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EDITORIAL - Jamaica in the wake of Christopher Coke

Published:Friday | September 2, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Most Jamaicans will have mixed emotions over Christopher Coke's guilty plea in America on racketeering and conspiracy charges. Primarily, though, they will feel a measure of relief.

There will be a sense of vindication, for they were certain all along that Coke had done the things of which he was accused. Yet, many of us can't help but be disappointed, hurt, angry even. We were taken through all of that only for this.

All of that, of course, is the trauma Jamaica was caused to suffer, including to its international reputation, over the affair involving this international gangster, whose base was Tivoli Gardens, the 'garrison' in west Kingston where voters are fiercely loyal to the governing Jamaica Labour Party, and which is part of the parliamentary riding of Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

When the Americans sought to extradite Coke on charges that he exported narcotics to their country and imported guns into Jamaica, the Golding administration stalled for nine months. Jamaica argued that the Americans had breached the extradition treaty between the two countries and had abused Coke's constitutional rights in the way it got hold of wiretap evidence used in the indictment against the drug boss.

The ruling party then hired American lobbyists to intervene in the dispute between the two countries to try to soften Washington's stance on the Coke extradition. In what supposedly was a private party endeavour mingled with official diplomacy, government spokespersons - not excluding Prime Minister Golding - often sounded more like Coke's legal strategists than state officials.

When the Government finally bowed to public pressure to execute the extradition request and to allow the courts to decide if it was in concert with the law, Coke gathered his private militia into his Tivoli Gardens redoubt. Coke's supporters elsewhere attacked police stations and generally caused mayhem.

The larger context

The effort by the security forces to pacify Tivoli Gardens left more than 70 people dead and the Jamaican state badly rattled, its fragility patent. That, we feel, provides the larger context within which to consider the Coke matter.

Christopher Coke personifies the kind of threat to the security and democracy of small and vulnerable countries like Jamaica. Control of large amounts of resources, illicitly derived notwithstanding, endow gangsters with the capacity to corrupt the political process and to control many levers of the State by proxy. Indeed, Coke's activities - and the criminal machinations of others - were an open secret in Jamaica.

However, given Coke's political and community connections, underpinned by his ability to distribute largesse and corral votes, it is likely that he would not have been arrested and prosecuted in Jamaica. Such an eventuality would have been made more difficult by the political fault lines in Jamaica.

In that respect, and as grudgingly as we concede it, Jamaica ought to be thankful for America's move against Coke, particularly as murders and other serious crimes have plummeted since his ouster by the military. Hopefully, Coke's arrest and guilty plea mark the crossing of a Rubicon - and the end of impunity by such hard men of violence and crime.

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