Jamaica Declares 'State of Emergency'

Alleged Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke has barricaded himself inside a Kingston slum seeking to avoid arrest and extradition to the United States. Jamaica has declared a state of emergency and deployed troops and police officers to try and retake control of the area. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Kingston-based reporter Karen Madden-James and Claudette Habermann, host of the radio program The Caribbean Exchange.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, Afghanistan's main opposition leader talks about the American troop surge, the Taliban and whether the war in his country can be won.

But first, crisis in Jamaica. A state of emergency declared in two of the island nation's major cities: Kingston and St. Andrew. Bloody violence erupted after Jamaica's prime minister said that alleged drug kingpin Christopher Dudus Coke must be arrested to face extradition to the United States.

The U.S. government says that Coke traffics in drugs and firearms. At first, Prime Minister Bruce Golding refused the extradition request. But last week, he acquiesced under mounting international criticism. Violent gang members supporting Coke took to the streets last weekend, attacking three police stations and blockading parts of Kingston.

With us from Kingston, Karen Madden-James. She's a reporter there. Also joining us is Claudette Lindsay-Habermann, who hosts THE CARIBBEAN EXCHANGE on WEAA radio in Baltimore. She is also an assistant producer here at National Public Radio. Welcome to both of you.

Ms. KAREN MADDEN-JAMES (Reporter): Thanks, Tony.

CLAUDETTE LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Thank you.

COX: Karen, let me begin with you because you are there in Kingston. Tell us what you know. Have the police managed to gain some control over the areas that have seen the most violence yet?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: That's what they're reporting this morning, that the operation which begun just before midday on Monday Jamaica time has been relatively successful. In terms of numbers of fatalities on either side, not yet able to confirm that with the police. They have been very tight lipped with the information at this time. We are still getting reports, though, of sporadic gun firing in other areas of the city and even into St. Catherine, an adjoining parish. So the situation still volatile, still tension is very, very high in the city.

COX: I would imagine as you've described the tension being high that people are afraid to come out. Are they or are there people who are still coming out into the streets?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Well, people are still coming out in some areas. Most schools in the Kingston area have been closed. It's external examination time. Now the ministry of education has put an arrangement for students doing external examinations to be accommodated at schools which are located in safer areas. But all school in the Kingston, downtown Kingston area, those schools are closed.

A lot of businesses have also been announcing closure, so that commercial activity definitely affected the area of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town located closer to market district located closer to the center of commercial activity in Kingston. Those are going to be affected over the next couple days.

COX: Let me bring Claudette into the conversation. Claudette, you host a Caribbean interest show and I'm wondering, what have you been hearing from the people that you've talked to and, in fact, your own conversations with your family who is in Jamaica?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Well, as you can well imagine, emotions are running high at this particular time. People are understandably upset, disappointed, but most of all, they are embarrassed because of the way the prime minister handled the entire situation. There's just a sense of outrage because of the length that he went to prevent or deny the extradition warrant of Mr. Christopher Dudus Coke.

COX: Karen, maybe it would be helpful to explain to people just who Christopher Coke is and how he got the power that he apparently has and the hold that he has over some people in Kingston and thereabout.

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Well, the power of the Coke family began with his father, Lester Lloyd Coke, back in the early '70s, thereabout. And Christopher Coke his son inherited that kind of power and so on. The issue international attention last August, when the United States escorted, just as alluded to, requested his extradition to face (unintelligible) arms trafficking.

For the people in Tivoli Gardens, they will tell you a different story. They will tell you that Mr. Coke is a law-abiding citizen who is their benefactor, who sends their children to school, who protects them. How he manages to get this kind of power without breaking the law, you won't get a straight answer from them. All they will tell is that he doesn't hurt them and that their women and the children are safe under his, quote, unquote, "command."

COX: Once again, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox sitting in for Michel Martin. I am joined by Karen Madden-James, a reporter in Kingston, Jamaica; and Claudette Lindsay-Habermann, the host of THE CARIBBEAN EXCHANGE on WEAA in Baltimore.

Before I come to you, Claudette, I have another question for you, Karen. It's this. We've heard a great deal about the past drug involvement of Mr. Coke there. The simple question is: Is the prime minister afraid of him? Is that why he didn't act?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Well, I don't know if it's him necessarily, any injure to him personally. But you know and, Claudette, I'm sure can speak to this as well there's an unhealthy nexus between involving some politicians and the, quote, unquote, "area leaders" or "dons" in some inner city communities.

And I think because of Coke's influence, because the prime minister, the government probably knew that any attempt to arrest him would lead to the wide-scale violence which we are now seeing, the whole situation was handled badly. You had a government hesitated, quibbled.

In fact, the request for him to be extradited was actually leaked to the media. The whole thing was handled badly. And a lot of people feel that that is why we are in the situation that we are now in.

COX: Now, Claudette, you have been talking to people both in Jamaica and here as well in the Jamaican community. And you mentioned before that there was a sense of embarrassment. How do you think from what you have heard your people talk about this how do they expect it to play out?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Well, they are expecting a lot of bloodshed.

COX: Really?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Considering what is going on right now in West Kingston, in Tivoli Gardens. Because some of the people I spoke with, they were shocked about the amount of weaponry they were able to amass.

COX: Mr. Coke and his people.

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Mr. Coke and his people. And they were able to draw on criminal elements outside of the area to come in and help them with this fight.

COX: Now, let me ask you this: Do you think, or do you believe that he, Mr. Coke, is able to travel with his power? What I mean by that is once and if he comes to the United States, is there any reason to believe that his supporters would be able to not amass the kind of response that they did in Kingston, obviously, but something to protest his incarceration?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: No, I would be surprised. I would definitely be surprised because his political influence in Western Kingston I do not believe would travel to the United States because of the environment.

COX: Karen, what about the relationship between the United States and Jamaica. Has this incident impacted it and in what way?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Definitely has, Tony. We are hearing talk about high profile cancelation of visas. Also, the United States and Jamaica have a traditionally friendly relationship. But that relationship definitely is strained, even though the U.S. embassy has said that there is no connection for the last year. We have not had a United States ambassador attached here. What we have is - the highest officer we have here is a charge d'affaires. A lot of people feel that that is directly linked to that. So the relationship definitely is strained. Washington has said publicly that it is disappointed. That's the diplomatic language disappointed with how the Jamaican government has handled the situation.

COX: What do you think changed Mr. Golding's mind? What prompted that?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: I think mounting pressure, as you spoke to earlier, mounting pressure both locally and overseas. Because as Claudette just said, a lot of Jamaicans are embarrassed about how the whole thing has been handled, so mounting pressure. There were calls for Mr. Golding to resign over the issue. So, I think mounting pressure forced him to change his mind, probably (unintelligible).

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: And many people here believe that Mr. Golding, he has lost his moral authority to continue as Jamaica's prime minister.

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Absolutely.

COX: Do either of you see a continuing crisis in the government as a result of this? Claudette?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Yes, definitely.

COX: You do? Karen?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Yes I do, definitely. And I'm saying that after all this is done. When the dust has settled, when we have counted the bodies and all of that, the government is going to have to focus on restoring their credibility and convincing the people that they have the moral authority to govern. I'm sure that there are going to be cause for them to take stock of themselves in all of this.

COX: One of the questions I want to ask you, Karen, is this, because you said earlier that the Coke family has this tradition of power and that Dudus is just sort of the latest incarnation of that power. If he is, in fact, extradited to the United States, does that mean that that organization crumbles, or does someone else in the family or outside the family step up and continue the operation that he was the head of?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: That is going to be a hard, the hard knot for the Jamaican government to tackle. People have been saying that they need to use this incident as a catalyst for change. And I think that is what they are going to have to focus on because if a vacuum is created by either his death or his extradition to the United States, then there are lots of people waiting to take over that role.

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: And the big question for me is what exactly is going to happen to those people, to that community once Dudus is gone.

COX: In other words, who would take over the role of the...

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Providing...

COX: ...of the benefactor.

LINSDAY-HABERMANN: Exactly.

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Exactly, exactly.

COX: And that's how he was able to get into power.

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Indeed.

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: Exactly.

COX: Do you think that, and I know this is a little bit like what I've asked you earlier, but I want to ask it again just to be clear about it, do both of you think that this is going to end badly? It's already bad. But is it going to get worse before it gets better in terms of the violence, the loss of life, the disintegration of the government there?

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: I definitely do believe because these people, they are prepared to die for Dudus. Recently, there was a demonstration in Kingston and a young woman held up a sign that read: Jesus died for us, we will die for Dudus.

COX: Have you seen those signs as well there, Karen?

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Yes, definitely, as Claudette said. And I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.

COX: Karen Madden-James is a reporter in Kingston, Jamaica. She joined us by phone. Claudette Lindsay-Habermann is an assistant producer here at National Public Radio in Washington. She hosts THE CARIBBEAN EXCHANGE on WEAA in Baltimore. Thank you both for coming on today.

Ms. MADDEN-JAMES: Good to help, Tony.

LINDSAY-HABERMANN: You're welcome.

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