CNN reports that at least 27 people are dead in Jamaica’s capital amid a police assault on a suspected drug lord’s stronghold, a protracted push that began Monday and persisted Tuesday, the government reported. Security forces have been fighting people who want to prevent the extradition to the United States of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was charged last year in U.S. federal court with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and with conspiracy to traffic in firearms illegally.
Twenty-six of the dead were civilians and one was a Jamaican Defense Force member; 25 civilians and six defense force members were injured as security forces fought their way into Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town. Security forces have managed to enter the neighborhoods and have confiscated firearms, ammunition, binoculars, army fatigues, and ballistic vests.
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has declared a state of emergency in some parts of Kingston and life in the city has been paralyzed to a certain extent. According to U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, the U.S. Embassy and schools in Kingston are closed. At one point some flights were canceled.
The reason why “Dudus” Coke has had such public support is that he has a heroic “Robin Hood” image in the Kingston slums; he has helped the community by handing out food, paying the necessary fees to send children to school, and building medical centers. However, U.S. drug enforcement officials consider him to be one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords. Coke’s attorney, Don Foote, insists that his client should face charges in Jamaican courts.
After a Sunday night shooting that left two police officers dead and six others wounded near Norman Manley International Airport, on Monday government helicopters dropped explosives into the area near Coke’s stronghold, which was being blocked by residents, although it was not clear if he was there. The violence spread to Spanish Town, about 20 minutes outside the capital, where armed men blocked a major road and a bridge that serves as a link between Montego Bay and Kingston, police said.
Larry Birns, director of the Center for Hemispheric Affairs think tank, said he believes Jamaica “is probably tipping into being a narco-state and it has become too big a problem for the United States to handle in the tried and true ways of the past.”
In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York charged Coke, accusing him of leading an international criminal syndicate known as the “Shower Posse.” The DEA says that, “At Coke’s direction and under his protection, members of his criminal organization sell marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere, and send the narcotics proceeds back to Coke and his co-conspirators.”