Smokin' Jamaica

I have a friend from college who used to go down to Jamaica every year. Curious as to why someone would do this year in and year out, given the dozens of other exciting destinations in the Caribbean, I asked him well why Jamaica. He demurred that he enjoyed "smokin' Jamaica." My retort then was that he should try smoking Belize.

My point with the above anecdote is that there has been for some time now a drug culture throughout the Caribbean. If a cannabis infused vacation is your thing, well, the lands beyond the Rio Grande offer an array of exotic, if dazed, experiences. Still given this week's events in the Kingston slum of Tivoli Gardens, I'm not sure how many are now willing to head down to Jamaica. That's likely a problem for a country whose largest primary foreign exchange earner is the tourist trade even if most tourists never venture far from the beach of their walled off hotel.

The news out of Jamaica, while shocking, should not surprise. What once we could term "banana republics" are now fully dysfunctional narco-states and Jamaica isn't even Exhibit A. Try Honduras for that. Put down Haiti as Exhibit B. On the list of Western Hemispheric narco-states, Jamaica is perhaps Exhibit E or F. While the on-going drug wars in Colombia and Mexico garner more attention, the reality is that by virtue of their size drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) are unlikely to ever capture the Colombian or Mexican state even as they made significant inroads in corrupting the state and society. While the drug trade is a multi-billion industry in Colombia, it is now less than one percent of Colombian GDP - the 2008 UN estimate is that the drug trade accounts for 0.8 percent of Colombian GDP down from 7 to 8 percent at its peak in the late 1980s. It's not so much that drug trade has been curtailed but rather that the Colombian economy has grown.

That's not the case in Jamaica, which lacks a diversified economy. Other than people, Jamaica's largest export is bauxite. Apart from Botswana and Chile, it's hard to think of a successful developing world economy based on its mining sector. Certainly for Jamaica, bauxite has not proved a road to riches. Jamaica still produces an array of tropical agricultural products from bananas to sugar and coffee but even so Jamaican agriculture sector is undercapitalized and largely inefficient. But for favorable entry into the EU, Jamaican bananas could not compete with Ecuadorian or Central American bananas. Still the country's biggest problem is that it lacks a value-added manufacturing sector. Unemployment is about 15 percent with perhaps an additional one in three underemployed. In short, the dire economy has made Jamaica ripe for DTOs willing to exploit vulnerable Jamaicans. Sixty-three percent of all arrests at US airports in 2007 for cocaine possession involved passengers on flights from Jamaica. The cocaine may be Colombian but the mules are Jamaican.

There is one other thing you have to know about Jamaica and its political system. The country doesn't have political parties as much as it has armed gangs that compete in electoral contests. In the 1960s, Jamaica's two main parties, the Jamaican People's National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party, began arming the gangs of inner-city Kingston and Montego Bay. Guns for votes. Deliver the votes and you can run your neighborhood. The formula has made Jamaican elections the deadliest in the world.

And the presence of armed gangs that controlled whole sectors of the island only facilitated the entry of Colombian DTOs. And as Jamaica's role in the global drug trade grew, that cancer began to eat away at Jamaican state. All this was brought home in April 2001 when a drug kingpin named William Moore better known as Don Willie Haggart was killed for running afoul of his Colombian handlers. Now what was impressive about Don Willie Haggart was the funeral he got.

His body lay in state in Kingston's national arena, an honour reserved for only the greatest Jamaicans, such as former Prime Minister Michael Manley and reggae great Bob Marley. According to the press reports at the time, it took three and a half hours for his black Mercedes hearse to push through the crowds to the arena, where more than 5,000 people waited, including the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Transport and Water, all from the then ruling People's National Party, the PNP.

So am I surprised that the current Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the now ruling Jamaican Labour Party, the JLP, tried to protect our current hero of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the most aptly named drug gangster ever, from extradition? Not in the least. I'm more surprised that Prime Minister Golding signed his own political death warrant by agreeing to extradite the aforementioned Coke to the US. In the greatest of ironies, Prime Minister Golding's parliamentary district includes Tivoli Gardens and much of West Kingston. But I suspect that to most residents of Tivoli Gardens, it is Christopher "Dudus" Coke who is effectively the state in that area. It is Christopher "Dudus" Coke who provides jobs and largesse to desperate residents. You and I may not think of men like Christopher "Dudus" Coke as Robin Hoods but the locals sure do and it's their opinion that matters.

Tivoli Gardens and West Kingston is now a war zone. The Jamaican state has no choice but to act. Whether Christopher "Dudus" Coke is captured or not is no longer relevant but what is relevant is that yet again the world is witness to the on-going failed war on drugs. If Christopher "Dudus" Coke is captured there are hundreds ready to take his place in the drug hierarchy. 

An editorial from The Guardian:

South America produces nearly all of the world's cocaine, while the United States consumes half of it. In between lie Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean islands, constituting together one of the densest webs of transhipment routes for drugs, money and arms in the world. That is why the battle of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston is not just a dramatic cops-and-gangsters drama engaging the rest of us mainly as a sort of entertainment, nor a parochial matter concerning Jamaica alone.

It is in communities like Tivoli all over this huge region – in Guatemala, Suriname, Haiti, Mexico and many other nations – that local gangsterism, the product of social deprivation and weak government, makes its connections with international crime and sets the terms of its bargains with corrupt political establishments. Gangs in Jamaica, as in other countries, began small. Their criminality was originally on a petty scale. In Kingston they evolved into street corner enforcers for the political parties, who allied with them to control territory and votes. But, if the parties ever controlled them, there swiftly came a time when that was no longer the case. Gang leaders began to make money, in part through their growing role in the international drugs trade, in quantities which made them, and not the politicians, the main dispensers of patronage and goods.

They also began to control armed men in numbers which not only cemented their dominance over their communities, but presented formidable obstacles for the police and army. Jamaican politicians both needed the gangs and were scared of them but every now and again the will was summoned for a confrontation. Jamaica's little army has been ordered to battle with them before, and has prevailed, but not in any lasting way. The gangs reconstitute themselves, new leaders emerge, and, in the absence of the jobs and the law and order that alone would make a difference, young men come forward again to seize on the only avenue of social mobility and the only opportunity to demonstrate male prowess they can see.

Kingston may be small-time compared with the Mexican cities where police and soldiers are fighting with entrenched cartels, but Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the man whose extradition the Americans are seeking, has been described by the US Drug Administration as one of the most dangerous narcotics kingpins. He is also a man who has until recently enjoyed the protection of the Jamaican government. If he is captured and put out of business, it will be a victory of sorts, but not a lasting one unless the Jamaican government seriously sets out to change the degraded social landscape in which he and others like him have their roots.

The American-led war on drugs is a forty year failure. The events in Jamaica's Tivoli Gardens are only the latest installment in that failure. It's time for a new approach and that means legalization so we can all smoke Jamaica if we so wish without turning that country's slums into war zones. Jamaicans deserve better. They certainly do not deserve to have whole neighborhoods turned into war zones because of our failed policies.

More on the situation in Jamaica from the Council on Hemispheric Relations.

Tags: US-Latin American Relations, War on Drugs, Jamaica (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

As a Jamaican in Kingston

I have to commend you on the accuracy of the article. A lot of articles in the international press aren't as spot on as this.

Golding decided to sign the extradition order because he had been under a lot of pressure over his refusal to sign the extradition order dating back to August 2009. Furthermore, when it was revealed that members of his party/government had hired the firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips (the Manatt here being the former chair of the DNC) to lobby the State Department not to proceed with the extradition, there were loud calls for him to resign. Initially he denied that the government was involved, but when he finally acknowledge that he had sanctioned hiring the lobbying firm (he insists that it was his party and not the government that hired them - a distinction without much difference really), a firestorm erupted here in Jamaica. Most if not all of the power players in society (such as the business interest groups) that supported him and bankrolled his party's victory in the last elections in 2007 called for his resignation. According to him he tendered his resignation to his party, but the party executive insisted he stay on. It was after this that he decided to allow the extradition to proceed. 

Left unsaid in all of this, is where the money (about US$50,000) that was used as a deposit to retain the services of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips came from. Golding insists that it was his party, the Jamaica Labour Party(JLP), that hired them using funds from party contributors. Jamaica doesn't have any disclosure laws regarding campaign finances, so speculation is rife that the money may have come from Coke. Interestingly, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips insists that it wasn't the JLP that they were representing, but the Jamaican government.  

by newms 2010-05-27 11:24PM | 1 recs
As a Jamaican in Kingston

I have to commend you on the accuracy of the article. A lot of articles in the international press aren't as spot on as this.

Golding decided to sign the extradition order because he had been under a lot of pressure over his refusal to sign the extradition order dating back to August 2009. Furthermore, when it was revealed that members of his party/government had hired the firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips (the Manatt here being the former chair of the DNC) to lobby the State Department not to proceed with the extradition, there were loud calls for him to resign. Initially he denied that the government was involved, but when he finally acknowledge that he had sanctioned hiring the lobbying firm (he insists that it was his party and not the government that hired them - a distinction without much difference really), a firestorm erupted here in Jamaica. Most if not all of the power players in society (such as the business interest groups) that supported him and bankrolled his party's victory in the last elections in 2007 called for his resignation. According to him he tendered his resignation to his party, but the party executive insisted he stay on. It was after this that he decided to allow the extradition to proceed. 

Left unsaid in all of this, is where the money (about US$50,000) that was used as a deposit to retain the services of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips came from. Golding insists that it was his party, the Jamaica Labour Party(JLP), that hired them using funds from party contributors. Jamaica doesn't have any disclosure laws regarding campaign finances, so speculation is rife that the money may have come from Coke. Interestingly, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips insists that it wasn't the JLP that they were representing, but the Jamaican government.  

by newms 2010-05-27 11:25PM | 0 recs
argggh

internet issues caused the repost - my apologies.

by newms 2010-05-27 11:26PM | 0 recs
To give some background to Golding's decision

he was particularly susceptible to pressure from civil society since he came to power in 2007 on a platform of reform. Furthermore, in 1995 he left the JLP to form an electorally unsuccessful third party and he denounced his links to armed gangs. At the time he had been the Member of Parliament for a 'garrison' constituency (similar to Tivoli in its close links to gangs) in Spanish Town. He lost his seat in the 1997 elections running on the third party platform of reform and subsequently became a leading voice in society arguing for reform. 

In 2002, facing a fourth successive defeat at the polls, the JLP brokered an agreement with Golding for him to return to the JLP. Golding returned with a Memorandum of Understanding that the JLP would adopt parts of his reform platform. Golding's return was credited as a leading reason why the JLP finished a close, rather than distant, second. He took over the leadership of the JLP in 2005 and was elected Prime Minister in 2007 claiming a reform mantle, including the dismantling of gang-run politics. It was in 2005 that he became Member of Parliament for Western Kingston, including the Tivoli Gardens area. So while he had long represented a garrison constituency in Spanish Town, he didn't have a long history with the area run by Coke's gang. 

by newms 2010-05-28 12:00AM | 1 recs

Diaries

Advertise Blogads