When the US presses for the extradition of an alleged drug lord from Jamaica, it might seem a straightforward request.
But as the Jamaica attacks of the past three days have demonstrated, dealing with organized crime in Jamaica is full of perils, from gangs that have the muscle to stand up to the state, to gang-leaders who have helped put members of the political elite in office. And this sort of stand off has happened before.
Three days of violence since Prime Minister Bruce Golding said his government would abandon its nine-month fight to prevent the extradition of alleged Shower Posse boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke to the US have claimed at least 31 lives in Kingston. The US alleges (pdf download of US indictment) that Mr. Coke presided over a drug empire that imported tens of millions of dollars of cocaine and marijuana into the US between 1994 and 2007, and reexported both money and US guns to Jamaica.
Most of the fighting has been in and around the Shower Posse stronghold of Tivoli Gardens, one of Kingston's so-called garrison communities, but has also involved an attack on a downtown Kingston police station by what Jamaican authorities said were Coke loyalists from the Shower Posse (so-named when it was founded roughly 30 years ago because it "rained bullets" on its enemies). Coke is believed to be holed up in Tivoli.
The problem is serious for a variety of reasons.
First, there is the connection that organized crime in Jamaica has to Jamaica's politicians. From Jamaica's Prime Minister Expresses 'Profound Regret' for Extradition Fight, Manatt Hiring, dated May 19, 2010 (again, see original for links):
In a televised speech to his country Monday, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he would finally turn an alleged international drug lord over to U.S. authorities and offered his "deepest apologies" for dragging out the extradition dispute and hiring Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to lobby in connection with it.
But even as he announced that he was ready to end the nine-month-long standoff over whether Christoper "Dudus" Coke would indeed be extradited to the U.S., Golding continued to insist that it was his ruling Jamaica Labour Party -- not the Jamaican government itself -- that hired Manatt and paid the firm roughly $50,000 to intervene in the matter with U.S. officials.
Nonetheless, Golding, who said his offer to resign his post over the Coke-Manatt matter had been rejected by JLP leaders, said the entire episode had been a mistake and that it was time to move on.
"In hindsight," the prime minister said, "the party should never have become involved in the way that it did and I should never have allowed it, but I must accept responsibility for it and express my remorse to the nation."
Local media reported late Tuesday that Jamaican officials had in fact signed the extradition order for Coke and obtained an arrest warrant. Other outlets reported that residents of the West Kingston neighborhood the alleged strongman is said to rule had barricaded local streets and were bracing for violence as a result.
Golding's Monday announcement came less than a week after he admitted sanctioning the hiring of Manatt for lobbying help in connection with Coke, indicted last August by federal prosecutors in Manhattan on drug and gun trafficking charges and labeled by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of "the world's most dangerous narcotics kingpins."
Why would people barricade streets and fight for a drug trafficker?
We get an understanding of the rationale behind his support from Jamaica Police Gain Hold on Drug Lord's Stronghold, dated May 26, 2010:
Government officials told reporters all the dead civilians in West Kingston were men. But distressed people inside the slums who called local radio stations asserted there had been indiscriminate shootings during the all-out assault that police and soldiers launched Monday.
Security forces on Tuesday only permitted two government investigators and Red Cross staff to enter the Tivoli Gardens area, where supporters of Coke began massing last week after Golding dropped his nine-month refusal to extradite him to the U.S. Coke has ties to Golding's Labour party, and Tivoli Gardens delivers significant votes for it.
Coke was still at large despite the assault on his stronghold, National Security Minister Dwight Nelson said.
The gunmen fighting for Coke say he provides services and protection to the poor West Kingston community - all funded by a criminal empire that seemed untouchable until the U.S. demanded his extradition.
The government is corrupt, with ties to the drug traffickers, so by supporting the government, are the people really fighting crime? To be sure, the people complain that government forces are trigger-happy - something the local crime syndicate probably is not in a neighborhood where their boss lives. Finally, the local crime boss is, as pointed out in the last paragraph, providing government-type services in these neighborhoods - something the politicians don't do.
Consequently, the locals probably feel the crime boss is by far the lesser of two evils.
And, don't think this is an isolated set of circumstances.
The phenomenon of organized crime taking over entire neighborhoods is nothing new. Indeed, organized crime has taken over entire nations - and not just tiny dot-on-a-map island nations. Do an internet search on the expression "state capture" and see what you come up with. Here's a paper that you could start with.
This is the problem facing us in the Balkans with Kosovo, this is the problem developing in Mexico, and this is the problem we have been battling in South America; this is the problem we face in Afghanistan, and this problem is taking deep roots in America's own deep politics.