Jamaica’s Mixture of Gangs and Politics Causes Grave Problem with U.S.

One of the ugliest skeletons in Jamaica’s closet is attracting international attention. And it could lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his Labour Party government.

I am talking about the connection between the island’s political parties and the gangs.

If my memory is accurate, it started back in the Sixties, when one of the parties encouraged supporters to take to the streets and keep opponents from voting. The other party responded in kind, and the tradition of political gang violence was born.

I haven’t lived in Jamaica for a long time, but I regularly read the online versions of the Gleaner and the Observer to keep up with the situation “at home.” And I am troubled by what I’ve been reading lately.

Apparently, gang violence has become institutionalized over the years, and the result is one of the highest murder rates in the world. Also, the Jamaican dons have become increasingly involved with a powerful network that deals in illegal drugs and guns across the globe.

What’s even more frightening is that the gangs apparently enjoy protection from the authorities because of their political influence.

It certainly looks as if that’s what the Dudus Affair might be about.

Christopher Michael Coke, aka ‘Michael Christopher Coke’; ‘Paul Christopher Scott’; ‘Presi’; ‘General’; ‘President’; ‘Dudus’ and ‘Shortman’ is a Jamaican businessman, show promoter and don who (according to local press reports) has “strong family and business connections in the constituency of Prime Minister Bruce Golding.”

Coke reportedly controls Golding’s West Kingston constituency of Tivoli Gardens, and the gang leader is credited with playing a major role in the Prime Minister’s election to Parliament.

Last year, U.S. authorities charged Coke with illegal gun trading and drug dealing. They asked Jamaica to extradite him for trial in America.

According to the indictment filed in the US District Court Southern District of New York, Coke and others known and unknown, “unlawfully, intentionally, and knowingly combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together and with each other to violate the narcotics laws of the United States.” He was also indicted on charges of conspiring to traffic in firearms

But Golding has so far refused to hand the Jamaican gang leader over to U.S. authorities. He said there are irregularities in the way evidence against Coke was obtained, but has provided no details.

American authorities are furious. “Jamaica’s processing of the extradition request has been subjected to unprecedented delays, unexplained disclosure of law enforcement information to the press, and unfounded allegations questioning the U.S.’ compliance with the MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) and Jamaican law,” the American State Department complained. “The Government of Jamaica’s unusual handling of the August request for the extradition of a high-profile Jamaican crime lord, with reported ties to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, which currently holds a majority in Parliament … raises serious questions about the Government’s commitment to combating transnational crime.”

A State Department spokesman labeled Jamaica a “major illicit drug-producing country.” And “a highly placed U.S. source” was quoted in the Sunday Observer as warning that Washington would begin canceling the visas of high-profile Jamaicans.

Opposition to the Prime Minister’s position is rising in Jamaica. This week, the island’s most powerful group of business leaders, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), joined the tide of dissent.

The PSOJ called on the government to “expeditiously take those steps necessary to allow the Jamaican courts to assess and determine the merits of any outstanding extradition requests by the United States, confident that our courts will have every regard for the rights of citizens, as enshrined in Jamaica’s Constitution.”

But Golding is standing by his political ally.

“I’m not defending the wrongdoing of any person, but I will say this: If I have to pay a political price for it I’m going to hold a position that constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea. That’s not where they start,” Golding told Parliament last week.

Not only the Prime Minister, but all of Jamaica might be called on to pay a “political price.” And in these troubled times, that price might prove high, indeed.

This could be the time to start cutting loose those politically connected dons, and set Jamaica on the path to a healthier political and social environment.