingpin’ with ties to Jamaica was extradited to the US on charges of “conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it.” In 2008 a US court sentenced him to 35 years in prison.

Like the Jamaican government the Bahamian government had also dragged its feet before allowing Knowles’ extradition on the grounds that he might not receive a fair trial in the United States. The Jamaican government’s argument in stalling Dudus’s extradition was that the evidence provided by the US to prove that Coke was a trafficker was obtained by wiretapping, allegedly illegal under Jamaican law. Interestingly in his book Police and Crime Control in Jamaica: Problems of Reforming Ex-Colonial Constabularies Anthony Harriott noted that Jamaica citizens may be convicted on illegally obtained evidence with the exception of coerced confessions. (p. 40)

The most notorious drug kingpin of all was Colombian Pablo Escobar of the infamous Medellin Cartel who thumbed his nose at the US for years. Escobar formed a lobby group called Los Extraditables (their slogan: Better a grave in Colombia than a jail in the United States) that bullied the Colombian government “through murder, intimidation and skilful public relations” into repealing the laws allowing extradition of criminals. Escobar then designed a cushy prison for himself in a compound called La Catedral. As Guillermoprieto tells it: “”Despite enormous controversy, the government had finally agreed to Escobar’s terms: he got to choose the prison site, in the hills above his suburban fiefdom of Envigado, and he supervised its security measures. Neither Army troops nor police officers were allowed on the prison grounds, and Escobar personally approved the hiring of half of some fifty guards–the other half to be recruited by the Mayor of Envigado–who were to stand watch over him and his associates.”

In 1992 thinking that the government, which wanted to move him to safer quarters, was going to kill him, Escobar ‘escaped’ from his prison possibly walking out through the back door in women’s clothes. He remained at large until December 1993 when he was shot and killed by Colombian security forces. Alma Guillermoprieto’s book The Heart that Bleeds, from which I got this information, has more details on all this.

Perhaps the most sensational ‘extraditable’ close to home however was Guyanese drug baron Roger Khan who was arrested in Paramaribo, Suriname on June 15, 2006. Wanted in the US for importation of cocaine into that country Khan evaded capture in Guyana by escaping to neighbouring Suriname. In Guyana his close ties to the ruling party, the PPP, had allowed him to escape arrest but in Suriname, a country with a more serious attitude towards law enforcement he was caught by the police and forcibly deported to Guyana via Trinidad and Tobago. He never reached Guyana: The Surinamese Police had evidently tipped off the USDEA who were waiting for Khan at Piarco airport in Trinidad. From there he was flown directly to the US and imprisoned.

Roger Khan was the kind of criminal who makes Dudus look like a pussycat. He allegedly had at his disposal a paramilitary troop known as The Phantom Squad who ruthlessly terrorized and eliminated witnesses and others who stood in his way. Between 2002 and 2006 approximately 200 people are said to have been murdered by the Phantom Squad.


Roger Khan at Brooklyn Federal Court

There were several unique things about the Roger Khan case. Far from admitting to being a criminal Khan took out full page advertisements in Guyanese newspapers claiming that he was actually a crimefighter who had helped both the Guyanese and the US governments during an earlier crime wave. In a further twist during the course of his trial at an East New York district court his high profile lawyer Robert Simels was himself indicted for tampering with witnesses during his defence of Khan.

According to a March 17, 2009 Stabroek News article:

“Since being imprisoned, Khan and the prosecution have made some explosive statements about the inner workings of his criminal enterprise and other matters in Guyana. Khan’s former lawyer, Robert Simels, who, along with his assistant, Arianne Irving, is now his co-defendant in the witness-tampering charge, had stated that US government investigators had learnt that Khan received permission from the Guyana government to purchase surveillance equipment capable of intercepting and tracing telephone calls made from landline or cellular phones. The software is reportedly only sold to governments.”


Roger Khan after arrest in Suriname

The surveillance equipment in question was manufactured by UK firm Smith Myers; its co-director testified in the New York court that “the cellular intercept equipment used by drug kingpin Roger Khan had been sold to the Government of Guyana (GoG), a contention that officials here have repeatedly denied.” This despite the fact that testimony was produced in court showing links between Khan and Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy. Evidence disclosed to the court showed “that the equipment was purchased for and received on behalf of the GOG by Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy. Myers also confirmed that independent contractor, Carl Chapman, traveled to Guyana to train Khan and others in the use of the equipment.”

Among the persons killed for statements intercepted with the surveillance equipment were a popular talk show host Ronald Waddell and a young activist and boxing coach, Donald Allison. According to a Working People’s Alliance press release on July 28, 2009, Selwyn Vaughn, a former member of the notorious Roger Khan phantom squad and now informant for the US government, testified under oath about the involvement of Roger Khan and a high official in the Guyana Government, Minister Leslie Ramsammy, in the execution of PNCR member and political commentator Ronald Waddell and Agricola youth organiser Donald Allison.

For the record Ramsammy has vehemently denied that he has ever had any contact with Khan and said he has no knowledge about the surveillance equipment. As for the execution of talk show host Waddell, according to the New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID):

President Bharrat Jagdeo, when asked at a press conference on July 28, to respond to Vaughn’s testimony that Ramsammy had been complicit in the assassination of Waddell, said “Maybe if at the end of the day, all the criminals were to deal with each other we may have a better society but I am not going to sanction that. This is not government policy… but I wouldn’t lose any sleep, frankly speaking, about criminals when they kill each other.” Jagdeo also further said that “If you believe all that this informant is saying you have to also believe that he (Waddell) was a member of the Buxton gang and that he was basically in a criminal enterprise. Waddell was a criminal involved in a criminal enterprise.”

As usual the line between being a criminal and outlaw and being a legitimate businessman who was also a popular self-appointed leader is rather blurred. Khan was said to have “founded and operated a number of successful businesses, including, but not limited to, a housing development and a construction company, a carpet cleaning service, a nightclub, and a timber mill.”

Though repeatedly lobbied and besieged by public interest groups to have the entire sordid state of affairs thoroughly investigated the Guyanese government has resisted. The part that sounds mind-numbingly familiar is the following quote from another article carried in the Stabroek News:

The government so far has resisted all calls for such an inquiry; it can afford to do so because it knows that significant elements of its own constituency regard Roger Khan as a ‘saviour’ of sorts. Our reporter earlier last week sought out comments from the Guyanese diaspora, and of those who agreed to say something in the Liberty Avenue, Queens area (NY), the sentiment was that Khan had “saved” Guyana. One man told her that had it not been for Khan the country would have “gone down the drain”; that the US should not have “kidnapped” him and instead he should have been left to continue the “good things he started.”

Shades of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and the ‘Don’ or ‘community leader’ phenomenon we know so well in Jamaica. But in Guyana there is an added complication that, mercifully, is absent from Jamaican politics: the vexed issue of race. As a 2009 Village Voice article alleged:

“Khan’s reputation seems to diverge along racial lines in Guyana, where about half the population is of African descent and half of East Indian descent, like him. To many Indo-Guyanese, he is a folk hero, responsible for cleaning up the streets when the country’s police force which is predominantly Afro-Guyanese couldn’t or wouldn’t, giving East Indians, who dominate the business community, a layer of protection where none previously existed. Khan has claimed, without copping to the existence of the Phantoms, to have helped the government put down a crime spree stemming from a 2002 prison break, and to have collaborated with the U.S. government in the region, most notably in the case of the safe retrieval of an American diplomat who was kidnapped off a Guyana golf course in 2003. Afro-Guyanese are more likely to associate Khan first and foremost as a leader of the Phantom Squad, a drug runner and thug, to blame for just about every suspicious death in Guyana. (Guyana, like Suriname, is a transhipping point for South American cocaine destined for North America, Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean, according to the DEA.)”

Because of his links to the the ruling PPP, Guyanese President Bharat Jagdeo stood accused of being a friend of Khan’s. Whether this is true or not, a story circulating about Khan, who like Dudus also bore the nickname ‘Shortman’, suggests otherwise. According to the tale Khan was in a particular club with friends when Jagdeo suddenly appeared causing him to ejaculate “Oh skunt boy, here cum the Anti-man!” before getting up to greet the President. As my source put it: Explanation: Jagdeo is believed to be gay — ‘skunt’ is a popular swear word in Guyana and ‘Anti-man’ is homophobic abuse for gay men used as an alternative to ‘battyman.

Homophobia: Another trait that Khan shares with the Jamaican badman (despite their willingness to don female clothing when the situation calls for it). There are plenty of parallels in the Roger Khan and Dudus coke sagas. Both Khan and Ninety, the Bahamian drug don also had ties to Jamaica. Those who are hoping that Dudus will sing long and loud in New York, revealing the dirt on organized crime in Jamaica, should bear the following observation by a Stabroek News editorial in mind:

Those who were optimistic that Khan himself might one day supply information about his operations here as well as his connections, must have been disappointed to learn that the likelihood is he will be deported at the end of his sentence. If he knows he has to return to his homeland eventually, it is hardly likely to put him in confessional mode. It is always possible, of course, that further information may trickle out from future trials which will throw some light on the events of a painful period.