23 Jun 2010

Jamaican ‘drug baron’ Coke arrested

As Christopher “Dudas” Coke is captured in Jamaica, to face extradition to the US, Jon Snow asks is there another way to deal with the global menace of illegal durgs?

Christopher ‘Dudas’ Coke was arrested by police at a road checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital Kingston on Tuesday, bring to an end a bloody manhunt and a political controversy that has been raging for months.

Coke is wanted for extradition to the United States on drug and gun running charges, and Jon Snow points out that this case highlights “the terrible dynamic so many developing countries are caught it”.

Drug money has long funded Jamaica’s gangs and is widely believed to be behind much of the mainstream parties’ funding.

Arrested to face extradition

According to Police Commissioner Owen Ellington, the arrest went without violence, he told journalists: “He appeared to be physically well and we will be preparing him to face the court as soon as possible.”

Coke had been travelling in a car with the Reverend Al Miller, an influential evangelical preacher who facilitated the surrender of Coke’s brother earlier this month. Miller says they were on their way to the capital, where Coke had intended to surrender.

According to Miller, Coke had requested his assistance to go directly to the US Embassy in Kingston, fearing violence if he was handed over to the police.

“A contact was made on his behalf that he wanted to give himself in, I therefore made arrangements with his lawyers because he wanted to go ahead with the extradition process, so we communicated with the US Embassy because that’s where he would feel more comfortable.”

Criminal charges

Dudas Coke has been labelled by the US Justice Department as one of their most wanted “dangerous narcotics kingpins”, thought to have smuggling operations all over Latin America.

In a ten page indictment, the Manhattan Federal Court lodged charges against him, for trafficking cocaine, marijuana and weapons between Jamaica and the US.

He faces life in prison if convicted.

The US also accuse Coke of leading the so-called ‘shower posse’ that murdered hundreds of people during the cocaine wars of the 1980s.

Jon Snow says Jamaica is “standing at the cross-roads between production and consumption,” and questions where this case could offer the opportunity to review the Northern powers’ approach to illegal drug production and the corruption it breeds:

“Should Dudas Coke go down as the man who eventually broke the taboo that continues to surround any question of ever readdressing the global menace of illegal drugs?”

Popular support

The alleged drug baron is also a man who commands a great deal of popular support.

In a bid to prevent his extradition Coke’s private militia and supporters burned down two police stations and shot up four others in a series of attacks that preceded deadly raids on his Tivoli Gardens stronghold.

Police and army raids on the west Kingston shanty town resulted in four days of violence, and a state of emergency in the country. At least 76 people were killed.

Jamaica’s police commissioner did not dismiss the possibility that Coke could face charges for the deaths of two policemen and a soldier in last month’s bloodshead.

Owen Ellington told journalists: “We are investigating all attacks on our personnel and I am not in a position to make a definitive statement on that matter yet.”

Political links

Coke is also alleged to have close links to many of the country’s most powerful politicians, and is even to have funded the ruling party.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding initially refused to honour the US extradition requeats, instead issuing requests for “additional information”.

Golding was forced to back down after nine months, as public pressure threatened his position. He was subject to a vote of “no confidence” by the opposition, led by Edward Seaga, surviving only by promising the Tivoli Garden raids.

He issued a radio address to the nation on 17 May, where he said he would not stand down but “regretted the entire affair” saying it had “raised a question of trust”. Golding also admitted the party should “never have got involved”. He appealed to the nation for forgiveness and atonement, declaring: “I crave your understanding”.

Gangs and government

It’s thought the Jamaican government is reluctant have the trial in the country for fear of exposing the links between gangs and government.

Jamaica’s political history is intertwined with slum gangs that the two main parties helped organise in Kingston’s poor neighbourhoods in the 1970s and ’80s. The gangs controlled the streets and intimidated voters at election time.

Mr Golding has pledged to break down gang culture and tackle the scourge of drugs and extortion throughout Jamaica.

Jon Snow blogs
Coke stands accused of a morass of drug dealing crimes in the US and looks as if he’ll be deported to stand trial there. But in the meantime the strong allegation is that he has compromised the government of Jamaica allegedly funding the ruling party itself.

Coke's case highlights yet again the terrible dynamic so many developing countries are caught in. Standing at the cross-roads between production and consumption, the Caribbean mimics West Africa in its rancid dependence upon drug cartels for corrupt advancement.

As I reported more than two decades ago when based in the US, the power in American politics wielded by the illegal drug industry knows few bounds.

Should Dudas Coke go down as the man who eventually broke the taboo that continues to surround any question of ever readdressing the global menace of illegal drugs?

Read more from Jon Snow's blog