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Gangs and politics in Jamaica

Photo: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Last Sunday, Jamaican police entered the West Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens to arrest a suspected drug kingpin, Christopher “Dudas” Coke, and extradite him to the United States, where he has been charged with running drug rings in New York and elsewhere. Coke’s supporters closed ranks, barricading the neighborhood to protect him; 73 people have been killed in the resulting standoff.

The United States issued the extradition warrant for Coke in August 2009, but the Jamaican prime minister didn’t sign it until this month. There have been accusations that this delay is because the prime minister, Bruce Golding, is an affiliate of Coke’s.

After Jamaican independence from Britain in 1962, a system of patronage developed in which politicians supplied their supporters with jobs, money and protection; gangs, generally linked to one of the two main political parties, help provide this protection and bring in votes.

Need to Know’s Lucy Kennedy spoke with Jonathan Rapley, a Kingston resident, president of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute and senior lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, about the complicated relationship between gangs and politics in Jamaica.