Large areas of Jamaica's capital, Kingston, were barricaded against security forces tonight in an outbreak of violence orchestrated by supporters of one of the country's most powerful gang leaders, who is wanted for extradition by the US.
The government declared a state of emergency on Sunday night after supporters of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted in the US for drug and weapons trafficking, attacked four police stations in the city, burning one to the ground and killing two police officers.
The possible key to the meaning of this crisis? It seems as if the gangsters have filled a space left by a state that was probably forced by the IMF to do what America never does, namely run a surplus budget. This cruel policy leads to considerable cuts in state spending and basic social services. This leads to more chaos for the most poor and vulnerable portions of the population.
Coke maintains considerable respect in these neighbourhoods for his strong maintenance of what is known as "one order", and for ensuring peace in the downtown area. Some fear that his removal will destabilise the area. Coke is often referred to as "president" in Tivoli — an indication of the extent of his power locally. Although police are unable to operate freely there, the area enjoys considerable security, attributed to his leadership.
Sure, there are real criminal elements in all of this; but the police have no legitimacy because the state has not all been about its people but protecting and enforcing the interests of powerful people in the most powerful countries in the world.
The prime minister, Bruce Golding, initially resisted the extradition of Coke, arguing that evidence gathered against him by wire-tapping had been wrongly obtained by the US authorities. Golding eventually capitulated in the face of intense lobbying by Washington.