Being half Jamaican, I’ve been following closely the major news story of civil unrest in the capital Kingston. The government has faced violent attacks in response to its attempt to capture the alleged drug dealer Christopher ‘Dudas’ Coke, who's wanted for extradition to America for drug trafficking offences.
I read an excellent article on this story in the Guardian entitled ‘The battle for Kingston’ you can read it here.
It's an interesting story as at first glance it looks like the Jamaican government trying to arrest and capture a notorious drug dealer. The more you read, you begin to realise it’s more complex than that and involves the murky world of politics and organised crime tangled together.
It's not often you get news stories from Jamaica high up on the news agenda. I know drug and gang crime are notorious on the island, but this story seems to have an added dimension.
Perhaps it's because Christopher 'Dudas' Coke doesn't appear to be you run of the mill 'Yardie' gangster! Although he's allegedly been involved in gun and drug trafficking between the America and the Caribbean, he's also spent years developing political contacts on the island, as well as becoming a hero to the poor in his local community of Tivoli Gardens.
BBC report on the unrest.
Politics and crime have always been closely linked in Jamaica, ever since the island gained independence from the UK in 1962. It's widely believed that many of the gangs that run the ghettos or garrisons of Kingston are in the pocket of politicians.
All the gangs in Kingston have links to the two main political parties, the JLP (Jamaican Labour Party) and the PNP (People's National Party. I've heard that the gangs and political parties have such close links that its unlikely that one could survive without the other.
After independence, both political parties started building housing projects in different parts of Kingston to house their supporters. Disputes between the parties emerged over land in the capital, which lead to increased tensions and violence. Very quickly Kingston became segregated along political lines, with areas affiliated to one of the parties.
Gangs then moved in and took control over the garrisons, many of whom were backed by the politicians who looked to the gangs to guarantee votes in general elections.
This is the context to the problems that are happening now. The Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding is from the Labour Party. They were responsible for building the garrison of Tivoli Gardens, Golding is also coincidentally the sitting MP for Tivoli Gardens.
Having tried for nine months to stop the extradition of Coke to America, it looks like he's now made a u-turn after rumours that he was pressurised by Coke himself to stop the extradition taking place.
Golding's now in a really awkward position. His use of force to try and capture Coke suggests he's trying to show that he's not in the pocket of the gangsters. But at the same time it now looks hypocritical for him to target one the biggest gangsters or Dons, when for so long he and his party have been conspiring with them.
One of the main things that strikes you about this story, is why so many people want to support a gangster like Coke, to the point where they're prepared to fight and die for him?
The intriguing thing about Coke is how he's more then just an alleged drug dealer. He's taken on many of the responsibilities you'd expect from a politician!
Reading in the Sunday Times they reported how he's provided schoolbooks and uniforms for the children in Tivoli Gardens. Paid for healthcare, given food to those that needed it and provided jobs.
I read this thinking, you can’t help but respect someone who has that kind of power and influence and has put it to such good use. The Times also said that petty crimes like theft are almost non existent as his posse act as the local neighbourhood police.
In the Guardian they said such actions are normal for ‘Robin Hood' style gangsters like Coke. It helps them win the support and loyalty of the communities they control. They essentially take on the role of the state or government in providing welfare provisions.
If I was from such a neighbourhood, I can imagine that I wouldn’t care if someone was a alleged drug dealer; if they can guarantee safety on the streets and provide housing, and some form of welfare then so be it. These people have no confidence or faith in politicians who they see as being the real criminals.
From my limited knowledge on the problems of Jamaican society, it looks as if successive governments have abandoned many of the poorest in society, and it's left of vacuum which has been filled by gangs who act as government. No wonder the likes of Coke have so much support from people.
After years of politics and organised crime being tied together it's going to be extremely difficult now for the government to suddenly impose its will on the gangs and the communities the gangs control. You can only see more violence and unrest taking place, but some sort of break with the past has to occur at some point.
Jamaica's one of those societies where many people don't see a great deal of difference between politicians and drug dealers, they're all gangsters in once sense or another. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone's got a bit of dirt on them.
If you're interested in finding out more about Jamaica's gang problems, you should check out Ross Kemp's 'Gangs of Jamaica' which gives you an idea of the culture and history of Kingston's gangs.