Jamaican "Drug Wars"

My good cousin calls it the "babylon fi bruk dung" story -- "Babylon" in this context pertaining to corruption in people in particular and systems in general -- and the inevitability of it all unraveling. Indeed, the narrative of Jamaica-U.S. relations is an epic one; as is the one regarding Jamaican political parties in collusion with persons and groups involved in the drug trade. The most recent chapter: Last week, after months of stalling and vocal opposition to what was perceived to be an infringement on Jamaican sovereignty, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding greenlighted the signing off on an extradition request from the U.S. Department of Justice for Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the reputed Jamaican “Don” who the U.S. is accusing of gun running and drug trafficking (guns from whom and drugs to whom, I wonder?).

In response to the reversal, residents of Tivoli Gardens and supporters of Dudus have erected barricades around the main entry points and across roadways in West Kingston, as well as in the neighboring communities, to prevent law enforcers from executing an arrest warrant. The government has since declared a limited State of Emergency.

Following the video/audio of PM Golding's apology and explanation of his decision to reverse his initial stance, I touch base with two professors from the University of West Indies, Mona Campus, (who at the moment wish to remain unnamed, understandably, so we have substituted fictional names) for a brief Q&A to get some clarity on the basic details of the current situation.

First, a few thoughts that speak to the broader issues that interest me: Many will attempt to paint this as a "good versus evil" moral conflict, and it's very easy -- with all the particulars of the Dudus case -- to look at this myopically. However, with Bro. Wilhite's cautionary charge to "choose your ancestors wisely" [Liberator 9.1] always in mind, there are nagging questions, not yet fully formed in my mind, but begging answers nonetheless.

Roughly, how did the country's assertion of national sovereignty (diluted with its fierce economic alignment with Western entities) work out for Jamaica? Will this be historicized as a referendum on the unsustainability of the modern post-colonial national model? What can be said of an island of Africans whose principal international and economic ties have been primarily with the United States, Canada and Britain (with the exception of the 1970s)? Further down in the Q&A, one of the professors posits that Jamaica may be trending toward "failed state" status. And, although for different reasons than the professor offered, I think she may be on to something.

In the future, after the dust has literally settled -- and it will -- I'll be curious to see if Jamaica will consider a path of realignment -- one that bolsters diplomatic and international relationships with those with a genuinely reciprocal regard (see Jamaica-Cuba relations) for Jamaica and its potential cultural, political and economic contributions to the world. Or, if they'll continue to pursue a convoluted path that will literally leave them strong-armed by a strongman. Again.

Liberator Magazine: After choosing a course of confrontation with the United States, the Prime Minister finally decides to allow the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke. What merited the PM’s and Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) initial posturing?

Professor Janice -- Golding said that the reason that he would not give up Dudus was because he was trying to protect his constitutional rights and that there was an issue of protocol and sovereignty. The government had repeatedly argued that it could not sign the extradition request because the U.S. authorities were relying on recorded conversations they had received in breach of Jamaican laws.

LM: I did read that Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne had gone to the courts to seek a declaration regarding whether she was correct in refusing to sign the extradition request based on what the government described as a breach in the Interception of Communications Act …

Professor Janice -- Correct. So seeing that these laws are already in place to ensure the integrity of any kind of international treaty or agreement, I see his interference -- a party person asserting his prerogative -- as a highly suspicious position. The proper way to go about would have been to have the attorney general go through and see if the evidence warrants an arrest and subsequent extradition. But since he inserted himself into that process, the argument can be made that he has already prejudiced and influenced the decision of the courts. We can only speculate as to why -– some say, and this is pure speculation, that the JLP wanted the name of the person -- the informer -- who gave the U.S. this evidence perhaps so they could hunt him down to kill him. Why? Because there are a lot of high-level, influential politicians within the governing JLP party that are speculated to have some involvement with Dudus.

LM: The Jamaican citizenry is starkly divided on what should be done with Dudus. What would you say is the reason for this?

Professor Janice -- Yes, it is very complicated. Right now, you have people there literally barricading Tivoli Gardens – Dudus’ alleged stronghold in Kingston -- and shooting down soldiers, not police mind you, but soldiers who are trying to enter and allow the service of the warrant for his arrest. There are people near and far who call Dudus “The President” –- women and children saying that they don’t answer to PM Golding, that instead, they answer to Dudus or “Presi” and are willing to kill and die for him. He has accumulated a considerable amount of wealth and provides for the education of the community’s children. Some people –- otherwise impoverished -- don’t even have to work for their food or shelter. This network of dependence –- if we are to look at it that way –- is extremely intricate. One man’s gangster is another man’s community leader and hero.

LM: In the Sunday Herald, it reported that the JLP has not only provided Coke’s company with economic support in the form of contracts valued at over $100 million (USD), but the chairman of the government-owned Urban Development Corporation, disclosed that the UDC had entered into a lease agreement with Dudus’ company, Incomparable Enterprises Limited for 29 acres of land -- worth $2.9 million annual rent. And this was locked down in February of this year. There's no question that deals are being made...

Professor Sam -– So, that’s why it all boils down to transparency. Dudus is a strongly aligned member of the JLP –- the ruling party in Jamaica and hence the Prime Minister’s party. Dudus’ stronghold -- Tivoli Gardens -- is part of the PM’s constituency. It is public knowledge [alleged] that Dudus has been one of, if not, the biggest financial contributor to the political campaigns of almost all the high-level politicians within the party. Also through their own arrangement and means and through extensive networks, he keeps the peace in the garrisons. The politicians pay him and his network for protection. So now, they are likely scared of the secrets that are about to be revealed about them and their specific dealings with Dudus’ network –- and more than likely scared for their lives.

LM: How vast is Dudus’ alleged organization?

Professor Janice -- He is apparently the president of the "Shower Posse" which has inroads all over the world –- United States, Canada and the UK. Since the 1980s, they have been engaged in gun running and drug trafficking and smuggling, and Jamaica is a major stopping and transfer point. The Tivoli Garden garrison is conveniently adjacent to the waterfront harbor.

LM: Why do you suppose the PM changed his mind despite the reasons given for his original stance and the threat of the repercussions from Dudus’ organization?

Professor Sam -- It all came to a head after it was revealed that the PM had hired a U.S.-based private law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, to lobby the U.S. Department of Justice to back off of Dudus. This would cost Jamaican taxpayers US$100,000 (approximately $9 million) per quarter for the services. That stoked suspicion that he had some stake in Dudus remaining under Jamaican jurisdiction. He initially denied any communication with the firm, but a firm principal confirmed his involvement.

But a bit of background is in order here, because currently, there is no ambassador from U.S. to Jamaica. President Obama has been in office for 15 months now and doesn’t seem to be in any rush to appoint one. So, there is no liaison … no direct pipeline of official state-state communication between the two countries.

The PM was being put under pressure because U.S.-Jamaican relations were steadily souring. High-powered figures were getting their VISAs denied or revoked, etc., and realistically Jamaica cannot afford to be in such a position because the threat of sanctions; threats to impede the VISA process for students and workers going back and forth between the U.S. and Jamaica and that fact that we import almost 90 percent of our goods from the United States. So ideally, it would seem that less dependency on the U.S. would pave the way to a more independent and sustainable future for Jamaica but realistically it doesn’t work that way. So the PM was under the gun to try and mend ties.

LM: It seems like almost every PM, aside from U.S.-backed ones like PM Edward Seaga, has had their point of contention with the U.S. and edged on the brink of international disrepute -- former PM Michael Manley comes to mind; Norman Manley as well. So the issue of the assertion of sovereignty coupled with trying to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the U.S. is a recurring one correct?

Professor Janice -- Yes. The JLP and the U.S. government was certain that [Michael] Manley was trending toward communism. They never liked him because of his policies. But the general consensus is that Manley was a national hero -- he espoused a democratic socialism ideology, he supported Castro and forged a fruitful relationship with Cuba in the education, media and medical sectors -- which the U.S., of course, frowned upon.

On the domestic front he promoted political consciousness; implemented the “No Bastard” policy where even if a child was born out of wedlock, they were still entitled to the inheritance of their parents; was a proponent of free education/secondary school. Unfortunately, after the U.S. destabilized Jamaica in the 70s and 80s, Manley ended up apologizing and moving toward capitalism, liberalizing the markets and renewing relations with the U.S. in his re-election bid. The people never forgave him.

LM: Golding’s situation will be looked upon somewhat differently because it is yet to be determined if he was acting in his own interests or in the interests of Jamaica. What does life look for Bruce Golding from this point on?

Professor Janice -- Well, when he admitted to authorizing the hiring of the lobby firm, he actually confessed that he was acting on behalf of his party -- and that it was a political party maneuver – as opposed to one being made as the premiere of Jamaica. He says he is not going to resign, but he will have no more moral authority. Before, he said that he’d “die the political death” in support of Dudus’ constitutional rights. Even if he resigned, no one else in the JLP has standing or respect to take his place because the corruption is known to run deep. The people realize this. U.S. ships have already positioned themselves in the harbor and the national guard has been put on notice … I see a civil war brewing.

LM: In this particular instance, though, civil war between whom? It seems as if the lines are blurred. Where exactly is the line drawn between “criminal” and “government”?

Professor Janice -- By signing off the extradition agreement the government that was once aligned with Dudus have now had to position themselves against Dudus. And the backlash will have to play itself out. Even the police, who have traditionally been known to be in bed with those engaged in criminal activities are being weeded out. In the last year alone, 67 have been indicted with corruption charges, so the incidents of tainted police aren’t so prevalent any more. And it was thought to be isolated in Tivoli, but just today they had some rioting from sympathizers in Mountain View and also Spanish Town.

This is not just a local issue -- it’s one that addresses the complex conditions of poverty, corruption in ruling parties, Jamaican sovereignty and Jamaica’s very future. If something isn’t done about it, I am certain that Jamaica will become a failed state.

LM: Do you agree with Professor Janice's assessment? Do you think civil war and failed statehood is an accurate characterization of the trajectory of this situation?

Professor Sam -- I genuinely don’t think it will get to that point. Why? Because we are a democratic society. And we will go through the democratic process of voting out someone whose handling of situations we are not happy with in of favor someone who we can have faith in again.

It’s easy to see the crisis in the situation from an immediate sense because it appears as if the government has lost its psychological advantage – people are scared to go out and go to work, businesses are closing down for the time being. But the law enforcement has said that they are approaching the situation tactically, you know, not just running up in there with guns and what have you, because there are women and children in there whose livelihoods must be protected. I have faith that this approach will ensure the best possible outcome.

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}

We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).