Jamaica plans to bring in relatives and friends Wednesday to identify those killed in the operation to arrest accused drug lord Christopher Coke, the ministry of national security said.
The identification process, which began at 9:30 a.m., came hours after Prime Minister Bruce Golding survived a no-confidence vote in parliament. Jamaica’s opposition People’s National Party accused Golding of being indirectly responsible for the deaths and the outbreak of violence in West Kingston.
In the motion of no-confidence, parliament member Peter Phillips accused Golding of partaking in a “damnable coverup,” actively fighting to protect Coke and allowing organized crime to insert itself into Jamaica’s politics.
“Mr. Speaker,” Phillips said, “it is with a sense of personal disappointment that one of the authors of this whole sordid chapter was none other than the prime minister himself.”
The motion was rejected along party lines Tuesday night, according to Jamaican news outlets, with Golding’s Labor Party trumping the measure 30-28.
Defending his party colleague, Clive Mullings said it was easy to “weigh down on someone who has taken responsibility,” according to media reports. He added that Golding’s contrition gave him confidence in the head of state.
Opposition leader Portia Simpson Miller called Golding’s actions tantamount to “samfie,” a Jamaican word for trickster, according to the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
The crux of the opposition’s beef lies in a diplomatic tussle surrounding the U.S. request that Jamaica extradite Coke, who has been indicted on drug and gun crimes in a New York federal court.
The U.S. requested Coke’s extradition last year, but the Jamaican government questioned whether the U.S. had obtained its evidence legitimately. At issue were wiretapped phone calls that a Jamaican constable – known only as John Doe in affidavits - shared with American authorities.
Jamaica Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne demanded the constable’s name, saying he should be charged. The U.S. refused. A stalemate persisted until last month when Golding said the courts would decide whether to extradite Coke.
Violence subsequently erupted in West Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens, a garrison community where Coke holds sway, as Jamaican police and soldiers fought with gunmen they said were loyal to Coke.
The Jamaican opposition accused Golding and other Labor officials of hiring a lobbying firm to scuttle the U.S. extradition request. The opposition further said Golding misled parliament when he said the party, and not the government, hired the firm.
Golding has issued a national apology, saying he believed the matter was being “kept completely separate from the government,” but it wasn’t. Golding has also fended off media reports that he is “a known criminal affiliate” of Coke. He called the charges “scurrilous.”
Peter Bunting, the PNP’s national security spokesman, said Golding has engaged in a “long-running pantomime,” the Jamaica Observer reported.
According to the newspaper, Bunting said the government essentially gave Coke a “heads-up” by announcing that authorities would pursue extradition.
The prime minister's “spin doctors were desperately trying to reinvent him, presenting him as the man to now lead the fight against crime,” Bunting was quoted as saying.
Golding contended that he had to broadcast Coke’s arrest warrant because each time security forces entered Tivoli Gardens unannounced, women and children were killed, the Observer reported.
In an address Tuesday night, Golding said a police post was established in Tivoli Gardens to improve police relations with residents. Sources have told CNN that many residents in the community consider Coke a hero or benefactor.
Golding also said that the hunt for Coke was a catalyst for a more concerted fight against “criminal networks that have embedded themselves in communities.”
“It is a campaign that will be sustained and intensified,” he said. “It is a campaign that will target criminal gangs wherever they exist, irrespective of their political alliances or whether they have any such alliances.”
Though estimates place the death toll higher and the opposition claims it has topped 100, Golding said the bodies of 73 civilians have been killed in the search for Coke.
Photos of the victims will be on display at the Tivoli Gardens Community Center and another location Wednesday. Police are asking that relatives bring photos of their loved ones to assist in identifying them, according to the Ministry of National Security.