May 21, 2010
Obama's Lesson in RealpolitikBy David Paulin
Obama's foreign policy bumblers are getting a lesson in realpolitik in an extradition standoff with Jamaica -- which may not be the best place for a Caribbean vacation right now. Kingston, the capital, is on a "knife's edge" of tension, report Jamaica's media outlets. Residents are braced for civil unrest. Security forces are out in force.
Jamaica's leftist elites, for their part, have gone into an anti-American frenzy not seen since President Bush's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The epicenter of the gathering storm is Kingston's gritty Tivoli Gardens area -- longtime home to an alleged drug lord named Christopher Michael Coke, 41, who is wanted by U.S. authorities. There, in what some call a "state within a state," Coke and his gunmen have for years operated with minimum harassment from the police -- thanks to loose ties with political leaders and fierce loyalties they've cultivated with poor residents.
Now, anticipating a raid by security forces, Coke and his gunmen have reportedly thrown up barricades booby trapped with gasoline-filled canisters, barbed wire, and live electrical wires. They're heavily armed -- ready for a flight as police attempt to serve an arrest warrant on Coke. Backed up by these gunmen, Coke has ruled this section of West Kingston for years, serving as a "community leader" by providing an ad hoc if not thuggish government for poor residents.
The showdown comes after Jamaica on Monday finally signed a extradition request from the United States for Coke -- after stonewalling the Obama administration for months and voicing concerns over Coke's "constitutional rights." As an American Thinker article reported last March, Jamaica's political leaders claimed American law enforcement authorities had violated Coke's rights with wiretaps and the use of unnamed witnesses -- all cited in an indictment unsealed last August by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. However, the more likely reason for the extradition standoff was that Jamaica's political leaders were protecting Coke. They had much to lose by extraditing him.
Known as "Dudus" to Jamaicans, Coke has for years been the alleged leader of Jamaica's "Shower Posse," which has distributed crack, cocaine, and marijuana in New York City and elsewhere while smuggling weapons back to Kingston. No doubt, a disproportionate number of the victims of Coke's drug trafficking and violence have been poor and black Americans. Coke is one of the world's "most dangerous narcotics kingpins," say U.S. officials.
"Mutual respect" and "honest dialogue" were cornerstones of the Obama administration's reset in foreign policy and relationships with other states. They were supposed to usher in a new area of good relations with the world after eight years of George Bush. But in the extradition standoff with Jamaica, realpolitik is what finally appears to have advanced America's interests, much to the relief of frustrated officials in Obama's administration -- including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, the extradition standoff fueled tensions for months between Washington and Kingston. Last January, Hillary Clinton is thought to have addressed the issue during a brief visit to Jamaica. According to a newspaper account, she made a "fleeting stop on the island," meeting briefly at the airport with Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
Nation-states have interests. And when push comes to shove, those interests trump all else -- as Obama administration officials learned over what should have been a routine extradition request. To their surprise, Jamaica's political leaders had no desire to honor their country's treaty obligations and extradite Coke. Doing so wouldn't advance their interests. After all, Coke and other strongmen -- known as "Dons" to Jamaicans -- control sections of Kingston known as "garrisons." Divided along political lines, the garrisons and the strongmen who lead them have loose ties with Jamaica's two political parties. The Dons ensure that voters go to the polls and support the politicians they favor. Coke's ties are with Jamaica's ruling Jamaica Labor Party. Ironically, it's the more pro-American and "whiter" and free-market oriented of Jamaica's two main parties.
Besides operating illegal activities such as drug trafficking, the Dons serve as "community leaders" -- distributing government patronage jobs for things like road repair and construction along with spoils from their illegal activities. By extraditing Coke, then, Prime Minister Golding and his ruling Jamaica Labor Party risk losing a critical constituency -- poor voters who fiercely support their "Don." Worse, extraditing Coke risks igniting major civil unrest from his supporters. It appears to have started. "There is going to be blood!" shouted one man, upon hearing news that Coke would be extradited, according to one news report. A woman screamed: "Leave Dudus alone; him next to God!"
On the other hand, middle-class Jamaicans have been embarrassed and outraged by the extradition standoff, for they regard Coke as emblematic of Jamaica's thug culture. Some have cynically observed that Coke is the most powerful man in Jamaica -- more so than even Jamaica's prime minister.
The standoff has been front-page news for months, with public debate revolving around whether the government should -- or would -- honor the extradition request. Many pointed out that Jamaica had one interest that trumped all else -- good relations with Washington. After all, Jamaica's two main sources of foreign exchange are remittances and tourism from America. Over the years, it also has gotten hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid. Jamaica, of course, also has other sources of foreign exchange: It's a major transshipment point for Colombian cocaine and the Caribbean's biggest exporter of marijuana to the United States.
Outraged by their government's stonewalling over Coke's extradition, many middle-class Jamaicans were reminded yet again of the loose ties between Jamaica's strongmen and political leaders of both parties. In the past, they winced at the sight of Jamaica's top politician and government officials attending gaudy funerals for slain Jamaican gangsters.
In a letter to a Kingston newspaper over the extradition standoff, one parent complained that his son told him he wanted to be "like Dudus because the Prime Minister, the Governor General, and the Queen have to bow down to him. I was shocked out of my wits! [Prime Minister] Bruce Golding, please resign with immediate effect; do the right thing please. We don't want our children to promote or shield criminal activities or accusations."
As usual, Jamaica's leftist elites blamed the United States for throwing its weight around with its insistence that Jamaica honor its extradition treaty. Indeed, the extradition standoff provoked fits of anti-Americanism from influential newspapers columnists -- a rage not seen since the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq that enraged Jamaica's left-leaning elites.
"Can the great United States be wrong?" wrote columnist Chris Burns in the left-leaning Jamaica Observer, a popular Kingston daily newspaper. "Yes, absolutely, the U.S. can be wrong, and even President Barack Obama acknowledges this, as he seeks to restore America's image and credibility around the world. Indeed, "if history is anything to go by, Uncle Sam may still need to submit, in humble contrition, for some of its past transgressions and mistakes."
Mervin Stoddart, an Observer columnist and self-described minister living in Florida, complained in a column of U.S. "bullying" and "imperialism" over the extradition standoff. He called ordinary Jamaicans "innocent ignoramuses, [who need] to be taught by politicians, preachers, pedagogues and people who know the truth about U.S. imperialism." Ironically, the Jamaica Observer is published by Gordon "Butch" Stewart, also owner of the Sandals and Beeches resorts that are popular among Americans.
The Shower Posse, meanwhile, has presumably continued to distribute drugs in American, helping to destroy black families and neighborhoods. Interestingly, this is of no concern to Jamaica's leftist and anti-American elites, even though they regularly express outrage over America's alleged racism and past sins.
During the extradition standoff, an uproar erupted in Jamaica's Parliament over accusations that Prime Minister Golding's government had paid $400,000 to the prestigious law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to convince the Obama administration not to extradite Coke. The firm "is headed by Charles T. Manatt, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who also represents the Dominican Republic, where he served as ambassador a decade ago," noted the Washington Post.
Deciding to play hardball with Jamaica, the State Department reportedly canceled visas to top officials of the Jamaica Labor Party. U.S. officials also appear to have leaked information to Jamaica newspapers to underscore that they mean business. According to a report in the Jamaica Observer last March, the U.S. had satellite photos showing Jamaican political leaders and officials visiting Coke's stronghold in West Kingston. The U.S. "has powerful audio and video evidence of activities involving Coke, as well as several Government officials, including members of the legislature, inside the Tivoli Gardens community center," the Observer reported.
Last March, Washington also registered its pique with Jamaica in the State Department's release of its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "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 report stated.
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." In Jamaica, the report fueled Jamaica's raucous public debate over the extradition standoff, putting the government in an increasingly negative light.
The unholy alliance between Jamaican politicians and crime bosses dates to the early 1970s, when Jamaica's fiery socialist prime minister, Michael Manley, was a hero to the international left and leader of Jamaica's left-leaning People's National Party. That's 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. In effect, the strongholds are mini-states within a state, like something out of the Middle Ages, some observers have noted.
Today, many ordinary Jamaicans are fed up with Jamaca's thug culture, dismal economy, and corrupt political class. They call their country of 2.7 million people a "failed state" -- a fate that few Jamaicans could have imagined after Britain granted Jamaica its independence in 1962.
Jamaica's left-leaning elites, on the other hand, can be counted on to blame Jamaica's history of colonialism and slavery for its pathologies. Those pathologies include one of the world's highest murder rates -- a grim statistic fueled by the drug trade, gangs, and horrific levels of political violence. Yet interestingly, these pathologies are nonexistent in other English-speaking Caribbean nations, even though they have their own histories of colonialism and slavery. Those countries also have much lower levels of anti-Americanism than Jamaica does.
Whatever happens in Jamaica, Prime Minister Golding's political survival is in doubt. He's no stranger to controversy. In 2004, he was rebuked by the U.S. Embassy after suggesting that U.S. foreign policy was unjust and had provoked the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
If Jamaica's most notorious drug kingpin makes it into a U.S. courtroom, one can only guess at what incredible stories he might tell about his country's drug trade. No doubt, some of Jamaica's political and business elites are very worried.
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 deal with Jamaica's anti-Americanism, Jamaica's relationship with Cuba, and U.S.-Caribbean relations during the Bush administration.