Fly Jamaica…

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I flew Fly Jamaica on my recent trip to New York. I chose it because the return flight from JFK is at noon rather than 6 am like American Airlines or Jet Blue. AA even forces you to negotiate Miami’s vast and boring airport, it has no direct flight from Kingston to New York.

I had no idea what to expect with Fly Jamaica as its fairly new and is a collaborative venture between Jamaican and Guyanese interests. In fact i was taken aback by the number of Indian-looking passengers on board till i remembered that the flight originated in Georgetown, Guyana.

By coincidence the lady sharing my row also looked Indian. We both assumed the other was Guyanese till we started talking; she turned out to be Indo-Jamaican while I’m from the subcontinent itself, though resident in Jamaica for 25 years now.

The plane seemed much larger than the ones that usually ply between the Caribbean and North America. It was a Boeing 757. No wonder Fly Jamaica can afford to allow Economy passengers two check in items instead of the measly one almost all airlines now allow you. What’s the point of travelling if you can’t bring back all kinds of goodies with you?

And perhaps because they’re new and want to make an impression Fly Jamaica also serves a hot meal in-flight. On the way there it was delicious ackee and saltfish and on the return leg I had curry chicken. Good quality too. The film showing wildlife in Guyana looked fascinating but i’d forgotten to get one of the free earphones so couldn’t hear the soundtrack. The images were truly compelling, i couldn’t believe the wide variety of creatures you can find in Guyana. I’ll definitely visit now that there’s a direct flight.

Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica
Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica

Out of curiousity I looked up Fly Jamaica’s website to find out more about their background. I had heard that it was a former Air Jamaica pilot and a Guyanese pilot who started the airline. Here’s what the website says:

Fly Jamaica Airways began with a dream to create a truly regional airline, using local talent and with an emphasis on providing a truly local experience to its customers. A full-service, local airline that would bring the Diaspora, and the world, home to the Caribbean.
Fly Jamaica Airways is a partnership between Chief Executive Officer and Guyanese-born Captain Paul Ronald Reece, and Jamaican shareholders, including Chief Operating Officer, Captain Lloyd Tai and Manager of In-Flight Services, Christine Steele. The Company was incorporated in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 2011 and started with a Boeing 757 aircraft. We faced a rigorous start-up process, including meeting national and international requirements.
Through the stewardship of our experienced management and dedication of our amazing employees, we proved to aviation regulators that we have what it takes to be a world-class airline.
On August 24, 2012, Fly Jamaica Airways conducted its demonstration flight from Kingston, Jamaica to Georgetown, Guyana, as part of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority’s (JCAA) approval process.  On August 31, 2012 the JCAA issued our Air Operators Certificate (AOC). Fly Jamaica Airways has also satisfied rigorous requirements for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Transportation and Security Administration (TSA), in order to operate as a commercial US-registered carrier. Now, we look forward to taking to the skies and sharing our passion for safe, reliable and enjoyable aviation with the world!

I generally don’t buy things just because they’re locally produced but if you give me local AND good you have my vote. The service on Fly Jamaica was warm, friendly and efficient. I would fly them again. And again.

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.