Kingston manhunt for Dudus Coke continues as death toll hits 74
The Jamaican police manhunt for alleged drug lord Dudus Coke, which has 74 dead in Kingston fighting, continued Thursday. If Mr. Coke is caught, will it change the role of Jamaica's criminal dons?
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On Wednesday, Golding issued a statement denying any personal ties to Coke.Skip to next paragraph
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Why did Golding turn on Coke?
Golding's government had fought a US extradition request for the past nine months. But after it was revealed earlier this month that Golding had paid a US lobbying firm with ties to the Democratic Party $50,000 to try to persuade the US to drop its extradition request for Dudas Coke, he changed his tune. Last week, his government signed an extradition order for Coke, and when the police went to find him in Tivoli, violence ensued.
It could also be that protecting Coke was becoming simply too politically embarrassing for Golding, both inside Jamaica and with the US.
To be sure, Golding will now have to deal with the fallout of turning on a community that was a reliable vote bank -- and one that is in his own West Kingston constituency. "You'd have to expect there are feelings of betrayal in Tivoli," says Silverman.
]He says this case has striking similarities with a US attempt to extradite Lester "Jim Brown" Coke, Dudus' father, in 1992. Coke Sr. was already in a Jamaican jail when he lost his last appeal against extradition. Another of his sons, Mark "Jah-T" Coke, was running Tivoli in his fathers absence. When Jah-T was gunned down by a rival gangster, it unleashed a paroxysm of violence in Kingston like that witnessed this week.
Shortly thereafter, Jim Brown Coke, who had vowed to take down senior politicians with him if tried in the US, burned to death in his cell. That crime has never been solved. "Maybe it was the Seaga government afraid about what he could say about politicians. Or it might have been the PNP, which perhaps had a friendly guard inside, that were simply killing an enemy. No one really knows," says Silverman.
Why the dons are so powerful in Kingston
Golding has repeatedly said that he's determined to clip the wings of the dons. But that will be difficult, not only because of their armed followers. Over the past 40 years, the dons have become the only real providers of social welfare in poor communities largely abandoned by the Jamaican state. If you're poor and your house is washed away in a flood, you go to the don. If you're looking for a government job, you go to the don. And if you can't pay your child's school fees, you go to the don.
I was in Jamaica last year, and spent a few days with a young man and former gang member who was then working on community peace initiatives in the Kingston garrison of Mountain View. But there had also been a flood along the gully on which the poorest houses precariously cling, and he was handing out small amounts of money to the neediest we came across that day. I asked him where the cash came from. "A don," he said, though he wouldn't tell me which one.
I asked him if it wasn't hypocritical to be working against gang violence, on the one hand, and to be taking money from a man behind it, on the other?
"When someone is hungry, or they need cloths, they're not interested in being told they need to starve because of a principle," he said. "The dons are here, and they're what we have to work with. If you want to make these places less violent and improve people's lives, you work with the dons. There isn't anybody else to work with."
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