By PAT WATSON
Depending on which report you believe Tivoli Gardens don, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, either turned himself in or was arrested at a police spot check in St. Catherine, Jamaica, on Tuesday. Some will breathe a sigh of relief that he is now in custody.
Coke, who is to be extradited to New York State on charges of drug and gun trafficking, had been the subject of a police manhunt that erupted in terrible violence in West Kingston in late May that eventually left more than 70, mostly civilians, dead over a three-day period. A state of emergency still exists. And now that Coke is in police custody, the police force is on high alert as threats have reportedly been made against them.
The story of the Cokes is one that goes back decades, for before there was Dudus there was his older brother Anthony ‘Jah T’ Coke and stepfather Lester ‘Jim Brown’ Coke, the ‘don of dons’ among a group of similar community powerbrokers who emerged during the political strife of the 1970s between Jamaica’s two main political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP).
Anyone who has seen the classic film, The Harder they Come, will have some insight into the surroundings that foster the anti-hero, don culture that runs through the fabric of Kingston’s ghettos. Lester Coke, popular among those for whom he was a benefactor, and who also had faced extradition to the U.S., died under mysterious circumstances in a fire in his cell in a Kingston prison on the same day in February 1992 that his son, Anthony Coke, was buried. Days earlier, Anthony Coke was murdered in broad daylight while riding his motorbike.
The trail of the Coke dynasty’s criminal history has long travelled through and now leads back to the U.S. For it was while the late PNP leader Michael Manley began making utterances about moving Jamaica in a socialist direction and also courting Cuba’s Fidel Castro that America’s Central Intelligence Agency began taking an active interest in making sure that Manley’s left-leaning campaign would not gain any steam. With the support of the CIA, the JLP was given the means to go up against Manley. What resulted was the arming of Lester Coke and similar strongmen who were aligned to both parties, especially in ghetto areas. Inevitably, untold bloodshed ensued, while Manley went on to become Prime Minister.
But what could Christopher Coke’s life have been otherwise, were it not for the remarkable demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. and beyond? Worldwide so far this year one estimate is that close to US$190 billion have been spent buying cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Then there is the matter of Jamaica’s convenient location as a trans-shipment point between the cocaine producers of Columbia and the cocaine consumers of North America.
The bedeviling dual crises of illegal drug use and the corresponding drug trade are what really need to be called into court. For, as powerful as these drug kingpins are considered to be, they are still, to a considerable extent, servants of the illegal drug trade. Why, therefore, does America continue to ignore the lessons of prohibition that took place during the 1920s? Has the failed experiment of making alcohol illegal meant nothing?
America’s demand that other countries solve its drug demand problem is a wrongheaded attempt to solve this crisis. Look what it has done to Jamaica.
On a note of coming full circle…
Last week in Winnipeg the first of seven hearings took place as part of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission at which aboriginal people spoke about their experiences in residential schools. Up until the mid 20th Century, native children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in schools away from their parents. These church-run schools oversaw the education of these children in a misguided attempt to assimilate them into White society.
These types of hearings have their precedent in South Africa, coming as they did as a form of amends following the end of the apartheid regime. But isn’t it ironic that Canada is this day following an example set by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation effort, when it was here in Canada that White South African rulers first got the idea for segregating South Africa’s native peoples into Black townships and Bantustans after they witnessed Canada’s system of corralling native peoples here onto reserves?