Thursday, June 10, 2010
Jamaican leader plots a great escape
Soldiers walk past a portrait of Bruce Golding
James Bone, New York Recommend? (9) The Jamaican Prime Minister has ordered a full-scale military assault on his own parliamentary constituency.
That would be like David Cameron, his British counterpart, sending shock troops to seize control of Witney, his constituency in Oxfordshire. The illustration is useful only in that it makes clear that Bruce Golding, the Jamaican leader, has embarked on a path of no return.
Now, like the alleged drug baron he is pursuing, Mr Golding is plotting his own great escape.
Politics and criminality lie behind Kingston chaos
Mr Golding’s West Kingston constituency includes the now-infamous Tivoli Gardens housing estate that is the stronghold - Jamaicans say “garrison” - of an international drug gang called “The Shower Posse.”
“The Shower Posse” is considered the most powerful of Jamaica’s estimated 250 gangs.
It controls the slums next to the Jamaican capital’s central business district as well as, US prosecutors say, part of the city’s docks.
Before Mr Golding represented it in parliament, the seat was held for 43 years by his predecessor as Jamaican Labour Party leader and former prime minister Edward Seaga.
The gang’s notoriety is such that not only was it accused of 1,400 murders on America’s East Coast during the “drug wars” of the 1980s, it is soon to be the subject of a Hollywood film.
Tivoli Gardens has been described as “The Mother of All Garrisons.”
The United States indicted the alleged head of The Shower Posse, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, last year, calling him one of the “world’s most dangerous” drug lords.
For nine months, Mr Golding resisted the US extradition request - going so far as to approve the hiring of a California law firm to lobby US officials against it.
Mr Golding’s abrupt about-face - deciding to sign the US extradition order after all - has left him estranged him from his political base. The screamed insults of residents during a visit to Tivoli Gardens made abundantly clear that the area will almost certainly never again return Mr Golding to Parliament.
It took him nine days before he even visited his constituency after it was placed under effective martial law and occupied by hundreds of troops. Mr Seaga, a party elder, has called on Mr Golding to resign.
Yet Mr Golding seems likely to survive as Jamaica’s leader, having embarked on a high-risk strategy to take on all the “garrisons” - those loyal to the opposition People’s National Party as well as his own Jamaica Labour Party.
This pits him against powerful politicians in both parties who, as he once did, rely on the gang “garrisons” for support.
Only by depoliticising the crisis and going after posses loyal to both parties can Mr Golding hope to survive.
In Parliament, Mr Golding vowed that the crackdown would “target criminal gangs wherever they exist, irrespective of their political alliances or whether they have any such alliances.”
On Tuesday, Mr Golding survived a no-confidence motion over his hiring of the US lobbyists Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, by a vote of 30-28.
His Labour Government has a 31-28 majority and does not have to call another election until the end of 2012.
Despite Mr Seaga’s call for Mr Golding’s resignation, his position within the Labour Party appears secure.
Mr Golding has no obvious heir-apparent. Desmond McKenzie, the Mayor of Kingston, also serves as a councillor for Tivoli Gardens, giving him his own ties to the garrison. Deputy party leader James Robertson has faced questions about his political funding.
Perhaps most fortunate is that fact that Mr Golding has a ready-made escape route that is likely to prove every bit as effective as the secret tunnels running out of Tivoli Gardens to the harbour.
Jamaica plans to increase the number of constituencies for the next election from 60 to 63. One of the new constituencies in St Catherine’s is a Labour Party safe seat that comprises areas that Mr Golding once represented, so he could easily dump his now-hostile constituents in Tivoli Gardens.
The wild card remains, of course, the alleged cocaine dealer, Mr Coke, who is still at large.
ABC, the American television network, reported that an official US document described Mr Golding as a “known criminal affiliate” of the aptly named Mr Coke - a claim that Mr Golding strongly denies.
Mr Coke insists, according to a British solicitor who spoke to him recently, that he is willing to tell all about his relationship with Mr Golding - particularly the deal that gave him the safe West Kingston seat.
What Mr Coke will say, or if he will ever get to say it, are the big unknowns.
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