Police scored a significant victory yesterday with the capture of alleged drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke outside the Jamaican capital, Kingston – one that caps a turbulent period in the nation's history and was hailed by US authorities.
But their immediate next goal will be to keep peace, after at least 70 people were killed last month in clashes between police and Mr. Coke's supporters.
Police have appealed for calm. "I would like to appeal to the families, friends, and sympathizers of Christopher Coke to remain calm and to allow the law to take its course,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said Tuesday. “I also [would] like to assure the citizens of Jamaica that the situation remains normal, there is no need for alarm, and they can get about their normal businesses in the usual way."
A state of emergency was put in place last month to ease tensions after gun fights and deadly skirmishes scared Jamaicans off the streets. It was extended yesterday to July 22, unless it is revoked earlier. While acknowledging that it curtails some rights, Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the state of emergency has given security forces an edge. "The security forces today have the upper hand," he said. "The criminal underworld is shaken, not completely routed, but shaken. If sustained, it will cause those involved in criminal activity to seek to find less hazardous pastimes."
Clinton Hewan, a former Jamaican diplomat and professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University, says that he doubts a fresh round of violence will erupt. "There is every effort to make it sure it is as peaceful as possible." He hailed the arrest. "I think it is a good thing. Based on what information is out there, any type of act that is going to bring a negative name to the country needs to be cleaned up. ... this is good for Jamaica and the Caribbean."
Turning himself in?
Mr. Coke was captured by police Tuesday in the St. Catherine parish, reportedly on the way to turn himself in to US authorities. There were no reports of violence – unlike last month when the search for him in the slum of Tivoli Gardens, prompted by a warrant for his arrest, erupted into four days of gun battles between authorities and Coke loyalists.
Coke was charged last year by the US attorney's office in New York as leading the “Shower Posse,” a group responsible for the deaths of hundreds during the cocaine trade wars of the 1980s. Jamaica, whose politics is deeply intertwined with gangs in slums, had refused US requests to extradite Coke for months. But under pressure at home and in the US, Prime Minister Bruce Golding shifted course last month.
Mr. Ellington told reporters that officials will take “every step possible to ensure his safety and well-being whilst he is in our custody.” He said authorities are moving forward with extradition as soon as possible.
The Rev. Al Miller, an evangelical preacher who was with Coke at the time of his arrest, told local radio that Coke was en route to turn himself into the US embassy Tuesday when he was stopped by police at a checkpoint.
Coke is widely popular within Jamaica for the Robin Hood-like figure he has struck in poor communities, including handing out food and sending poor kids to school, not unlike Pablo Escobar in Colombia's Medellin. But he is Jamaica´s No. 1 fugitive and was the focus of a month-long search across the country. The US has repeatedly characterized him as one of the most dangerous criminals operating.
"He is the head of an organization, a cartel, or a syndicate that has a global impact and also has a direct impact on the United States," Michael Braun, a former chief of operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was quoted as saying on CNN.