26 May 2010

Jamaica death toll rises as unrest continues

While 49 people die in the hunt for alleged drug kingpin Christopher Coke, critic Annie Paul writes for Channel 4 News about how Jamaican politics has found itself indebted to gang lords.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed to restore order in the capital Kingston as police continue to search for Coke for a third day after a call for his extradition to the US sparked violence in areas of Kingston.

Police and soldiers have been battling loyal supporters of Christopher Coke, 42, who have vowed to protect him at any cost. A total of 49 have now been killed, 44 of those civilians, have been wounded in the clashes.

Coke, known as ‘Dudus’ is wanted in the US for a number of drug and gun related offenses. He is named by the US Justice Department on the list of most wanted “dangerous narcotics kingpins”.

US prosecutors believe Coke is the leader of the “Shower Posse,” which murdered hundreds of people by showering them with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s. His father Lester Coke was said to control the outfit before his death in 1992.

Jamaican critic Annie Paul writes for Channel 4 News
The situation in Jamaica is very complex. There are no clear good guys and bad guys here or elsewhere for that matter. No 'evil empire' that can easily be targeted and dismantled because the very governance system of the country has for decades been sharing power, so to speak, with dons or leaders such as Dudus [Christopher Coke alias].

Clearly the problem arose because the formal governance system, inherited from the British, left large segments of the poor literally unrepresented and voiceless before and after independence.

The failure to include or extend the state's protection and support to all segments of the population created space for alternate leaders to spring up because the excluded still needed security, justice systems, jobs among other things.

This void was filled by so-called community leaders or godfather figures who used any means necessary to provide these basic necessities for the people in their respective neighbourhoods. It takes cash to care, as a popular political slogan goes, and it was inevitable that such leaders would turn to drugs and arms running, and other illicit sources of income to support their followers in the absence of any legal methods of doing so.

Dons maintain their power with the help of gangs of armed enforcers, their equivalent of the state's security forces.

At a certain point in Jamaica's history Jamaica's political leaders found themselves indebted to gang leaders for delivering votes, and that is the root of the problem. Both political parties succumbed to this perverted method of 'democratic' governance.

Dudus has been an extraordinary provider for the inhabitants of Tivoli.

What makes him exceptional is that he has also managed to forge coalitions between gangs across party lines and across the country when needed because of the respect he commands. His reach extends beyond his immediate community across all kinds of borders and is a testament to his abilities as an astute leader.

Had he been legit and able to run for election he would have probably created a modern, efficient Jamaica the likes of which have yet to be seen, but of course one where personal freedoms may have been more circumscribed than they are today.

The problem is his links to the underworld do not permit the state to continue the tacit alliance with him and others like him that have persisted to this day.

The question is how do you take the milk out of the coffee once the two have been mixed. That is the predicament Jamaica finds itself in.

Annie Paul blogs at Active Voice.

Thousands of police and soldiers have stormed the Tivoli Gardens area of Kingston where Coke is believed to have his hideout – although his whereabouts is currently unknown.

The masked gunmen fighting for Coke say he provides services and protection – all funded by a criminal empire.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he regretted the loss of life and vowed to quell the unrest in the capital. He said that despite the negative impacts of the state of emergency it was necessary to due to the “extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge to the safety and security of our citizens.”

Yesterday Anthony Johnson, Jamaica’s high commissioner to London told Jon Snow that the situation was “a rough business”.

“The Jamaican police and the military operating under the state of emergency which is in effect, have control of the entire road system of Jamaica,” he said.

“Now the whereabouts of Mr Coke I’m not privileged to know. They’re trying to find him and it’s been rather a rough business.”

The increased death toll followed reports of numerous civilian casualties during the assault on Tivoli Gardens. A number of residents have said they are being held “under siege” in their homes.

“We are hungry, we have no food and we cannot go outside,” one woman said.

“Some of us are desperate. Whenever we try to go outside our homes, the soldiers chase us back in and tell us to stay inside,” she said.

Drug ‘mastermind’

The United States requested Coke’s extradition in August last year but Jamaica initially refused, alleging that evidence against him had been gathered through illegal wiretaps.

An arrest warrant to begin extradition proceedings against Coke was finally issued last week. He was indicted in Manhattan in 2009 on charges of conspiracy to traffic in drugs and guns, charges that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

He is accused of running a vast smuggling ring that exports cocaine and marijuana to New York and sends guns back to Jamaica. The US indictment alleges that Coke has controlled Tivoli Gardens since the early 1990s and describes the neighborhood as a “garrison” community guarded by armed men who erect barricades and act at his direction.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States still hoped to have Coke turned over.

“We filed the extradition request with Jamaica last year and the government has recently decided to arrest him. Obviously they would have to go through a legal process to evaluate whether extradition is appropriate under Jamaican law,” he said.