Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 2010
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2010 Telegraph Media Group Limited
Author: Tony Thompson,  in Kingston Jamaica
Note: Crime author Tony Thompson's latest book, Gang Land, was published by
Hodder & Stoughton this month


After Days Of Bloodshed That Turned Kingston Into A Warzone, The
World Now Knows The Name Of Fugitive Drugs Kingpin Christopher "Dudus"
Coke. Our Author Examines How His Gang Became So Powerful In Jamaica -
And Beyond.

Kingston residents fear police more than drug dealer Michael 'Dudus' Coke
Three men rest at Fishermen Beach in Kingston Photo: AP

Ask the people of Tivoli Gardens, Kingston's most notorious "garrison"
community, who they consider to be the greatest threat to their
wellbeing and the answer is always emphatic: the police.

Little wonder. Prior to last week's bloodshed the area had one of the
lowest-reported crime rates throughout the entire city.

Although murals of the prime minister, Bruce Golding, adorn many of
the pastel-coloured four-storey blocks and low-rise homes, alongside
graffiti urging the residents to support his Jamaica Labour Party,
life here is controlled by a force far more powerful than any government.

According to the US State department, Michael "Dudus" Coke is a major
drugs and arms trafficker but to those who have fought and died to
defend him over the past week, he is the one they rely on to settle
local disputes, ensure their children's schoolbooks and shoes on their
feet, that holes in their roofs get patched up and rubbish is
collected. Most importantly, Dudus is the only one they can rely on to
keep them safe from armed incursions by rival garrisons.

To grow up in Kingston is to grow up knowing death and violence from
an early age. Each community is allied to and supported by one or
other of the two main political parties - the JLP or the People's
National Party (PNP). Local MPs fight for seats by guaranteeing the
desperately impoverished substantial financial aid for their
communities in return for their support. It didn't take long for those
living in the worst ghettos to cotton on to the idea of using force to
ensure votes in their area went a certain way or, better yet, that all
those in a neighbouring community also fell in line.

Running battles between rival garrisons that started out with sticks
and stones soon escalated thanks to an influx of guns. During the
sixties Jamaica became a covert front in the cold war between the USA
and the USSR. The PNP received guns and money from the Soviet Union
via its links to Cuba while the JLP benefited in a similar fashion
from the US authorities. Edward Seaga, leader of the latter party at
the time, became known as CIAga.

Since then, the island has effectively been embroiled in a slow
burning civil war, a conflict that flares up every now and then and
most notably at election time. During the 1980 campaign, 844 people
were killed in the space of two weeks, most of them on election day

The death toll climbs because, particularly for the residents of the
ghetto, voting a party to power isn't so much about the broader issues
of lower taxes or trade deficit as the specific personal matters of
whether your homes gets connected to the local water and electricity
supply and whether you can get treatment at your local hospital. It is
quite literally life and death.

Violent tactics have and continue to be effective because Jamaican
elections are often incredibly close.

In 1967 the JLP won with 224,180 votes while the PNP polled 217,207.
In 2007 the JLP polled 405,215 votes to the PNP's 402,275. Changing
the voting pattern of a small number of communities can have a huge
effect on the overall outcome.

The threat of violence is very real and uncompromisingly brutal. Last
Wednesday while attention was focused on Tivoli Gardens, a group of
gunmen from nearby St Catherine took advantage of the
lighter-than-usual police presence to settle some old scores. In two
separate incursions they killed eight people, ordering them out of
their houses and shooting them in the streets. One of their victims
was a three-month old child. It is his ability to prevent such
tragedies in Tivoli Gardens that has won Dudus the love and respect of
its residents.

As one Tivoli placard states: "First God, then Dudus."

Quiet and unassuming, Dudus refuses to give interviews to the media,
unlike other Kingston dons who regularly hog the limelight and revel
in their notoriety, insisting on being seen at every club or party
event, usually surrounded by dozens of scantily clad girls. Dudus, by
contrast, is far quieter and has earned himself a reputation for being
something of a thinker. A graduate of one of Kingston's most
prestigious high schools, he is said to be extremely bright and
capable. The construction company he established, Incomparable
Enterprise, still receives millions of dollars worth of government
contracts each year, most of it geared towards repairs and renovations
in Tivoli Gardens itself... Another of his ventures, Presidential
Click, stages the island's biggest weekly street dance, Passa Passa.

Despite his easy-going nature, he remains widely feared. Those foolish
enough to challenge his brand of justice often end up dead, their
bodies dumped in other parts of the city to ensure any head does not
reflect back on the garrison itself. Within these communities, the
power of the state wanes alongside the power of the dons themselves.
The fact that Tivoli has such a low crime rate is at least in part due
to a general terror of the potential consequences.

When Seaga first came to power in 1980, he immediately repaid his US
sponsors by launching a war on marijuana, initiating a massive
eradication programme, a move which spectacularly backfired by opening
the way for Jamaica to become the favoured transshipment point for
Colombian cocaine en route to the US and Europe.

At the same time gunmen loyal to the losing PNP party, now starved of
funds and influence, fled abroad to escape roaming execution squads.
Their fearlessness, total disregard for the value of human life,
willingness to use guns and contacts with the cocaine business meant
the Posses - Yardies in the UK - were perfectly placed to rise to the
top of the drug business.

They did so in uncompromisingly brutal fashion and, particularly in
Britain, were single-handedly responsible for a massive increase in
the gun murder rate during the 1980s. Women and children suddenly
became legitimate targets. Dealers would find themselves relieved of
their entire stashes at gunpoint and be executed for showing the
slightest resistance.

When the JLP gunmen saw how much money the PNP dealers were making,
they too "went foreign". For them the exodus was led by a man who
liked to be called Jim Brown but was better known as Lloyd Lester Coke
- - Dudus's father. His drugs gang, the Shower Posse, quickly
established bases in more than 20 US cities, Canada and the United

Brown was personally involved in a massacre in which one victim was a
pregnant woman, shot while on her knees praying for her life to be
spared. Between 1980 and 1985, the Shower Posse and other Jamaican
gangs were linked to at least 1,500 murders along America's east
coast. In the five years that followed the gangs that came to the UK
were linked to at least 500 murders and more than 5,000 gun attacks.

Other gangs in the drug business had no choice but to arm themselves
and fight back or face being pushed aside. The birth of the youth gun
culture which is now having such a devastating effect on the lives of
many inner-city teenagers in the UK and the fact that many British
police forces now have permanent armed patrols can be directly traced
to the influence of a few hundred individuals from this tiny Caribbean

At first the money was channelled back to continue the political
battles, but soon the Dons focused instead on their own needs, using
the excess to buy the loyalty of the communities around them. The
politicians still need the gunmen or more precisely, the votes they
control, but they no longer have much of a hold on them. The wealth
generated by the drug trade resulted in a new breed of gang leaders
who no longer look for handouts and called their own shots.

Edward Seaga described Jim Brown as "the protector of Kingston's poor"
and led his funeral procession, despite the fact that the Jamaican
Police had charged Brown with murder on 14 separate occasions. The
charges were dropped or he was acquitted after witnesses failed to
turn up at court. After one acquittal his supporters gave him a
massive gun salute on the steps of the courthouse before carrying him
off to Tivoli on their shoulders.

Dudus too has little fear of local law enforcement. He has, after all,
been arrested with little incident several times in the past. Most
recently he pleaded guilty to possession of a cannabis cigarette and
was fined $200. The difference then was that the charges were purely

Like other international targets of America's war on drugs, what
Jamaica's dons fear most is extradition. On their home turf, witnesses
can be intimidated, senior officials can be bribed. Charges can be
dropped. Deprived of their ability to do this in America, they face
lengthy sentences that they are unlikely to ever return.

Dudus's father, Jim Brown mysteriously burned to death in a
maximum-security cell, just days before he was to be extradited to the
US to face murder and drug-racketeering charges, and suspicions were
high that he had been deliberately silenced. His lawyer, Tom
Tavares-Finson - now representing Dudus - famously remarked at the
time: "If you believe Jim Brown just burned to death, by accident, in
his jail cell, you'll believe in the tooth fairy." Little wonder
Dudus, too has chosen to remain at large.

Crime author Tony Thompson's latest book, Gang Land, was published by
Hodder & Stoughton this month 
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