Source: [The Guardian
By: Ben Bowling
May 27 2010
The chaos in Kingston is symptomatic of the failure of US-led cocaine
prohibition. This tragic violence must force a rethink.
The tragedy unfolding in Jamaica is symptomatic of a wider crisis of organised
crime, armed violence and political corruption caused by a failed “war on
drugs”. The tangled political and economic roots of the problem run very
Caribbean nations were born from the violence of chattel slavery and
rebellion, colonial domination and the struggle for liberation and
self-determination. The postcolonial flight of capital and structural
readjustment have been compounded by the end of transatlantic trade
agreements that have led to the collapse of the [region’s agricultural
economic base->http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/18/decline-caribbean-banana-trade-europe]. High levels of unemployment and extreme marginality have
been the result for many communities.
By accident of geography, the Caribbean islands sit uncomfortably between
the Andean coca producers and the cocaine consumers of North America and
Europe. Although the Caribbean routes account for only a small proportion of
the cocaine traffic (estimated by the [UN
Office on Drugs and Crime->http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/WDR.html] to be worth as much
as $125bn), the islands’ physical location, unprotectable coastlines and
transport links to the metropolitan centres of North America and Europe make
them an ideal jumping-off point for the traffickers.
The “war on drugs” was supposed to destroy coca production, stifle
trafficking and eliminate cocaine use in the US and beyond. It has achieved
none of these things. Instead, supply and demand are resilient, and so the
“harsh medicine” of drug prohibition has created a lucrative clandestine
market with entirely predictable iatrogenic side-effects of political
corruption and armed violence. The collateral damage is all too evident
across the region – most obviously in Jamaica, but also in Trinidad, Guyana
and many other places on the Caribbean rim that have seen gunshot murders
escalate to levels equivalent to a bloody civil war.
Jamaica’s problems are particularly acute. Political violence can be traced
back to the 1940s at least, and escalated at key moments throughout the 20th
century, most notably during the 1980 election when guns were funnelled into
the island from the US – allegedly by the CIA – to arm the leaders of the
In the poorest Kingston constituencies, the two main political parties – the
Jamaica Labour party and the People’s National Party – continue to vie for
power, with more than 90% of voters turning out for one or other of the
Local politicians and the “dons” exert control
Jamaican dons like Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke are considered
role models”>the “dons] but also inspire loyalty among their constituents.
In the past, the dons worked as enforcers for the politicians, but they have
now accumulated an independent economic power base from drug- and
gun-running, protection rackets and corrupt government contracts.
The attempt to extradite Christopher “Dudus” Coke] to
the US to face trafficking charges has turned from farce to tragedy. At
first, the government, led by JLP Prime Minister Bruce Golding,
prevaricated, no doubt mindful of Coke’s connections to the party and his
ability to deliver votes, but also the power of a man whom many people think
of as a godfather who can deliver security and other goods. Bowing to both
domestic and external political pressure, the government’s attempt to
execute the arrest warrant has so far left at least 44 people dead ? without
Sadly, loss of life at the hands of the authorities is far from rare. Last
year, the Jamaican police killed more than 250 people ? deaths denounced by
human rights groups as extrajudicial executions.
In the short term, there is an obvious need for the authorities to work to
restore peace to the affected neighbourhoods. This is going to require
fortitude, but also restraint. Preservation of life and the minimal use of
force in pursuit of peace and safety should be the guiding ethos, even while
the situation remains volatile. Too many lives have been lost already and
the danger of escalation is clear and present.
The challenge for the Jamaican people, after that, is to understand the
roots of political corruption and armed violence and seek ways to
disentangle organised crime from politics, business, the state and civil
society more generally. Removing guns and corruption from the body politic
is not going to be easy and cannot be achieved by military firepower: war on
the streets of Kingston is the problem, not the solution. It will require a
peace process akin to the Northern Ireland experience, perhaps with truth
and reconciliation, and certainly with some means to decommission weapons
and demobilise the young men in corner crews who define themselves as
“soldiers” fighting on the front line of garrison communities.
There is a wider challenge facing the region and the international
community. The “war on drugs” has not only failed, but positively promotes
corruption and armed violence ? not only in the Caribbean, but also across
Central and South America, West Africa and in the inner cities of Europe and
Could the tragic loss of life in Jamaica bring the world to its senses?
People are sick of warfare. We should instead direct resources to building a