America’s long-running (and endlessly futile) War on Drugs is on the verge of claiming another casualty: the government of Jamaica. The Caribbean nation’s capital is partly in flames today, as residents of Tivoli Gardens battle police with fire bombs and heavy weaponry. The reason for the bloodshed is the government’s call for the surrender of alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is set to be extradited to the U.S.
For the impoverished residents of Tivoli Gardens, Coke is a key benefactor—a man who provides a social safety net that the Jamaican government does not. Perhaps more importantly, he has done an excellent job of extending his tentacles into legitimate endeavors—Coke’s front company, Incomparable Enterprise Ltd., is Kingston’s largest vendor of construction material. And that has not only enriched Coke and his allies, but also bought him a fair bit of political power:
Since taking over central and local government administrations, the Coke’s company has been awarded over $100 million dollars in state contracts, excluding the latest contract on Washington Boulevard. Records from the Kingston & St Andrew Corporation and the Office of the Contractor General show that the contracts were awarded after the ruling Jamaica Labour Party took over parish council in 2003, and August 2009.
Less than a year after assuming power, the Government awarded the company a number of lucrative contracts, which, by August last year, amounted to approximately $71,754,897.49 in contracts endorsed by the National Contracts Commission.
But it does not stop there, and Prime Minister Golding’s disclosure that he sanctioned the Jamaica Labour Party move to hire a US law firm to lobby the US administration on Coke’s extradition has raised several questions about Jamaica’s commitment to fighting organized crime.
It seems that the threat of losing International Monetary Fund backing finally coaxed the Golding regime into giving up Coke. But having legitimized Dudus’s power all these years, through dealmaking as well as by letting him run Tivoli Gardens as his own personal fiefdom, the government should have anticipated the blowback.
Unfortunately, the violence seems certain to escalate—the U.S. has too much at stake to permit Coke to evade extradition, and so will eventually force the Jamaican government to invade Tivoli Gardens, regardless of the collateral damage that will ensue. Given his nation’s desperate need for IMF assistance, the prime minister will have no choice but to comply with the Americans’ wishes.
The full dossier on Coke here, including his phone number (876-847-4573). Probably not the best time to give him a shout, though.