Jamaica: The Good, the Bad, and the 'Dudus'
By David Paulin
Questions and answers about Jamaica's State of Emergency, its gang culture, and the events leading up to the search by security forces for alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke.
Q: How would you characterize the nature of the ties between the Jamaica Labor Party and Christopher "Dudus" Coke?
A: To understand the nature of the ties between the Jamaica Labor Party and Coke, you need to understand three things. First, consider some geography. Coke is based in West Kingston, a critical constituency of the right-leaning Jamaica Labor Party or “JLP” dating to the early 1960s. It's one of Jamaica's so-called "garrison communities" -- areas of Kingston's metropolitan area aligned to one of the country's two main political parties. The opposition party is the left-leaning People's National Party or “PNP.” Second, West Kingston is represented in Parliament by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, a seat he accepted (for better and worse) after becoming head of of the JLP in 2005. It's an area that enabled him to be opposition leader and that served as his springboard to be prime minister in 2007. Third, the Tivoli Gardens area of West Kingston is the stronghold for Christopher "Dudus" Coke, where he allegedly operates an international drug and arms-smuggling organization called the "Shower Posse." Tivoli Gardens is now the focus of bloody assaults by security forces attempting to arrest Coke. As of Tuesday afternoon, dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries had been reported.
Q: So what is the precise relationship that Coke has with the JLP and Bruce Golding?
A: It's a complex symbiotic relationship -- a loose one, so to speak -- whose roots date to Jamaica's independence and to what's called the "political tribalism" that emerged during the early years after independence; a period during which politicians utilized gangs to help sway elections. Since then, those gangs have become self-sufficient and are no longer beholden to the politicians as they had been. In other words, the politicians are no longer riding the tiger (as many Jamaicans note); it's the tiger that's riding the politicians.
This symbiotic relationship has existed for years between politicians and strongmen like Coke (or “Dons” as Jamaicans call them). It amounts to a power-sharing arrangement. Coke, for instance, serves some important roles for the JLP and Golding. Like other Dons with ties to the two main political parties, he fills a power vacuum created by a weak government. Coke also maintains "order" in West Kingston. He provides ad hoc social services such as handouts of food, and he provides jobs through government contracts he distributes – all financed through his legitimate business or from his alleged drug and arms-smuggling profits. And during elections, Coke keeps his political bargain: He maintains political conformity and ensures that West Kingston votes for the JLP -- a task that has often resulted in political violence over the years. Reportedly, Coke gave a "green light" for Golding to accept the West Kingston seat in Parliament in 2005, a seat previously occupied by Edward Seaga. As one newspaper article in Jamaica put it: Golding may represent West Kingston, but Coke runs the place. All in all, it's a Faustian bargain.
It's a matter of conjecture about how close Jamaica's politicians are to the alleged illegal activities carried out by men like Coke. Do they merely look the other way for political expediency? No doubt, they do, and so do the police; otherwise, the "garrison communities" would not exist. Do politicians share profits from the drug trade? That's a matter of conjecture. However, Jamaicans can't help but think the worst when they see prominent politicians and officials hanging out with some Dons and attending gaudy funerals for slain Dons -- spectacles that Jamaica's public-spirited news media have covered in detail and sharply criticized. Ordinary middle-class Jamaicans have been left disillusioned and angry. But their frequent calls for political leaders to "dismantle the garrisons" falls on deaf ears.
Q: What is the "Manatt Affair" and how did it affect Golding’s decision to sign off on Coke’s extradition? Besides Manatt, what else might have prompted Golding to change his mind about extraditing Coke after a 9-month long extradition standoff with Washington?
A: On May 17, Prime Minister Bruce Golding surprised Jamaicans with a repentant television address -- apologizing for the two-month long "Manatt Affair" and pledging to extradite alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. So what was Manatt? Two months earlier, Jamaica's Parliament erupted in the first of many heated sessions over revelations that the prestigious U.S. law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips was paid $49,000 to lobby Washington not to extradite Coke; the fee was part of an original $400,000 contract. Prime Minister Golding lost credibility over the scandal, for it weakened his claim that his administration was delaying the extradition request due to concerns that the Americans had violated Coke's "constitutional rights" with illegal wiretaps and unnamed informants.
In one Parliamentary session after another, the opposition PNP hammered Golding for failing to fully reveal the precise relationship with Manatt; or as one newspaper put it: "to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Jamaicans are cynical about their politicians, and so many doubted that Golding's position on Coke's extradition was really all about the alleged drug lord's "constitutional rights" -- and whether the American's had violated them. Golding also lost credibility as his stories about Manatt changed while in the PNP's spotlight. Eventually, he stated that the contacts with Manatt were initiated through the JLP at his orders, although a taciturn Manatt spokesman said the contacts were from Jamaica's government. The opposition PNP -- which ironically has its own Dons and for years tolerated Coke and other Tivoli strongmen -- called for Golding's resignation.
The episode provided yet more evidence to law-abiding and ordinary Jamaicans that Prime Minister Golding has not tackled Jamaica's deepest pathology -- its garrison communities -- since becoming prime minister in 2007. His high-minded claims about Coke's "constitutional rights" had less credibility. Ultimately, the issue of good governance -- or lack of it -- was at the center of the "Manatt Affair."
Did Manatt alone cause Golding's government to do an about-face about extraditing Coke? Certainly, it's a decision that tormented Golding, for he surely foresaw much of what would happen: protests among West Kingston's poor residents (a critical constituency) who are loyal to Coke; and the orgy of deadly violence now taking place as security forces removed road blocks set up in poor neighborhoods, and then began to battle gunmen loyal to Coke as they set out to find and arrest him.
In explaining Golding's about-face over the extradition request, there is much to suggest that top officials in the Obama administration started taking a hard line against the Golding administration, although the details of what took place have yet to be revealed or confirmed. However, according to one Associated Press report (which U.S. officials would not confirm), top officials in Golding's government had their U.S. visas canceled. A Jamaica newspaper, relying on unnamed sources (presumably American or Jamaican officials in the know), told of U.S. satellite photos showing important Jamaican officials visiting Coke's stronghold; and it was reported in the same article that some affluent Jamaicans were being stopped while visiting the U.S. and grilled about the sources of their wealth. At one point, Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton even made a fleeting visit to Jamaica, meeting with Golding at the airport serving Kingston.
From all appearances, then, the Obama administration abandoned its notions that it could break the extradition standoff by relying on two cornerstones of its original foreign policy: "mutual respect" and "honest engagement." Instead, it cranked up the pressure on Jamaica by playing hardball -- Realpolitik.
Q: In your article at the American Thinker, you mentioned the anti-Americanism of elite, left-leaning Jamaicans. It seems that this anti-Americanism, in some sense, puts left-leaning elites on the same side as Tivoli Gardens residents who oppose Coke’s extradition. How do these two groups regard each other? As allies in the fight to prevent extradition, or as snobs and thugs, respectively?
A: Some of Jamaica's leftist elites were simply reacting with their usual knee-jerk anti-Americanism by criticizing the United States as being a bully or imperialist in the extradition standoff. It's hard to imagine that these educated anti-American elites would have much in common with poor residents in Tivoli Gardens, who probably would jump at the chance to immigrate to the United States if they could get a U.S. visa. (If you doubt that, go to the U.S. Embassy in Kingston and take a look at the line some day.)
While Coke and his gunmen could be called thugs, the residents of Tivoli Gardens could not be described that way. However, many middle-class Jamaicans say they are trapped in a culture of poverty and dependence – all of which is exploited by “Dons” like Coke who provide them with an ad hoc welfare state. It's a symbiotic union all its own. Regarding the values of this underclass, women typically start having children at an early age. Young boys view the Dons as the sorts of men they want to become. Many members of this underclass lack the social skills needed to enter the middle-class.
Q: If Coke is arrested and does time in the U.S., will this have any noticeable effect on the drug trade in Jamaica? Is there any policy the U.S. could pursue that could realistically make a dent in the Caribbean drug trade?
A: If Coke is arrested and goes to the U.S. to stand trial, there is always the possibility he could implicate fellow drug traffickers, not to mention corrupt businessman, politicians, and others involved in the drug trade. No drug kingpin has ever been arrested in Jamiaca, a fact the U.S. State Department recently noted in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. However, Coke needs to get to the U.S. before this can happen. In 1992, his father, Lester Lloyd Coke -- or Jim Brown as he was known -- was West Kingston's "Don" and a JLP loyalist. Days before he was to be extradited to the U.S. on murder and drug trafficking charges, Brown died when a mysterious fire engulfed his maximum security jail cell.
Golding, for his part, could obtain political redemption by doing what law-abiding Jamaicans have for years been clamoring for -- dismantling the garrison communities, the "monsters" as they call them, over which politicians have lost control since they created them. That would surely put a dent in the drug trade, and it would make Jamaica a better society than it had been. Increasingly, though, it appears that Golding will have much work to do if reports out of Jamaica are accurate: that gunmen hired by Coke -- and associated with some of the opposition People's National Party's Dons -- have joined forces with Coke's gunmen to to battle the police. It appears that much blood will still be shed, with dozens killed and hundreds wounded by Tuesday afternoon.
Q: You mentioned in your American Thinker article that although other English-speaking, Caribbean nations share a similar past with Jamaica, none has the same level of drug and gang related violence. If not history, then what may have caused Jamaica’s thug problem?
A: Jamaica's left-leaning elites are fond of blaming Jamaica's pathologies on their country's legacies of slavery and colonialism. And although I didn't note it in my article, they also blame Jamaica's problems on what they regard as a rigged international system in which the U.S. has gamed the economic playing playing field for its own benefit. Yet countries like The Bahamas also have histories of colonialism and slavery, and yet they have none of Jamaica's pathologies. There is no Bahamian Diaspora comparable to the Jamaican Diaspora. Indeed, The Bahamas has none of Jamaica's political violence; none of its anti-Americanism among its political class; none of the economic troubles; and none of the cultural problems such as thuggish Dance Hall music. Why is Jamaica so different? The reason has everything with decisions that Jamaica's political leaders took-- or didn't take -- years ago when the country started on the course that it did.