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Jamaican drug lord 'Dudus' Coke pleads guilty. Why did his arrest take so long?

While Coke's plea wraps up a long pursuit by US and Jamaican authorities, an examination of the efforts to prosecute him implicate several parties – including Jamaican officials and a US law firm.

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"It has now become clear that trust in government and the lack of confidence in the management of our society has become greater because of the poor Manatt, Phelps & Phillips commission of enquiry report," Dickie Crawford of Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development wrote in a stinging response to the commission's findings (get pdf version of response to the commission report here).

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For its part, the commission found no one culpable, preferring instead to use terms such as "mistakes" and "errors of judgement."

"No one is to be held responsible and accountable for breaking time honoured traditions by engaging in an undercover act of paying an United States based law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to negotiate with American authorities to drop the Coke extradition request thereby debasing the power, legitimacy, and integrity of our government," Crawford added.

The United States is not innocent. It has long used drug policy and extradition as a tool to bully governments into compliance. As was illustrated in the Jamaica case (and Colombia many years prior, when that government did battle with Pablo Escobar), this policy can and does lead to bloodshed.

It also leads to controversial practices that sometimes cross the line. One issue that arose in the investigation was whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had made illegal use of wiretap evidence obtained in Jamaica to build the case. The commission found the use of this evidence unlawful, yet it had already been passed to the US and was cited liberally in the indictment.

Finally, there is the matter of the makeup of the Shower Posse itself. Longtime Jamaica watchers have pointed to the policy of the US and other governments of deporting convicted criminals back to their "home" country. These criminals often make for excellent recruits and teachers of other criminals when they land.

Just how widespread a problem this was for Jamaica during the years the Posse reigned in Tivoli Gardens was explored in a March 2007 World Bank report (get pdf version here), which said that criminal deportations from the United States to the Caribbean doubled between 1994 and 2004. For its part, between 1993 and 2004, Jamaica absorbed 1,200 criminals a year.

The Bank notes that 81 percent of the deportees from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain between the years 2001 to 2004 were "non-violent" offenders. But, it added, 224 were convicted murderers, not an insignificant number relative to Jamaica's population.

"In such small countries, it does not take a large number of offenders to have a large impact, particularly if they assume a leadership role in criminal gangs on their return or provide perverse role models for youth," the Bank report concludes.

"Specifically with regard to drug trafficking, their transnational connections and criminal experience could make criminal deportees well-suited for this role."

--- Steven Dudley is a director of Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region.

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