March 7, 2010
Obama's Fruitless Quest to Extradite Drug ThugBy David Paulin
The Obama administration is vexed that "mutual respect" and "honest engagement" have failed to persuade Jamaica to extradite an alleged drug kingpin.
It should have been a routine extradition request between countries with friendly relations. Six months ago, the United States asked Jamaica to extradite an alleged drug lord and arms trafficker based in Kingston, the capital. The alleged crime boss, Christopher Michael Coke, 40, is regarded by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of the world's "most dangerous narcotics kingpins."
Coke -- also known as "General," "President," "Duddus," and "Shortman" -- is as well-known to Jamaicans as was crime boss John Gotti to New Yorkers. Ostensibly, Coke is a legitimate businessman. But according to an indictment (read it here) unsealed last August by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Coke has since the early 1990s led an international crime ring called the "Shower Posse." The group distributes cocaine, marijuana, and crack in New York City and elsewhere while smuggling arms back to Jamaica, according to the indictment, which cites intercepted phone conversations and other evidence.
In Kingston, Coke controls a "garrison community" in the Tivoli Garden's area -- "a barricaded neighborhood guarded by a group of armed gunmen," said the indictment. "These gunmen act at Coke's direction. Coke arms them with firearms he imports illegally, via a wharf located adjacent to Tivoli Gardens. Coke also distributes firearms to other area leaders of other sections of Kingston, Jamaica."
Presumably, Jamaica's political leaders would be eager to get rid of Coke. After all, they're ostensibly committed to combating the international war on drugs. Jamaica's drug trade helps fuel one of the world's highest murder rates on the island of 2.7 million people.
Yet Jamaica has yet to extradite Coke -- and it seems reluctant to do so. The likely reason has been widely discussed in Jamaica's news media and is implicitly acknowledged by U.S. officials: Coke has political ties to Jamaica's ruling Jamaica Labor Party. He is part of what might be called Jamaica's thug culture. That culture, according to a State Department report on the international drug trade, has compromised elected officials, the police, and legitimate businesses.
Most Americans think of Jamaica as a hip tourism destination of sun-kissed beaches, intoxicating reggae music, and all-inclusive resorts. But it's also the Caribbean's biggest exporter of marijuana to the U.S. and a major transshipment point for Colombian cocaine.
In Jamaica, men like Coke are not simply perceived as powerful crime bosses and drug lords. As any Jamaican will tell you, these "Dons," as they're called, also play important roles in Jamaica's two-party parliamentary democracy. In Kingston's gritty and often violent inner-city areas, they're "community leaders" who rule over so-called garrison communities -- so named because they're aligned with one political party or the other. Essentially, the garrisons function as mini-states within a state. Such gang-controlled fiefdoms are hallmarks of many dysfunctional or failed states -- from Haiti to Afghanistan to Somalia.
Besides their criminal activities, the Dons provide various types of largesse to garrison residents, including jobs from government contracts they obtain for things like construction and road-building. Above all, they impose political conformity -- using violence and intimidation if necessary. On Election Day, they ensure that residents vote for the parties to which they're aligned. Horrific political violence is not uncommon in such a thug culture. In the weeks ahead of the 1980 general election, 800 people died in the worst year ever of political violence. The violence is mostly confined to Kingston's gritty inner-city areas, far from the island's beach resorts.
This is the way Jamaica's politics has functioned since the early 1970s, when politicians from both parties created the garrisons, reportedly arming criminal elements to sway elections in their favor. Over the years, the Dons are said to have become more independent as they got into the drug trade. Police are said to generally turn a blind eye to the Dons' criminal activities as long as they maintain order in their garrisons.
As for Coke, his garrison is a key constituency for the ruling Jamaica Labor Party. Prime Minister Bruce Golding would thus suffer a major political liability by extraditing Coke -- and he'd perhaps provoke violent civil unrest among constituents loyal to their Don. The Dons provide services and maintain order that Jamaica's government fails to provide.
Hillary's Jamaica Visit
The standoff with Jamaica has piqued top State Department officials and raised political tensions with Jamaica.
Standoffs like this weren't supposed to happen in an Obama presidency...not with a reset foreign policy stressing "honest dialogue" and "mutual respect." Apparently, Washington hasn't even gotten a boost from President Obama's popularity in the Caribbean -- thanks to his charismatic personality, African heritage, and status as America's first black president.
Last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is thought to have addressed the extradition issue during a brief visit to Kingston. According to a newspaper account, she made a "fleeting stop on the island," meeting briefly at the airport with Golding.
No reason was given for the unusual visit. However, it came right after a visit to Kingston by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julissa Reynoso. After meeting with Jamaica's leaders, Reynoso told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy that Coke was an "individual ... of very high interest" and "as of right now we have no intention to remove the [extradition] request."
In line with the Obama administration's foreign policy reset, Reynoso stressed that Washington would not throw its weight around over Jamaica's foot-dragging on Coke's extradition. Jamaica over the years has received hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid. "I raise issues, we have conversations, and we are all adults here, and we are sovereigns and we hope the Jamaican government listens and takes note and we move on," she said.
Now, a month and a half later, it appears the State Department is playing hardball. David Rowe, a Jamaican-born lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told the Associated Press this week that the extradition standoff had promoted the State Department to cancel visas to top officials of the Jamaica Labor Party. An Embassy spokesman would not confirm that, the AP noted. Some observers also speculate that the State Department has held off on filling a vacant ambassador's position in Jamaica due to the extradition standoff. U.S. officials deny that this is the case.
What would President George W. Bush have done? Interestingly, no such extradition problems occurred on his watch, even as Jamaica's political class went into an anti-American freenzy, reviling him as a dangerous "cowboy." At the time, Jamaica's left-leaning People's National Party was in power, as it has been for most of the years since the early 1970s, when fiery socialist Michael Manley became prime minister. The Jamaica Labor Party, ironically, is the more pro-American and free-market oriented of the two parties -- and it's the "whiter" of the two parties in a country where the overwhelming majority is black.
Last Monday, Washington's pique with Jamaica was reflected in the State Department's release of its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Referring to the impasse over Coke's extradition, it said: "Jamaica's processing of the extradition request has been subjected to unprecedented delays, unexplained disclosure of law enforcement information to the press, and unfounded allegations questioning the US' compliance with the MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) and Jamaican law."
The State Department said it had "serious questions" about Jamaica's commitment to fighting transnational crime due to its failure to extradite Coke and its suspension of other extradition requests.
To be sure, the report noted that Jamaica's police had enjoyed some success in combating organized crime, but they had yet to bring in any major kingpins. "This is due to the fact that these leaders are afforded community and, in some cases, police and political protection. Additionally, their activity is often linked with legitimate business holdings," said the report.
Defending himself before Parliament last Tuesday, Prime Minister Golding said that his government had yet to extradite Coke because the intercepted phone conversations and other evidence against him had been illegally obtained. U.S. officials reject such charges.
"I'm not defending the wrongdoing of any person, but I will say this. If I have to pay a political price for it, I'm going to hold a position that constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea," Golding said, referring to the the section of Kingston where the U.S. Embassy is located. "That's not where they start."
* * *
Referring to Jamaica's dismal economy and thug culture, elderly Jamaicans sometimes lament that their country was better off as a British colony. Jamaica's left-leaning elites, on the other hand, can be counted on to blame Jamaica's lurch toward failed nation-state status on a variety of sinister forces -- globalization, neo-liberal economic policies, and the most sinister forces of all: the legacies of slavery and British colonialism. Indeed, three years ago, the ruling People's National Party -- desperate to pull Jamaica out of its deepening economic mess -- launched a major initiative to persuade Britain to compensate Jamaica with slave reparations.
Caribbean nations like The Bahamas, on the other hand, face many of the same problems and challenges as Jamaica. The Bahamas also has its own legacies of slavery and colonialism -- and yet the country suffers from none of the same deep social pathologies as Jamaica does.
Coke would possibly face a life sentence if convicted in a U.S. court. What incredible stories might he tell in a plea bargain about the relationships between Jamaica's Dons and its outwardly respectable politicians and businessmen? It's also interesting to speculate about whether any of these Jamaicans over the years played the anti-American card, cozied up to certain American politicians from New York and Massachusetts (among others), and delivered high-minded speeches in the United Nations and other venues.
Prime Minister Golding has defined the extradition standoff as being all about illegal wiretapping and his government's high-minded commitment to constitutional rights.
The ball is now in the State Department's court. A little Realpolitik may be in order.
David Paulin, an American Thinker contributor, lived two years in Kingston, Jamaica working as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and subsequently as a freelance journalist. Some of his articles dealt with Jamaica's anti-Americanism, Jamaica's relationship with Cuba, and U.S.-Caribbean relations during the Bush administration.