State of emergency in Jamaica: new place, same story
**Kingstonians protest the US extradition request. Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Observer.
I was just in Jamaica last week, for a short vacation to decompress after finals. A few days later, not far from the tranquil waters of Treasure Beach, Jamaicans in Kingston are up in arms to defend local don and aptly-named alleged drug dealer Christopher “Dudus” Coke from extradition to the US — setting fire to police stations, putting up roadblocks and inspiring a US travel warning. The Jamaica Gleaner reports,
The extradition request for Dudus is threatening to put an end to the political life of a prime minister, has already caused the resignation of a government senator, and has led to questions about the credibility of an administration that came to power with great expectations less than three years ago.
In addition, it has reduced commerce in downtown Kingston to a fraction of its regular performance, forced the army to call out the National Reserve, and caused the police to engage in planning an information strategy that has never before been seen by or commandeered the full attention of the entire nation.
Indeed, the government on Sunday declared a state of emergency that may last up to a month, and gives government forces “the power to restrict the freedom of movement, search premises and detain persons suspected of involvement in unlawful activities without warrant.” Security forces are now offering to evacuate residents from the hardest-hit neighborhoods in case violence flares.
This all in response to an August 2009 extradition request filed by the US on alleged weapons and drug charges, which the Jamaican government signed last week following months of dispute.
First in line to decry the request was Prime Minister Bruce Golding, coincidentally also the representative for Tivoli Gardens, Dudus’ garrison (a Jamaican neighborhood loyal to a political party; in this case, the center-right Jamaica Labour Party). He argued that the wiretap on which the extradition request was based was illegal, having been “passed from a Jamaican police constable to the American government without proper approval,” according to the NYT.
Dudus is a well-known businessman with a consulting firm that receives numerous state contracts. West Kingston residents are rising up (some allegedly under pressure) to defend the man who goes by “President” and provides services for locals, including food, money for school and dispute resolution.
Now, this incident certainly didn’t arise out of nowhere: it has roots in the often brazen thoughtlessness of US drug policy and an abusive, ineffective Jamaican justice system.
A few weeks ago, Al Jazeera English filed a report about Jamaica, focusing on police killings and the lack of trust among average Jamaicans in a corrupt, corrosive police and court system. Reading the article and watching the film (see below), I was struck by how the Jamaican case shares so much in common with similar countries around the world which serve as supply and transit points for drugs headed to the US, and which often suffer the brunt of US policies:
Jamaica is now in the news for this flare-up, inspired by the US extradition request. Yet it’s the same story all over again. Can we learn this time?