Friday, October 22, 2010

Gangsters, Politicians, Cocaine and Bankers: Lessons from the Saga of Dudus in Jamaica

The arrest of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in a road block in Jamaica on Tuesday 22 June 2010 opens the possibility once and for all to reveal the full extent of the corruption of the politics of Jamaica and the Caribbean by the rulers in collaboration with the intelligence, commercial and banking infrastructures of the United States

From the streets of West Kingston to the hills of Port of Spain, Trinidad to Guyana and down to Brazil, gunmen (called warlords) allied and integrated into the international banking system had taken over communities and acted as do-gooders when the neo-liberal forces downgraded local government services.

From the garrison community of Tivoli gardens, Christopher Coke was hailed as a force more powerful than politicians. Such was power of Coke (called the ‘Pres’ by his supporters and the media) that the prime minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, tried to block his extradition to the United States. For a short period from August 2009 to May 2010, the Jamaican government protected Coke and hired a US law firm to lobby against his extradition. The US government intensified pressures against the Jamaican middle classes, threatening them with the withdrawal of their visas. This pressure and public opinion forced the government of Jamaica to issue a warrant for the arrest of Coke on 17 May 2010.

After the warrant was issued, the military and police forces entered the garrison stronghold of Coke to capture him. After the shooting stopped, 73 persons in Tivoli, three members of the occupation forces and ‘accountant’ Keith Clarke were killed and large numbers injured. Coke was in hiding because he feared ending up like his father, Jim Brown, who had been the don of Tivoli and had died mysteriously in a fire while he was incarcerated in Jamaica awaiting extradition to the United States.

Although the western media has spun this story to exclude the US intelligence agencies as well as Israeli mobsters, the tales of Christopher Coke reveal the reality that peace and reconstruction in the Caribbean is inseparable from demilitarisation and exposure of the US banking and intelligence services.


The arrest of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in Kingston has reopened the issues of the use of thugs and gunmen to intimidate the poor in Caribbean. From Mexico to Guyana and from Brazil to Trinidad, gunmen and criminal elements integrated into the cocaine, guns, politics and banking business terrorise the poor and ensure that international capitalism thrives on the backs and bodies of the most oppressed. Dudus had inherited a criminal infrastructure from his father (also known as Jim Brown) that had been organised by politicians to coerce and intimidate the working poor.

At the height of his power, Dudus had taken over the community of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston and was from a long line of political enforcers with names such as Claudie ‘Jack’ Massop, Bya Mitchell and Jim Brown. These enforcers had been active in the community of Tivoli Gardens established as a base for counter revolutionary violence by a sociologist-turned-politician named Edward Seaga.

Edward Seaga had exploded on the political scene in Jamaica after 1959 speaking for the ‘have-nots’. With the victory of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the elections for independence in 1962, Seaga emerged as a powerful minister and had established Tivoli in 1965 as a base for the JLP.

The establishment of Tivoli was not an accident. As one facet of the redevelopment of downtown Kingston and ‘urban renewal,’ Tivoli was created to counter the positive and radicalising influence of the Rastafari community that had its biggest base in an area then called Back o’ Wall. The sociology of oppression was backed up by bricks, mortar and guns; Tivoli was built on the destruction of Rastafari communities. (I have documented the important role of the Rastafari in Jamaican society in the book, ‘Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney’).

The Rastafari had understood the importance of the establishment of this community against them; in the early seventies Bob Marley made the Reggae song on this community, ‘Concrete Jungle’. Those who supported the Peoples National Party were bulldozed out of the area and drifted to the eastern part of Kingston, where they established communities with names such as Dunkirk. Political rivalry that had been conducted with knives, barbs, sticks and stones was now dominated by men armed with guns.

Michael Manley was swept into power in Jamaica in the elections of 1972. Tivoli achieved notoriety during the seventies as a stronghold for gunpersons loyal to the JLP and in response to this form of housing complex. Michael Manley built his own housing complex for his supporters. The emergence of these competing housing schemes in the urban areas was reinforced by a system of contracts where the political henchmen were given government contracts for construction and other make work schemes. These communities were called garrison communities in Jamaica.

Instead of denouncing and critiquing the manipulation of the oppressed, sociologists called the gangster political love-fest patronage and clientism. Innocent sounding academic phrases such as ‘the disbursement of the discretionary favours of Government’ concealed a more deadly relationship between the poor and the government.

One continues to witness the poverty of the sociological cover-up with the op-ed contribution of H. Orlando Patterson in the New York Times (May 28) entitled, ‘Jamaica’s Bloody democracy’. It is this kind of social science that obscures the depth of oppression of the poor in the midst of the capitalist crisis.


Despite espousing a brand of democratic socialism, Michael Manley did not break the relationship between political enforcers and the political parties. In fact, Manley surrounded himself with notorious gunmen such as Burry Boy, and the militarisation of politics intensified in this period.

If Michael Manley did not take seriously his own rhetoric about Democratic Socialism, the US government and the CIA was sufficiently unnerved by the radicalisation of the Jamaican society under the PNP leadership to embark on wholesale destabilisation of Jamaica. The whole world was now paying attention to the leftward turn of Jamaica and this turn to peace and justice was most manifest in the lyrics of Reggae artists in the seventies. Bob Marley also became a victim of the indiscriminate violence in 1976 when he offered a free concert in the midst of the CIA inspired violence and killings in Jamaica. Peter Tosh was also consumed by this violence and met an early end.

It was at this time that the CIA found a ready pool of gun-men and political contractors who were already ensconced in Tivoli Gardens. Lester Coke, also known as Jim Brown, father of Dudus, was one of the major enforcers who benefitted from the CIA relationship with the party headed by Edward Seaga. The 1980 elections were one of the bloodiest in the history of Jamaica, with hundreds dead and thousands dispersed.

This counter revolutionary phase in the Caribbean reached new levels in the Caribbean as the CIA supported the Contras in Nicaragua, the militarists in El Salvador and the conservative military forces throughout the Caribbean. It was in this period that Walter Rodney was assassinated in Guyana and Archbishop Romero was assassinated in San Salvador. Manley was defeated in the elections of 1980.


When Edward Seaga became the Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1980, the society was deployed at the service of the US counter revolution in the region. It was not by chance that the Prime Minister of Jamaica was at the forefront of those giving military, diplomatic and political cover for the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. In this period when the CIA was fighting against the Contras, the export of cocaine from Columbia was one means of providing the financial resources for the campaign of destabilisation. This has been established by the Senate Committees of the US that revealed that, while Ronald Reagan was carrying forth a war on drugs, the CIA was importing cocaine into the US using the US military and the air force. Gary Webb has also detailed for posterity the role of the CIA in the cocaine business in the book, ‘Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion’.

Jamaica became central to this dark alliance during the period when the JLP government was in power, 1980-1989. In order to establish a firm entrepreneurial basis for the distribution of cocaine in the Caribbean, the forces of Lester Coke organised the Shower Posse in Tivoli with a worldwide reach into Canada, the USA, Europe and other parts of the Caribbean. The gang got its name from the JLP election slogan 'Shower', which was a response to the PNP's 'Power' that was coined from Manley's 'Power for the people' slogan in the 1970s. One other source noted that the name shower had been taken from a speech by Edward Seaga where he promised that: ‘Blessings will shower from the sky and money going jingle in your pockets.’ Seaga knew that this money was not coming from the production of goods and services within Jamaica.

In tandem with the CIA contra wars, there were immense opportunities for entrepreneurs and militarists to be conduits for the cocaine trade with its multi-billion dollar payoffs. With high unemployment in the society, there was a steady pool of youths who could be ensnared into the business of running guns and drugs. Lester Coke who had succeeded Claude Massop as the top gun of Tivoli built the Shower Posse and exploited the cocaine trade to amass great wealth and opulence. Lester Coke (Jim Brown), managed the Jamaican operations from the political constituency of the prime minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga, while confidante Vivian Blake, the other king pin of the posse, managed the North American operations, with cells of the Shower Posse in New York, Miami, Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities. Vivian Blake went through trials, extraditions, business ventures until he succumbed to death in 2009. Many in Jamaica do not believe that Blake died of natural causes.


So lucrative was the business of cocaine and guns that there was an economic boom in the society, with the establishment of new banks and the growth of the Cayman Islands as a major offshore banking site to launder the billions of dollars of the cocaine business. The Shower Posse boomed in this period, and with the boom was an escalation in the levels of violence inside and outside Jamaica. One book entitled, ‘Born Fe Dead’, chronicled the savagery of this gang of mobsters tied to the ruling political party in Jamaica. The Jamaican Posses became notorious enough to be featured on the television programme, ‘American Gangster’. But this gangsterism was not confined to the Americas. The business was lucrative enough to lure Israeli mobsters into this booming business.

Eli Tisona (who was called one of the top Israeli mobsters by the Jerusalem Post) appeared on the Jamaican scene at this point as a business person involved with a supposed high tech agricultural scheme. Tisona, with no known experience in agriculture, was supposed to be the brains behind a scheme of the Prime Minister Edward Seaga for the establishment of an agricultural complex called Springs Plain that was supposed to sell winter vegetables to the United States. It turned out that this was just another front for the transfer of cocaine from Colombia to the United States through Jamaica. During the Seaga period, the planes that were leased to fly out the winter vegetables flew from Colombia before collecting the ‘vegetables’ from Jamaica. At this period International Lease Financing Corp (ILFC), the Los Angeles-based aircraft leasing division of AIG, was the biggest force in the leasing of planes. AIG worked closely with the US intelligence services to the point where the CEO of AIG was once under consideration to become the director of the CIA.

After the end of the Cold war and the defeat of Edward Seaga, Tisona was arrested and jailed in the United States on charges of fraud and money laundering. In 1997, an Israeli Knesset committee report named Eli Tisona and his brother, Ezra, as being the country's two most powerful drug lords. Tisona was jailed in the US in 1999.


While Tisona was functioning as an ‘agricultural expert’ in Jamaica, Lester Coke was growing in power inside the constituency of the prime minister. When the IMF proposed the reduction of government expenditures on health, education and other social services, the dons with their largesse from the cocaine trade became community benefactors doling out goodies to the poor. According to one press report, ‘As those street forces increased their trade in illicit drugs, more arms were brought in and the extortion racket, otherwise known as “tax”, was partitioned off along PNP and JLP lines. Much more importantly, the dons became the effective government as most of these taxes were used to fund the poor and send their children to school, feed them and assist in dealing with health matters and the funerals of old people.’

As the effective government in areas such as Tivoli, dons such as Lester Coke did not depend on elections for their power, and after Edward Seaga was defeated in the 1989 elections, Lester Coke, otherwise known as Jim Brown, was emerging to be more powerful than the former prime minister in his own constituency, Tivoli. Lester Coke was operating Tivoli as a state within a state beyond the reach of the official forces of the Jamaican government. In fact, the business of cocaine was so lucrative that the Lester Coke connections interpenetrated all levels of commerce, banking, the legal community, the media and the clergy as well as the political parties.

With unmatched resources, Lester Coke started to act as though he was above all laws, and beyond the reach of justice. After a series of high profile killings in the early nineties, the US sought to extradite Lester Coke to the United States.

Lester Coke was not to know that he was expendable. When he realized this and was ready to expose the vast web of guns, banks politicians and cocaine, he died mysteriously in a fire in police custody while awaiting extradition to the United States.


In the era of neo-liberal capitalism and imperialism, the international cocaine trade was one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. Neo-liberal ideas benefitted the purveyors of free movement of capital and drugs. In this neo-liberal world, the dons became powerhouses in Jamaica. They had more resources than the politicians and there was a degree of cooperation between them as they agreed on their geographic territory. While the PNP was in power under P.J. Patterson, PNP dons became powerful in the society and this power was manifest when Donald 'Zekes' Phipps was arrested and charged by the police for attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm and unlawful wounding.

Zekes was respected by the opposition dons to the point where they joined in a protest against his arrest. While he was being interrogated at the Central Police Station, Zekes' supporters rioted, leaving four persons – including two policemen – dead. It was not until Zekes appeared on the balcony of the police station and ordered his followers to return to their homes that the demonstrations ended. With Zekes in the eastern part of Kingston and Dudus in the western part of Kingston, the ruling class had the society sewn up so that there could be no real political organising by an independent force outside of the gangster political forces.

Dudus had inherited the infrastructure of his father after the murder of his elder brother, Mark ‘Jah T’ Coke. Another brother, Michael ‘Chris Royal’ Coke, was killed by the police. Edward Seaga was sufficiently threatened by the rise of the power of Dudus within Tivoli that Seaga labeled Dudus a ‘troublemaker.’


Dudus became so powerful inside and outside Jamaica that he was called ‘president’. Urban legend credited Dudus as being the decider as to who should inherit the constituency of Tivoli Gardens after Edward Seaga resigned from active politics in 2005. Earlier, as a leader of the opposition, Seaga had given the name of Dudus to the police but Dudus was not touched. Bruce Golding became the member of parliament for Tivoli Gardens – Western Kingston in 2005 and in 2007; his party the JLP won the elections. Bruce Golding became the prime minister. But Golding was never as resourceful as Dudus so he had to operate in Jamaica with the blessings of the organisation and resources of Dudus.

These facts are now known after the Prime Minister of Jamaica attempted to block the extradition of Dudus to the United States.

In August 2009, Dudus was charged by a grand jury in the southern district of New York with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and to traffic in firearms during a period from 1994–2007. According to the charges, the acts described in the indictment violated the laws of the United States. Pursuant to an extradition treaty between the two countries, the US issued Diplomatic Note No 296 on 25 August 2009 requesting Coke's extradition.

Prime Minister Golding adopted a pseudo anti-imperialist posture opposing the extradition of Dudus and went on the offensive against the US claiming unspecified ‘breaches’ in the gathering of the US wiretap evidence. Golding avoided the obvious double standard of the US government in the whole question of extraditing terrorists and murderers. Luis Posada Carilles, a Cuban born and naturalised Venezuelan, is wanted in the Caribbean and Latin America, in connection with his involvement in the 1976 bombing tragedy of a Cubana aircraft off Barbados in which 73 people on board perished. Successive US administrators refused to hand over Posada Carilles who had been active in the Caribbean at the same time when the CIA was destabilising the region of the Caribbean. Golding did not mention this case when he was opposing the extradition of Dudus.

Prime Minister Golding’s weakness did not end at his pseudo anti-imperialism in attempting to block the extradition of Dudus. Progressive journalists in the Caribbean exposed the double standards of the US media in their claim to be opposed to gun violence in the Caribbean, but the prime minister of Jamaica aided and abetted both the forces of the US and the gangsters in Tivoli. This aid reached the point where the Jamaican government engaged the legal services of a firm in Washington, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, to lobby US government on the extradition issue of Coke. Urban legend among the poor suggested that it was Dudus that was paying the Jamaican government for the legal services of this top-notch legal firm in Washington. Inside Jamaica, Dudus was being represented by a senior senator from one of the royal families of the Jamaica Labour party, Tom Tavares-Finson.

After months of jockeying and manoeuvring between the Jamaican government and the government of the USA, the US started to deny visas to select members of the ruling class of Jamaica. Along with this pressure, the US issued its Narcotics Control Strategy Report of March 2010 stating that the ruling party's well-known ties with Coke highlighted the ‘potential depth of corruption in the government’.

Sections of the Jamaican ruling class panicked under this pressure and after months of declaring that the sovereignty of Jamaica had been breached, on 17 May, the government of Jamaica issued a warrant for the arrest of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.


Two days after the government of Jamaica issued a warrant for the arrest of Dudus, residents of the garrison community began to mount barricades as sections of West Kingston, including the downtown business district, became tense. One day later on 20 May, hundreds marched in support of Coke. Some compared Dudus to Jesus and said they were willing to die for him.

And they did die by the dozens after the soldiers and the police invaded Tivoli. Prime Minister Golding declared a state of emergency and unleashed the coercive powers of the state to catch a gangster who weeks before he had been protecting. In the ensuing battles between the citizens of Tivoli and the coercive forces, dozens were killed and hundreds wounded. Dudus was nowhere to be found in the dragnet of the house to house search in the garrison community.

But the actions of the police went beyond the dragnet in Tivoli. Houses were searched all over the upscale neighbourhoods of Kingston. In one such search, Keith Clarke was killed. Another urban legend said that Clarke was the accountant of Dudus and that he was assassinated so that he would not expose the full expanse of the Dudus empire.

During these high profile searches, other major political and religious leaders knew of the whereabouts of Dudus. In fact, the media reported that while the police were searching for Coke and killing innocent citizens, one member of the clergy had met with Dudus on 31 May. Twenty-two days later, Dudus was stopped in a roadblock with another member of the clergy. A report in the media was that Dudus wanted to be conveyed directly to the US embassy. He was afraid that if he were to remain in police custody in Jamaica, he would meet the same fate as his father.


The international market for illicit drugs is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The UN conservatively estimated that this branch of capitalism grosses over US$300 billion each year. From Afghanistan to Columbia and from Guinea Bissau to Mexico, this international trade and military forces intersect to create killings, confusion and fear. The coast of West Africa is now seeing a repeat of the history of the Caribbean as a transshipment point for cocaine. Recent stories of the uncovering of US$2 billion worth of cocaine in the Gambia exposed one indication of the growth of this form of capitalism in West Africa. Drawing from their experiences of covering the tracks of drug dealers in the Caribbean, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) now presents the fight against drug trafficking as one of the justifications for this US military force in Africa.

The Anglo-American media has worked hard to distort the true history of the linkages between cocaine and politics in the Caribbean. Despite the crisis, the opposition PNP dare not call for a full exposure of the truth of Dudus because the PNP dons are compromised by the trade in cocaine. Both political parties in Jamaica have been opposed to a truth commission to detail the extent of the relationships between gangsters, politicians, bankers and the cocaine trade. The violence and carnage in Jamaica that gave Jamaica the label of the murder capital of the world did not seriously affect the tourist industry. The political leaders had organised the garrison communities and the tourist industry in such a way that those profiting from tourism and gangsterism would continue to do business, regardless of whether there was a state of emergency in Jamaica or not. By the first decade of the 21st century there was not one poor community in Jamaica that was not besmirched by the violence and the killings. The rich lived in sealed and gated communities while the poor lived in constant danger. The real tragedy was that the scale of the violence acted as a prohibitive factor for real political organising of the poor.

This scale of gangsterism and neoliberalism is to be found in all parts of the Caribbean. New networks of peace, justice and truth remain throughout the region exposing the corruption of the societies. The traditional left, silenced by the quagmire of the implosion of the Grenadian revolution are sidelined as the youth search for new forms of political engagement.

Political retrogression, gangsterism and violence have now reached the proportions that were similar to the period of enslavement. This was the period when black life was worthless. Yet, it was in the midst of the most dismal period of oppression when the enslaved of Haiti rose up and built a revolutionary movement that shocked the world.

The politics of truth in the Caribbean will have to build on the lessons and positive features of the Haitian and Cuban revolutions to transcend the new traditions of gangsterism, fraudulent bankers, politicians and their gun-toting dons. The struggle against the cocaine business in the Caribbean is a struggle for a new form of society. In the interim, it is hoped that Dudus did make the tape while he was in hiding so that the entire political establishment can be exposed as enablers of the international gangsterism that is hidden behind the War on Drugs.