By Bill Van Auken in the USA:
28 May 2010
Scores have been reported killed or wounded and hundreds arrested in what critics describe as indiscriminate violence by Jamaican security forces besieging an impoverished West Kingston neighborhood.
The confrontation, triggered by the Jamaican government’s reluctant acquiescence to Washington’s demand for the extradition of powerful and politically connected reputed drug trafficker, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, has continued for five days. Residents of Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica’s first public housing development and a supposed stronghold of Coke and his supporters, have been turned into prisoners in their own homes as some 2,000 police and soldiers armed with automatic weapons and wearing combat helmets have stormed into the area.
In a call to Jamaica’s News Talk Radio 93FM Wednesday night, two women from the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood said that they were trapped on the floor of their home, without food, electricity or water and terrified of being shot if they raised their heads.
“We’re not animals down here,” one of the women said. “We are humans.”
Residents have reported the security forces firing rocket-propelled grenades and using bulldozers to demolish homes, while the media has raised questions about unexplained explosions in the housing estate.
The security forces have sought to keep a tight lid on the operation, turning away the media at gunpoint. On Wednesday, Jamaica’s independent public defender, Earl Witter, a government official, was allowed into the zone and reported a count of 44 civilians dead.
Hospitals, however, had by Wednesday reported receiving the bodies of 60 civilians, and there were disturbing reports that suggest the real death toll could be significantly higher. Some residents of Tivoli Gardens have reported seeing troops burning corpses on piles of tires. And Kingston’s Mayor Desmond McKenzie announced that he was launching an investigation following a Television Jamaica report Wednesday night showing police carrying coffins to a local cemetery for unauthorized burials.
McKenzie said he had demanded explanations from the chiefs of the army and the police. “I’m hoping that I will be given an answer, and the country will be given an answer that the people of West Kingston who have died under tragic circumstances are not being thrown into the ground just like that,” the mayor said.
Jamaica’s daily Gleaner reported Thursday that the carnage had “put morgues on the brink of overflowing.” Agence-France Presse reported Wednesday that the morgue at one of the major Kingston hospitals had received three truckloads of bodies, including that of a baby.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has announced that public hospitals in the capital and surrounding area have suspended all but emergency services until further notice because of the growing number of casualties resulting from the police-army operation.
The countdown to the confrontation began May 17 when Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced that, having dropped his nine-month-long opposition to the extradition of Coke, he would order his arrest. …
The accused drug lord has a significant base of support in the poor inner-city neighborhoods, where he has used his wealth and political connections to secure government contracts and jobs, while dispensing limited forms of social assistance not otherwise available.
Those political connections are at the center of Jamaica’s present crisis. Prime Minister Golding is the representative in parliament for the same Tivoli Gardens district, a seat he inherited from the previous long-time leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, Edward Seaga.
It was Seaga who cemented the hold of the JLP and the drug gangsters over Tivoli Gardens. In 1980, he relied on these elements as shock troops in violent elections that claimed some 800 lives and brought his party to power through the defeat of the People’s National Party of Michael Manley. …
Seaga tailored Jamaican policy to the demands of Washington, jettisoning the left-nationalist rhetoric of Manley. He became a key supporter of the Reagan administration’s Caribbean Basin Initiative, broke off relations with Cuba and supported the 1983 US invasion of Grenada.
The connections between Golding and Coke surfaced earlier this month, as questions arose about government payments to a high-powered US lobbying firm headed by Charles Mannatt, the former chairman of the Democratic Party and reported confidante of President Barack Obama.
Mannatt was apparently hired to lobby against the extradition order against Coke, meeting with administration officials to argue that the accused drug lord was in fact a legitimate businessman and philanthropist.
While first acknowledging that the government had paid for Mannatt’s services, Golding later claimed that lobbying bills were footed by the JLP.
In what appears to be a ratcheting up of US pressure on Golding, ABC News reported Wednesday that the prime minister had been named in US court documents as a “known criminal affiliate” of Coke. According to the ABC report, US officials cited wiretapped telephone conversations between the Jamaican leader and the accused drug trafficker.
Meanwhile, the London daily Independent reported that Coke’s gang, the so-called Shower Posse—so named for the quantity of bullets it unleashes in confrontations with its rivals—was in the direct employ of the JLP and used to turn out the vote in the district during elections.
By Casey Gane-McCalla at News One for Black America:
The Jamaican police bare a lot of responsibility for the violence. Police in Jamaica have a reputation for killing civilians and brutality. This is one of the reasons for the tense relationship between the police in Jamaica and people in the Garrisons.
The Jamaican Labour Party has protected and empowered Dudus for years, as they did his father Lester Coke, also know as Jim Brown. Still the opposition party, the People’s National Party has its connections to gangsters and garrisons too.
America has its own role in the violence going on in Jamaica. It was the U.S. who indicted Dudus on criminal charges and demanded that Jamaica arrest him. The USA supported, trained and armed the Shower Posse (which Dudus now heads) to help the JLP fight the PNP in the seventies and eighties, when Jamaica was developing a relationship with Cuba. In many ways the U.S.A. is responsible for Tivoli Gardens becoming the stronghold it is today and Dons like Dudus being as powerful as they are. The guns that are being used by the criminals are being shipped from the US and the US is supplying the Jamaican police with weapons as well. Dudus is rich because of Americans buying drugs not Jamaicans.
Critics: Rising Jamaican Death Toll Rooted in So-Called “War on Drugs”: here.
Amnesty called on the Jamaican government today to seriously investigate human rights abuses allegedly committed during last year’s bloody operation to catch a reputed drug lord: here.
UN: No torture in Jamaica – police murder suspects straight away! (par 13, US embassy cable): here.
Over the past decades, civil libertarians have warned that right-wing politicians were moving towards an all-embracing police state, using the media-generated panics of the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” as their stalking horses: here.