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A close-up view of 'Dudus'

From Tivoli ‘don’ to accused international drug lord

Sunday, June 06, 2010    

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Journalist Tino Geddes, who has frequented Tivoli Gardens for many years, gives a personal account of the rise of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke from a modest community 'don' to the international figure described by United States authorities as one of the most dangerous drug and arms dealers in the world today.

DESCRIBED by Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, a former head of the Jamaica Defence Force, who later became commissioner of police, as the "Mother of all Garrisons", Tivoli Gardens has been the most feared inner-city community in Jamaica for the past five decades.

Official crime statistics show that virtually no crimes are committed in Tivoli Gardens, although its best known residents are regarded as the most dangerous and ruthless persons in Jamaica. Such is the fear of the Tivoli 'dons' that blanket assurances can be given for the security of any person's property or life in the community on their say-so.

The world famous Wednesday night street dance "Passa Passa" is a classic example of this. Patrons are assured that if they leave their vehicles open and unmanned these will not be interfered with. This has held true since the inception of the event seven years ago.


Tivoli is a self-sufficient community, boasting schools, churches, a variety of shops, a state-of-the-art maternity and pre-natal clinic, tailor and barber shops, hairdressers, dressmakers, bars and food shops, shoemakers and an assortment of playfields.

The community is adjacent to the Coronation Market (now being rebuilt after being gutted during the ongoing unrest), and opposite the famed Miles Pharmacy which offers anything from prescription and over-the-counter drugs to good luck books and candles, fresh bread and even bar services.

It required someone of real and rare vision to conceptualise this community, and a special breed of men to maintain it.

Starting with Zackie, the 'High Priest', followed by Claudie 'Jack' Massop, then for a short while Carl 'Bya' Mitchell, through Lester Lloyd 'Jim Brown' Coke, to his son Anthony 'Jah T' Coke and now on-the-run Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

During the reign of the successive dons, there has always been a cadre of feared men 'upside' them. Zackie had a young Claudie Massop; 'Bobeye', who later became known as Jim Brown; Alvin George Gordon, 'Micky Jacques' and Desmond Paige, who was charged along with Gordon for one of the earliest politically motivated gun slayings back in the late 1960s.

Jim Brown was supported by Micky Jacques, George Dinall 'Rock', Donovan Jones, one of two enforcers called 'Left Hand', 'Hunch', and a host of others.

Jah T's reign ran concurrently with his father's, as Jim Brown died on February 23, 1992, the same day Jah T was buried. It was decided after the death of the elder Coke that adopted son, Christopher 'Dudus' would take over.

He had no shortage of lieutenants, and unlike his father, he shied away from publicity and attention. Jim Brown, chief enforcer for the feared Shower Posse, would occasionally showcase an awesome array of jewellery and silk clothing, while Dudus always dressed modestly.

They were dissimilar in other respects as Jim was a tall, imposing figure, with a sharp wit and an always ready, swift and often brutal response to adversity, while Dudus stands no taller than five feet seven inches and speaks softly, and only when necessary.

Dudus inherited a kingdom, handed down from the mainly US-based Shower Posse, and took it to another level. Once installed as head of Tivoli, Dudus ensured that politics would be no barrier to his organisation.

Persons deported from the US and the United Kingdom with only their shirts on their backs and pockets devoid of cash, could find a measure of comfort from Coke, who would ensure that all their overseas contacts were preserved, and utilised.

As a result, Coke was not seen as just the leader of Tivoli Gardens, but indeed the leader of all inner-city communities.

Media reports which claimed that Dudus often met with Matthews Lane strongman 'Zeeks' Phipps are incorrect.

Dudus would only see Phipps if Phipps came to Tivoli, and then only reluctantly would he have audience. He never saw himself on the same page as Zeeks and made that abundantly clear.

Dudus always kept himself in shape, playing hours of football in his kingdom. He also kept himself well-informed about current affairs and persons in the news.

I have met with Dudus on several occasions, always in Tivoli, and I know quite a bit about how he thinks about local public opinion.

I recall taking a curious television behind-the-scenes personality to meet "The President", and he was shocked that at the first mention of his name, Dudus was able to pinpoint his job position at the television station.

This was always the man: shrewed, informed, confident, unassuming and quiet but exuding an air of capability that would put anyone on alert.

This is Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

I clearly remember his anger, suppressed though it was, when policemen were killed, apparently in retaliation for the police shooting the day before of 'Chris Royal' Coke, another relative.

He had no hesitation in advising the security forces who wished to interview him, about his whereabouts and the time when he would be in various places. He had nothing to do with those killings and thus, had nothing to fear.

He always felt that he had an obligation to the Tivoli community and he provided for the residents.

Labelled a criminal fugitive at the time of writing, Dudus may be all that he is made out to be by the US authorities, but he has always been a caring person, just as his predecessors were.

No matter what, as the residents of Tivoli Gardens maintain, they are prepared to die for the man, do anything for him, and display what seems by all accounts to be a genuine affection for him, not born from his generosity, but from his concern for them.

Dudus is not a run of the mill ordinary Joe, looking to make some money and in search of power. He has never been and he will never be regarded by those who have known him, in that light.

I have personally known all the previous 'dons' of Tivoli Gardens. I had a special affection for Massop; I was closely involved with Bya; I watched Jah T go through high school at Wolmer's; I was particularly close to Jim Brown, and although not as close to Dudus as I was to his father, the younger Coke has commanded my respect.

Having no way of communicating with him, I can only hope that, somehow, though highly unlikely, something positive will work out for him.

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