Jamaica attacks reveal ties between gangsters and politicians
The Jamaica attacks this week, which saw militants aligned with alleged drug trafficker Christopher 'Dudus' Coke assault a downtown Kingston police station, show how strong Jamaica's gangs have grown thanks to their involvement in local politics.
With at least five people killed in the Jamaican capital of Kingston and gangsters close to alleged drug trafficker Christopher "Dudus" Coke threatening more Jamaica attacks, local officials sought to contain the spread of violence.Skip to next paragraph
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Two days of fighting between drug gangs barricaded in the Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens and the police were sparked by plans to extradite Mr. Coke, the alleged leader of the Shower Posse to the US. The fighting has since spread to other poor neighborhoods in the capital. Coke is suspected of being holed up in Tivoli. The Shower Posse, a successful and violent Jamaican drug distributor, was suspected of killing hundreds in the 1980s.
The unrest in Kingston is a direct challenge to the government's power by gangs that were nurtured by successive Jamaican governments. For over 30 years, leading politicians have relied on gang leaders, or "dons" in local parlance, to dominate their neighborhoods and deliver votes come election time. In return, they have been given government contracts, arms, protection from the law -- and more or less total control of their neighborhoods, which came to be called "garrison communities" as much for their strict commitment to one of the two main political parties as for the bloody turf wars the garrisons fight with each other.
Coke controls the garrison of Tivoli Gardens, which supports the ruling Jamaican Labour Party and current Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who represents Tivoli and the rest of West Kingston. Mr. Golding had resisted US demands to extradite Coke until this week. The Gleaner, Jamaica's leading daily newspaper, described Tivoli on Tuesday as "the mini-republic of a reputed crime overlord" guarded by "heavily armed thugs."
While the immediate priority is to calm rising tensions, the long-term economic aftermath could be a bigger blow, as tourists and foreign investors are scared off.
“Jamaica is in a particularly vulnerable situation,” says David Westbrook, a law professor at SUNY Buffalo who recently visited Jamaica to assess the economy. “The Jamaican economy has been deteriorating, with brief interludes of growth, for over 30 years. … Jamaica has been caught in a series of vicious circles for years; the current violence exacerbates existing dynamics."