Christopher 'Dudus' Coke: gangster who sparked 'civil war'

In the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, they are counting the cost of the 'civil war' sparked by the botched attempt to extradite gangster Christopher 'Dudus' Coke to the US.

So far, 980 people have been arrested, 73 dead... and still no Coke. In the bullet-pocked streets of Kingston, they are counting the cost of the "civil war" sparked by the botched attempt to extradite Christopher 'Dudus' Coke to America, reports The Sun. An uneasy calm has settled on the Jamaican capital, but the alleged drugs lord has disappeared, once again, without trace.

In Jamaica, feelings about Coke described by a former minister of national security as "the most powerful man on the island" run high. To US enforcers, he is a kingpin drug trafficker whose tentacles extend deep into the streets of US and European cities, says The Guardian. But many of his followers, vowing to lay down their lives to protect him, view him as some kind of messiah. Coke's lawyer maintains he is "just an ordinary Jamaican going about his business". Few believe that: Coke's alleged links with the Shower Posse gang (so-called because of its tactic of showering its enemies with bullets) are well-known. But whatever Coke gets up to is fine with his followers. "They regard all Jamaica's leaders as crooks and say that at least Coke looks after them."

Coke's business empire extends way beyond his alleged activities in drugs and weapon-trafficking, says The Daily Telegraph. He is credited with establishing a "mini-economy" in west Kingston, creating jobs where few existed before. His construction firm, Incomparable Enterprise, receives millions of dollars worth of government contracts annually. Another firm, Presidential Click, runs some of Jamaica's largest music events.

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Indeed, Coke, 42, comes across as the antithesis of the typical Jamaican gangster. Unlike other Kingston dons, he avoids publicity, shuns gold and diamond jewellery, and never openly carries a gun preferring to pad around in shorts and a T-shirt. Having long since moved out of the slums of Tivoli Gardens, he lives in a former plantation house in Red Hills, a peaceful retreat favoured by entrepreneurs and politicians.

Yet Coke "has violence and crime in his blood", says the Daily Mail. His father, Lester Coke, was a founding member of the Shower Posse, who rose to power in the 1970s when Colombian drug barons made Jamaica a transit point for cocaine smuggling. He died in 1992, when a mysterious fire broke out in his Jamaican prison cell. His brother and sister met violent ends around the same time, leaving Coke "to claim the crown".

Paranoid about his own safety, Coke ensured he had official protection, forging links with politicians: notably current prime minister, Bruce Golding MP for Tivoli Gardens for whom he has always delivered the local vote. Rumours are flying that Golding helped arrange Coke's latest escape. After all, a big US trial might reveal murky stuff about government ministers. Coke is out of sight for now. But, in Kingston, he's on everyone's mind.

A war for the future of Jamaica

Shrewd and charismatic ruling over his fiefdoms with a mixture of kindness and intimidation Christopher Coke's strategy is hardly a new one, says The Guardian. His establishment of a parallel state in Jamaica echoes the tactics of the notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, who once oversaw the Medellin cartel. Escobar built streets, football pitches and churches, and when he needed henchmen to murder police officers, there were no shortage of volunteers. In the process, he turned Medellin into "the murder capital of the world".

Jamaica isn't far off being that now, says Ilan Greenberg in Foreign Policy magazine. An island paradise has been exposed as "a violent narco-state teetering on the edge of chaos" and the politicians have only themselves to blame. The symbiotic relationship between Jamaica's political parties and criminal gangs dates back to the island's independence in 1962. Both the Jamaica Labour Party (currently in power) and the People's National Party used local youths to drum up votes in new developments, known as "garrison" communities, rewarding their support by turning a blind eye to criminal activities. But the dons "have become monsters [the politicians] can no longer control".

We are witnessing "a war for the future of Jamaica", says the Daily Mail. Police believe Coke has access to "enough ammunition and men to bring the entire country to its knees". And even if he's apprehended, there are countless mobsters (including his feared younger brother, Leighton 'Livity' Coke) ready to step into his shoes. A further upsurge of violence could scupper tourism, Jamaica's main source of domestic income, and jeopardise a recently negotiated IMF loan, says The Economist. There's also a risk of contagion: Jamaica's gangs have close links with those of nearby Haiti. In a short space of time, the outlook has become "pretty alarming".