Welcome to this week’s Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean. As the title indicates, it’s been a year since Mel Zelaya was thrown out of office. He and his teddy bear are also gone from his tin foil-lined room at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Today’s podcast at 11AM Eastern:
The UN Office for Drugs and Crime’s report
Lula’s adventure in Tehran smacks of the overconfidence of a politician who basks in an approval rating of over 70% and who sees the Iraq war and the financial crisis as having irreparably damaged American power and credibility. But the United States is still Brazil’s second-largest trading partner. Although some American and Brazilian officials are keen to prevent ill-will over Iran from spoiling co-operation in other areas, it nevertheless may do so. The United States Congress may be even less willing to support the elimination of a tariff on Brazil’s sugar-based ethanol, for example.
Lula wants the UN reformed to reflect today’s world, with Brazil gaining a permanent seat on the Security Council. But by choosing to apply his views on how the world should be run to an issue of pressing concern to America and Europe, and in which Brazil has no obvious national interest, Lula may only have lessened the chances that he will get his way.
PUERTO RICO Students approve strike pact. Back in the olden days when I was a student at the UPR they were striking, too, but no one slept in cute little tents on campus. Either way, the strikes are a total waste of time.
The report launched by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) expresses concern about Venezuela due to the existence of cells of armed insurgent groups, such as the Bolivarian Liberation Front and civilian militias supported by the government.
Police in Jamaica issued a plea for calm after the arrest of alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke outside Kingston.
The arrest occurred just outside the capital city on Tuesday afternoon. A failed attempt to arrest Coke last month resulted in four days of gun battles between security forces and his supporters that left 76 people dead, and authorities want to avoid a repeat of the violence.
“I would like to appeal to the families, friends and sympathizers of Christopher Coke to remain calm and to allow the law to take its course. I also [would] like to assure the citizens of Jamaica that the situation remains normal, there is no need for alarm and they can get about their normal businesses in the usual way,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said on Tuesday.
Ellington told reporters that police acting on intelligence picked up Coke, 41, and took him to the Spanish Town Police Station in St. Catherine. From there, he was taken via helicopter to Kingston, Ellington said.
Police will be taking “every step possible to ensure his safety and well-being whilst he is in our custody,” Ellington said.
The police high command was meeting Tuesday night with the police director of public prosecution to begin the process of extradition to the United States as soon as possible, Ellington said.
“The legal proceedings will commence immediately. Once we are able to settle on the issue of legal representation and reach an agreement with the director of public prosecutions on where the hearings will be held, a court date will be set and we anticipate that we can achieve that within 48 hours,” Ellington said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office hailed the arrest after a five-week manhunt by local authorities.
“We look forward to working closely with the Jamaican authorities to bring Coke to justice to face charges pending against him in Manhattan federal court,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Coke, who is wanted in the United States on gun and drug trafficking charges, was en route to the U.S. Embassy in Kingston accompanied by the Rev. Al Miller when Jamaican police recognized him at a checkpoint and took him into custody, the minister told a reporter for Radio Jamaica.
Coke, who allegedly assumed leadership of the “Shadow Posse” from his father, was accused in a U.S. indictment in August of heading an international trafficking ring that sells marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere.
Coke, 41, is often described as a kind of godfather in Tivoli Gardens, a West Kingston slum, where he reportedly provides food and assistance to the poor. But some analysts say residents might follow him more out of fear than love.
John Rapley, president of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a think tank, said Coke’s case reflected how entwined Jamaica’s drug gangs have become with the nation’s political system. The alleged drug lord is believed to be close to members of the governing Labor Party, although not Prime Minister Bruce Golding himself, Rapley said.
Many Jamaicans believe that Coke “could bring down . . . members of the government and the opposition” if he pleads guilty and cooperates with U.S. justice officials, Rapley said. “So the stakes are very high for the politics of the country.”
The Financial Times has an editorial on the country’s ties to organized crime: Tragedy in Tivoli (emphasis added):
The pitched battle between security forces and armed gangs in west Kingston, in which dozens have died, represents a damning indictment of the Jamaican government’s handling of the US request to extradite Christopher “Dudus” Coke for alleged drug crimes. The conflict lays bare the degree to which this community has become a law unto itself.
The credibility of Bruce Golding, prime minister, is in tatters. Diplomatic relations with the US have been severely strained by the months of delay in processing the extradition request. That foot-dragging also gave Mr Coke’s supporters ample time to organise themselves and to stockpile weapons.
The heart of the problem is an enduring failure of elected representatives to help the people who live in slums. The loyalty to Mr Coke and other “dons” in low-income communities such as Tivoli Gardens or Spanish Town stems from the gangs’ provision of welfare and security for those neglected by the political system. As other countries such as Mexico and Colombia have found, once drugs gangs usurp the state’s functions, reining them in is a dangerous and difficult task.
What is needed now is a definitive break by politicians of all parties from criminal gangs. The first step should be an unequivocal commitment to allow the security forces to deal with other gangs with the same determination they have shown in Tivoli Gardens.
The government must tackle the social breakdown that allows gang leaders to be seen as mentors. Despite Jamaica’s hard economic choices, this project cannot be ducked. Otherwise, success against any of the dons is no more than a personnel change at the top.
It may yet be that the pursuit of Mr Coke marks a turning point. But it will take strong leadership of a calibre not currently on display to achieve a breakthrough.
Jamaican security forces clashed with armed fighters in shantytowns in the capital, Kingston, for the fourth day on Wednesday, as authorities searched for alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Officials said 44 civilians had been killed since fighting began last weekend.
Mr. Coke, 41 years old, remained at large, authorities said, as soldiers moved house to house searching for him in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston. The government said Wednesday that Mr. Coke may have fled the country, the Associated Press reported.
Mr. Coke is wanted in the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges. U.S. officials say he leads a gang known as “Shower Posse,” an international criminal organization with ties in Jamaica and the U.S.
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding originally balked at an extradition request from the U.S., but changed his mind last week and issued a warrant for Mr. Coke’s arrest. Violence erupted soon after that. Authorities say Mr. Coke, a powerful figure among Jamaica’s poor known locally as a “don,” prepared for an attempt to capture him by arming citizens of Tivoli Gardens and urging them to fight.
Jamaica bans firearms, and the unprotected people have turned to gangs for “protection”
Much of the problem, authorities say, lies with the long-festering issue of Jamaica’s criminal organizations, many centered in Kingston’s shantytowns, and the rise of powerful “dons.” In exchange for the community’s protection of their illicit activity, these figures offer services that the government at times doesn’t, such as welfare and local justice. Mr. Coke is among the most powerful of these men.
The Jamaican government has shied away from attacking these figures in the past—particularly the government of Mr. Golding, whose district lies in Mr. Coke’s stronghold. In past altercations in Trench Town, drug bosses have armed neighborhoods with weapons and used women and children as human shields.
Unattended, the problem has grown—a similar predicament faced by countries like Mexico, which is facing rising levels of drug-related violence after having let the problem worsen for decades.
“Civil society in Jamaica has risen up and said ‘enough is enough,’” says Mark Thomas of Jamaica Trade and Invest, a group that promotes foreign investment in the country.