Cedric “Burkie” Burke has been a person of interest for the police for the past eight years – without any charge – and, in an interview with JENSEN LA VENDE responds to what he sees is the stigma of a black man in Sea Lots.
THE name Cedric “Burkie” Burke, depending on who you ask, will draw an emotional response.
But who is this man?
According to police, he is a “big fish” who was charged with being a gang leader, and a person of interest in illegal activity. According to the courts, he is a man who was charged with one offence which was thrown out by the Director of Public Prosecutions with not even as much as a trial date being set.
According to Burke, he is a successful black businessman who, because of his success, has gained the envy of everyone, even the police.
Sunday Newsday sat down with Burke, 44, two Fridays ago at one of his two Sea Lots homes, which he shares with six of his children and one of his children’s mothers. He wore his trademark vest, a grey one this time. His attorney Celeste St Louis was also there to ensure questions about his ongoing lawsuit against the State were not entertained. The three bedroom house made of brick and mortar and wrought iron, tiled in gingerbread brown, is opposite to the shacks seen while swooshing past the Beetham Highway. One of his daughters stood close by, smiling proudly as her father, sits on his couch in his modest home, for the successful businessman he is.
The lawsuit stems from the one charge against him during the state of emergency in 2011. He and another man were arrested while staying at the Hyatt Regency and were freed just under two months later.
Burke was arrested again last month and again released owing to lack of evidence to warrant a charge and subsequent prosecution. He was among 258 people detained in connection with various offences during a three-day police exercise targeting people across the country including Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots and Laventille. Burke proudly displayed his certificate of good character, dated January 10, 2019, issued by the police after a background check for a criminal record.
In 2006, he incorporated his first business, Burke and Co Ltd, a construction firm that employs three of his sons. The following year, he launched his second business, Goodfellas Security Company. The name Goodfellas is from a movie about a mafia lifestyle, but Burke said he had the name from his days of events promotion, when he threw parties in the neighbourhood. He confessed while he used the name for his promotions, he did not establish a bona fide company for that venture, but when he formed his security company, he decided to use a familiar name.
The father of 17 – ten of them boys – is a Brazil football fan, naming four of his sons after stars Renaldo, Revaldo, Romario and Ronaldinho. Seven women gave birth to his children and, he said, they are all well taken care of.
Burke, who said he owns two high-end vehicles, a BMW X6 and a Jaguar, recalled a time when he was not as wealthy and not as popular with the police.
His first encounter with them was when he was arrested in 2011.
A hard start at life
“I grew up under a lot of poverty, life was a struggle. I had a life that was out of this world. To break it down in a nutshell is too much.
“Growing up in poverty, you learn a lot of things. When you small and belly griping and there isn’t a sure plate of food to turn to, you develop skills that a normal child wouldn’t. I used to tell my children about climbing a downs tree and eating that and going to the standpipe for water and that was the proper meal; sometimes was mango – whatever in season. The whole of Sea Lots know the story. It was a roller-coaster,” Burke said.
Burke was not raised by his parents, but knew them. He is his mother’s first son, with an older sister, and his father’s first of two boys – the other died. His mother had seven children, and he was raised by relatives in Sea Lots.
Burke said the stigma he now faces stemmed from his arrest eight years ago, but that hasn’t daunted him: he said all the negativity just gives him the fuel to press harder and reach further, if not for himself, for his family and his community.
“If I wasn’t Cedric Burke, the dark-skinned man from Sea Lots, I would have been praised for what I have accomplished. The problem I having, with me, is it so simple to track everything, every single thing? Because my vehicles bring about a problem. What I drive, my house, a swimming pool became a problem.
“The thing is, I could account for everything I own. I think there are a lot of people who own a lot of things and they can’t account for it – and they have no problem at all. I find it strange that I have been subject to all these investigations. I have no conviction or matter before the court, I dunno how I is the subject of their investigations.
“Everything I own is a problem, where the information is easy to access. I don’t have anything that I bought cash. All my things on my name, they have an easy job to investigate my things. But for some reason that is not done, I don’t know what is the intention or the reason.”
Burke said there is a concerted effort to discredit him as a successful businessman, as he recalled living in a leaky wooden shack. After a house fire in 2006, he reconstructed his home with brick and mortar, installing air-conditioning where sea breeze once cooled him. A swimming pool replaced his baths in the rain.
Fleeing the area is not in his plans, as his success story must be shared.
“If I leave, I will not get fulfilment. What I am trying to accomplish is not about running away from what people say, or think. That wasn’t the intention then and is not the intention now. It is about developing the people and living it with them. Other people will say, ‘I am a lawyer or a doctor and I from this area,’ but how that helping others? Because they not in the community.
“Once someone stay and show the way and live it with the people and develop with them, the entire community benefits. If I had moved when I became successful, that would have moved with me.”
Burke said while his name is being muddied, three of his daughters have represented the country in gymnastics in Panama, Jamaica and Barbados, and he showed off their trophies and medals to support his claim. Asked if he ever thought of changing his children’s surname to spare them unnecessary hardship, Burke emphatically said no.
“I have been fighting this stigma since small. You should not be discriminated by name. They shouldn’t be exposed to the things they are exposed to because of their name. Changing their surname will not be the appropriate thing to do, because that would be showing weakness. My intention was never to be weak, and I can’t teach them weakness. You can’t hide from who you are. If that’s their name, that’s their name.”
He added: “Look at me. Everyone keep telling me about my dress code, how to dress, wearing vest and the gold that I am wearing.
“That’s not who I am. I dress to suit me and not anyone else. If I have to go somewhere and it have a dress code, I will dress accordingly. I will not pretend to be anyone else, and I teach my children that.”
Burke and his political connections
Burke dismissed claims of a close personal relationship with Port of Spain South MP Marlene Mc Donald, who was fired from Cabinet for her association with him.
She was criticised publicly for associating with Burke, whose activities, some alleged, were suspect. His presence at President’s House for McDonald’s swearing-in ceremony raised concerns among Special Branch police.
How Burke managed to attend the function has not been made clear. He told the media he showed up uninvited to support his MP, while she claimed he was an invited guest.
Two days later, without ever having set foot in her new ministry (Public Utilities), she was removed by the Prime Minister for her supposed association with Burke. She was later made Minister of Public Administration.
“There is no special relationship with me and Marlene, there is no big personal thing with me and her,” Burke insists now. “The MP of Port of Spain South, before Marlene Mc Donald, was Eric Williams. I used to go to his office regular, because I was the president of a youth club in Sea Lots (Sea Lots Responsible Youth Organisation).
“I identify problems in the community; these people were elected to deal with these things. I should not talk or communicate with them, when they are the ones you have to go to?
“Identifying problems to them don’t make you personal friends. The media dramatise thing and put it in a way for people to add things to it. I never went to school with Marlene. Me and Marlene never play marbles together. So I don’t know where all the friendship talk come from. Who is she, not the MP for Port of Spain South? Where this community is?”
Burke said he kept himself informed on local and international politics and therefore could carry on a conversation with the likes of Williams and Mc Donald and, probably, because of that, some people thought he and Mc Donald were friends.
Is he a member/supporter of the PNM?
“Before Marlene I was doing what I was doing, and after Marlene I will. People from different parties. I am not getting PNM contracts, because I in business over a decade. There was another government in power during that time and I was getting contracts. My company is judged on performance. I am a human being, born and living in TT. Voting is all of our right and I am not answerable to anyone about who I vote for.”
Burke insisted he is a businessman who will fight for what is right.