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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Political fraternization with drug gangs come home to roost in Jamaica

By Anthony L. Hall:

Given the way Jamaican celebrities like Bob Marley have glorified ganja (marijuana), foreigners can be forgiven for thinking that it is the national crop of Jamaica. And Jamaicans can be forgiven for making folk heroes of men who defiantly use marijuana, or even profit from the sale of it. After all, it has undisputed medicinal benefits and is arguably no more anti-social than alcohol.

Anthony L. Hall is a descendant of the Turks & Caicos Islands, international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who publishes his own weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at offering commentaries on current events from a Caribbean perspectiveOn the other hand, despite foreign media reports, I doubt there’s more than a handful of Jamaicans who glorify the use of cocaine or, even worse, make heroes of men who peddle this inherently destructive and anti-social drug. This is why it must have incited national shock and dismay when gun battles erupted on Sunday, right in the heart of the capital Kingston, between security forces and thugs associated with a reputed cocaine kingpin. How did it come to this…?

Well, it began many years ago when Jamaica’s main political parties began relying on gangs to cultivate grass-roots support amongst the many poor people who live on their turf. This explains why successive Jamaican governments have been loath to intervene over the years in the gang-related activities that led the BBC in 2006 to designate this island paradise, paradoxically, as the murder capital of world.

In any event, it is in this context that the now governing Jamaica Labour Party (JPL) established a Faustian alliance with the aptly named Christopher “Dudas” Coke. More to the point, the JPL knew full well that Coke was a drug kingpin who ruled one of the major “political slums” (Tivoli Gardens), where white-shoe politicians dare not tread, like a feudal lord.

But all Jamaican political leaders must have known that the American government would not turn a blind eye to the activities of anyone involved in trafficking drugs wholesale into the United States. Indeed, given its open and notorious efforts to extradite Columbian and Mexican drug lords (not to mention even invading Panama to arrest that country’s president Manuel Noriega on suspicion of narco-trafficking), it was only a matter of time before Coke’s operations became too big to ignore.

And so the inevitable came some nine months ago when the Obama administration submitted an extradition request -- after labeling Coke, 42, as one of the most dangerous drug lords in the world and indicting him on a battery of cocaine trafficking and gun-running charges.

Of course, notwithstanding being in bed with Coke, regard for national sovereignty dictated that Prime Minister Bruce Golding, the leader of the JPL, put up legal challenges to this request. After all, even with no such political ties to Bahamian drug kingpin Samuel “Ninety” Knowles, the government of The Bahamas fought a similar extradition request for almost six years before being legally and politically compelled to hand him over to US authorities.

Therefore, it was hardly surprising to learn - as reported on Monday by the Associated Press, that:

“Prime Minister Bruce Golding had stalled Coke’s extradition request for nine months with claims the US indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence.”

What is surprising, if not stupefying, is that Golding misled the Jamaican people about the extent of his efforts to stave off Coke’s extradition. Frankly, given his party’s well-known association with Coke, one wonders what political fallout he feared from this revelation. For here’s how Jamaican information Minister Daryl Vaz alluded to his country’s record of cross-party political fraternization with the likes of Coke, which implies that any party leader caught in Golding’s position would have done the same thing:

“As far as I’m concerned, the prime minister did what he had to do, and the fact is that those who are calling for the prime minister to resign and for the Government to resign have no moral authority to call for anybody to resign based on their past and their history.” (Caribbean360, May 13, 2010)

Golding did not demonstrate a profile in courage, however, when he agreed last week to hand over Coke after only nine months of … stalling. Especially since he seemed to cave in not to legal and political pressure from US officials but to plainly partisan carping from local politicians over his furtive efforts in this respect. (To be fair, though, the fact that Jamaica is looking to the US-controlled IMF to bailout its economy once again might have softened Golding’s spine….)

Unfortunately, this made a mockery of his protestations of standing on constitutional principles and smacked of a betrayal of his party’s long-standing association with Coke.

Evidently, it is this perceived betrayal that provoked gangs from other turfs across the island to join Coke’s “Shower Posse” (so named for their menacing inclination to unload their firearms) in a battle to defy any attempt to arrest him pursuant to an extradition warrant. And thousands of slum dwellers in his Tivoli Gardens - who regard Coke more as a latter-day Robin Hood than as a murdering drug dealer - are not only serving as human shields but also providing very vocal moral support.

Here’s how Caribbean Net News quoted one of them in a report yesterday protesting their misguided loyalty:

“He is next to God. Just like how Jesus died on the cross for us, we are willing to die for Dudas.”

Or is that Judas…?

Anyway, so far police stations have been torched and 60 people, including two police officers, have been killed in a frenzy of violence that shows no signs of abating. And things are bound to get much worse. Not least because, thanks to the JPL giving a wink and a nod over the years to Coke’s gun-running enterprise, local gangs now have just as much fire power as the security forces.

“If Coke is somehow able to hold out and formally establish his community as a state within a state, then Jamaica’s future is bleak.” (Brian Meeks, a professor of government at Jamaica’s Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, London Guardian, May 25, 2010)

The JPL created this monster. And given that Coke’s domain of Tivoli Gardens is located in his constituency, Golding must feel particularly responsible.

All the same, it’s clearly far better now, for obvious reasons, to seize this opportunity to kill Coke (and all others like him) than to extradite him. And Golding seems determined to do just that:

“The threats that have emerged to the safety and security of our people will be repelled with strong and decisive action. The state of emergency will remain in effect for a period of one month… This will be a turning point for us as a nation to confront the powers of evil that are penalizing our society and earned us the unenviable label as the murder capital of the world. We must confront this criminal element with determination and unqualified resolve…

“I appeal to all law abiding citizens to remain calm and support these necessary measures.” (PM Golding addressing the nation on Sunday evening, Agence French Presse, May 24, 2010)

I wish my many friends and the rest of the people of Jamaica well.

NOTE: This violence affects a very small area of Jamaica that is far removed from most hotels and tourist sites. Therefore, despite the pro forma travel advisory the U.S. State Department issued on Monday, it remains as safe as ever to travel there….

May 26, 2010