by Kristin Bricker
A nearly identical version of this article ran on the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre's blog and was featured in its July newsletter.
The United States and Jamaica celebrated the capture of Christopher “Dudus” Coke on June 24 after a 30-day manhunt that killed at least 73 Jamaicans, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. However, the arrest of one man does not mean that Jamaica has eliminated organized crime from the island, or even dismantled Coke’s organization, the Shower Posse. The Shower Posse has already survived the loss of one leader: Lester Lloyd Coke, Dudus’ father and founder of the Shower Posse, died in 1992 under suspicions circumstances in prison.
The United States formally requested Coke's extradition in August 2009. Following months of foot-dragging by Jamaica’s ruling party, which relied on Dudus Coke’s machine to deliver the votes necessary to remain in power, the manhunt for Jamaica’s most-wanted “Don” officially began at the end of May, the same week Washington launched the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
The CBSI is, according to the Obama administration, a “multiyear, multifaceted effort by the U.S. Government and Caribbean partners to develop a joint regional citizen safety strategy to tackle the full range of security and criminal threats to the Caribbean Basin.” In many ways, it is similar to previous anti-drug efforts such as Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative.
In 2010, the first year of the CBSI, the US Congress dedicated $21.1 million (just under 50 percent of the total Initiative) to “social justice and education programs.” This funding will be split among fifteen recipient countries. However, in his FY2011 budget request, President Obama signals that the CBSI might suffer the same fate as the Mérida Initiative: development aid dwindles as more resources are dedicated to military and law enforcement solutions. In FY2011, Obama has requested $79 million for the CBSI, of which only $17 million is for economic and social assistance. This trend is likely to continue, as the CBSI will eventually include a US vessel being deployed to the Caribbean to “provide training, logistical and maintenance support.”
Plan Colombia, which also included US military deployment, but on a much larger scale, failed to achieve its stated goal of reducing drug cultivation and production in that country, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
The US government claims that “Developing [the CBSI] became a priority as the Merida Initiative began yielding positive results in Mexico and Central America, making the Caribbean an increasingly attractive transit zone for transnational organized criminals, terrorists and illicit traffickers.” Nonetheless, the US government’s own International Narcotics Control Strategy Report appears to contradict this claim: Mexico’s drug production has increased over the course of Mexico’s military-led drug war, while drug seizures and eradication are down. The percentage of US-bound cocaine that passes through Mexico has remained constant at 90 percent.
Over the course of Mexico’s Mérida Initiative-supported war on drugs, the homicide rate has increased at a record-breaking rate, nearly doubling every year. Since the end of 2006, over 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war. With an estimated 1,200 executions, June 2010 was the deadliest month of President Calderón’s term to date. The prevailing theory for why violence has spiraled out of control in Mexico is that the drug war has disrupted normal drug trafficking patterns, leaving chaos in their place.
Jamaican media celebrated the fact that Jamaica’s five-per-day murder rate tapered off following the police and military raids in Kingston as they searched for Coke. However, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the 73 people killed in the raids may never be known: Jamaica sent a donated international ballistics expert home, and multiple problems have plagued the autopsies, leading to some bodies being buried without an autopsy. Survivors of the siege report widespread abuses by security forces.
Mexico’s experience, particularly that of the “deadliest city in the world,” Ciudad Juarez, shows that violence does indeed drop immediately following significant police and military operations. However, these lulls have always been temporary, and violence picks up again as organized crime adjusts to its new working conditions.
Even before Jamaican authorities captured Coke, there were fears that violence would fill the gap left by the loss of the “Don” Jamaicans refer to as “the President” and “Robin Hood.” Some of Jamaica’s most popular musicians, such as Bunny Wailer, Cecile, Twins of Twins, Mavado, and Vybz Kartel, rallied around Coke with songs such as “Don’t Touch the President” and “Which Dudus.” They and other Jamaicans—particularly those from Coke’s stronghold in Tivoli Gardens—argue that “the President” filled a role that the Jamaican government doesn’t. He brokered peace deals between warring gangs, paid for children’s school supplies, gave money to people when they were out of work, and bought medicine for the elderly. Supporters and admirers have repeatedly cited Coke’s social contributions—not a propensity for violence—as the reason he was more influential than the government in Tivoli Gardens, one of Jamaica’s most troubled neighborhoods.
This means that if Jamaica and the United States want to keep the peace on the Caribbean island, they have some big shoes to fill: those of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the “Robin Hood from the Neighborhood.” At first glance, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, with its focus on law enforcement, appears to fall short.