Drug lord still at large as Golding faces questions
Jamaican death toll put as high as 60 in hunt for leader of The Shower Posse
The Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding, was still trying to restore order in Kingston last night as more evidence emerged of his party's relationship with drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, whose gunmen have been fighting to stop his extradition to the United States to face drug trafficking charges.
At least 30 people have now died in the battle between gangsters loyal to Coke, leader of The Shower Posse drugs cartel, and troops sent into west Kingston by Golding to find him. Early this morning, he was still at large.
The scale of the crisis, with police having to watch for snipers' bullets, and fighting spreading well beyond the Tivoli Gardens stronghold where Coke is thought to be hiding, has led to flights being cancelled in and out of Kingston airport. The Foreign Office has advised British travellers not to visit Jamaica unless their trips are essential.
Some reports from Kingston have put the death toll as high as 60. Agence France Presse has told of lorries (above) arriving at Kingston Public Hospital "piled with corpses riddled with bullet wounds, including a baby".
Golding reported to parliament yesterday on his government's efforts to contain the crisis and find Coke. "The operation being carried out under emergency powers are extraordinary measures," he said, "but they are an extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge to the safety and security of our citizens."
Coke's hold over his community is extraordinary, too. And more and more voices are asking why Golding allowed the situation to develop where Coke became such a powerful figure in Kingston, and why he did not respond earlier to the US demand for Coke's extradition, first issued nine months ago but acted on only last week.
As The First Post reported yesterday, the Jamaican Labour Party has long been accused of using Coke's connections to secure votes in west Kingston - Golding's own constituency - and intimidate opposition voters at election time. In return, say observers of the Kingston scene, the government has awarded contracts and turned a blind eye to drug trafficking.
David Rowe, a University of Miami adjunct professor and specialist in Jamaican law, has been quoted as saying that the JLP and Coke have enjoyed an "almost symbiotic relationship".
It has been going on for years, with gangs in some districts of Kingston being affiliated with the JLP's main opposition, the People's National Party (PNP).
"Certain neighbourhoods are PNP neighbourhoods and others are Labour neighbourhoods," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington DC. "Basically, it has meant that 'These are my gunslingers and, if you shoot my guys, we are going to have to shoot yours'."
How long Coke can hold out will depend on the loyalty of the impoverished Jamaicans protecting him. "He lives in a poor area, and because of his sale of cocaine, he basically plays the Robin Hood role," Rowe told CNN this week.
"They don't know, if he's extradited, who will be there for them. There are mothers wondering, 'Who's going to buy my child lunch?' or 'If I get sick, who's going to pay my hospital bills?' "
The Jamaica Observer said in an editorial: "We must admit that we have been laying the foundation for yesterday's events for a long time... We have been heading for an explosion as those who have held the reins of government have given succour to criminals in their blinkered thirst for political power... It has to stop." ·
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