Extradition of suspected Jamaican drug lord Christopher Anthony Coke
Blowback the CIA
Nearly one year, and 70 fatalities after, the United States government began trying to extradite suspected Jamaican drug lord Christopher Anthony Coke on charges of international narcotic and firearms trafficking crimes, the campaign finally paid off according to officials at the U.S. Marshall’s office.
All the major news networks in the United States have covered this incident, and not once has the phrase “blowback” been used in regards to the civil unrest and weapons charges Coke is being charged with. And the concept and practice is very much at work in this case. Examples of blowback in the intelligence community include: The Italian Mafia don Lucky Luciano assisted the Allies during World War II by protecting East Coast ports from Nazi sabotage, and the U.S. turned a blind eye to drug (heroine) smuggling by that same crime organization. The Taliban coming to power as a result of the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement in Afghan-Soviet war during late ‘70s is another example that quid pro quo.
The crack epidemic in South Los Angeles resulted from the Contra’s war, and possibly the actions of ex-drug kingpin Ricky Ross. The current threat of nuclear armament taking place in Iran and the CIA’s destabilization of a pre-Shah government that ran Iran in the early 1950s.
In all these cases, a foreign government was directly and indirectly impacted by the destabilization actions of the CIA and the consequences became detrimental to the United States security or its improvised communities where individuals were exposed to illegal drugs years later.
On June 22, Jamaican authorities intercepted and captured Coke at a road block along the Mandela Highway between Spanish Town and Kingston. According to local news agencies, Coke who was wearing a wig and glasses, was accompanied by peace activist Rev. Al Miller, and was on his way to turn himself in to the American government at its Kingston Embassy.
Coke, also known as “Dudus,” is the leader of the infamous Shower Posse gang, the latest of the “dons” or government strong men allegedly associated with a political party known as the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) now in power. For the past two years, it has been headed by Prime Minister Bruce Golding .The JLP was a pro U.S. political party during the early ‘70s and became an ally to the United States during its war on communism. Coke controlled the area of Tivoli Gardens, which is part of Golding’s constituency in the West Kingston section of the Parish of St. Andrew. Traditionally, Dons secure votes from the garrison communities for their political party candidates.
To do so, they usually resort to crimes and violence against non-compliant constituents as well as supporters of the opposing party.
“The most vulgar and dysfunctional manifestation of the process of political tribalism has been the development of “the garrison” within constituencies. These have evolved from the same process of partisan scarce benefit distribution.
“At one level, a garrison community can be described as one in which anyone who seeks to oppose, raise opposition to or organize against the dominant party would definitely be in danger of suffering serious damage to their possessions or person thus making continued residence in the area extremely difficult, if not impossible. A garrison, as the name suggests, is a political stronghold, a veritable fortress completely controlled by a party.”
“The politicians are to a great extent responsible for our type of politics and the resultant factional conflicts in the country and, therefore, have a special obligation to join in the efforts to put an end to political tribalism. The political leaders are aware of this, and the signing by them of the Peace Agreements on 1989 and 1993 is manifest admission of such knowledge.”
“For over three decades, politicians of both major Jamaican political parties, the JLP and Peoples National Party, have banked on a cadre of dons and their garrison communities to secure or advance their political positions.” -From the July 1997 report of The National Committee on Political Tribalism presented by Committee Chair, Justice James Kerr
An Inside View
Prior to his arrest, Coke had been on the run for almost a month, evading, both Jamaican and U.S. authorities. Ironically, these are the same two entities that in the 1970s, joined forces and used political gangs led by Coke’s predecessors to destabilize the government of then (PNP) Prime Minister Michael Manley. These actions were due to Manley’s direct criticism of the United States foreign policy and Manley’s close relationship to Fidel Castro.
Pasadena resident Herman James has strong ties to Jamaica and considers himself a Caribbean historian. The former movie studio set designer and playwright migrated from Jamaica to the U.S. in 1937. He still remembers the boat ride over, “What I remember the most is how crowded the vessel was; I actually had to sit in my play uncle Wes Gayle’s lap.”
Gayle was an actor in 1970s movies.
Herman continued to maintain strong ties to his birthplace of Back-O-Wall, now known as Tivoli Gardens, and in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was co-owner of a underground travel agency that would ferry vacationers from Jamaica to Cuba for less than $100. He laughs and reminisced that the majority of his clients were U.S. citizens. When asked about the civil unrest in the Tivoli Gardens area, he describes the Jamaican society/culture as a very secret one.
“However we would observe; we were not blind. I had an advantage: I was in Jamaica at least twice a year and was aware of outside agitation during those times. I also had friends in Cuba, and we knew the agitation was coming from the west–the weapons, the guns, the money for Pro-West, political candidates.”
“You got to understand the U.S. had just lost Indochina to the Socialists and when President Regan took office there were certain ducks lined up to defeat Communism- a Polish Pope and Solidarity rebelling in Eastern Europe to overthrow Communism; the contras in South America were also fighting Communism an in Afghanistan; we were supplying weapons to kill Russians.”
“Why would the U.S. allow Jamaica to unite with Socialism and become another, Cuba when it appears they were checking the Communist world wide? Yes, I do believe the CIA intervened in Jamaica to stop Manley’s cabinet and prevent Communism. Now Christopher Dudes is what the CIA calls blowback; similar to Ricky Ross and crack cocaine or the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Tivoli Gardens, the Shower Posse, and the CIA
The JLP has always viewed its dreadlocked brethren, the Rastafari, as an opponent and a religious culture that could interfere with its agenda of embracing the West. This was due to the Rastafari’s rejection of Western society. When Bob Marley became an international sensation, the U.S. and other countries in the Caribbean noticed fear of the Rastafari; they all feared the influence of Fidel Castro and the influence of Pan-Africanism. There are rumors that individuals such as Marley were placed on intelligence lists as too influential; Rastafanan have also claimed that failed assassination attempt on Marley’s life December 3, 1976 was orchestrated by Western intelligence agents.
In 1965, JLP leader Edward Seaga established Tivoli Gardens as a garrison for his party, and as a base to counter the flourishing Rastafanan culture. Although mainly non-partisan, the Rastafari’s radical stand on social issues threatened the status quo of the upper class, which by and large identifies with the JLP agenda. The area was razed to give way to the housing project. In the process, all suspected PNP supporters, including a large Rastafari community, were pushed out the Gardens.
Manley and Fidel
In 1972, Manley became prime minister of Jamaica. Domestically, during the subsequent years, he increased the taxes paid by the United States and Canadian mining companies doing business in Jamaica. Manley’s administration believed in doing whatever his government could do to empower and improve Third World countries. Internationally, the Cold War was propagating worldwide. The United States vs. the Soviet Union became a theme that encompassed every geo-political issue globally. The Soviet Union were friends with Cuba and Manley sympathized with Cuba and felt other Third World countries should exist with the Communist beliefs of Fidel Castro, especially parts of Africa. Manley was considered a Pan-Africanist and many Afrocentric historians today compare him to Marcus Garvey. To counteract Manley’s hold on Jamaica, the CIA recruited Lebanese record producer Edward Seaga. His record company, West Indies Record Limited, was a major player in the Rasta music industry. Many have accused Seaga of being responsible for the failed assassination attempt against Marley. The U.S. became so concerned with the Cuban and Jamaican relationship that President Richard Nixon thought it was necessary to send the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to Jamaica.
In January of 1976, during a visit to the island, Kissinger was not able to dissuade Manley from supporting the presence of Cuban troops in Angola. The African nation was fighting against rebels armed by the U.S. and South African governments. Manley’s democratic socialist stance was unwelcome by the JLP and the U.S. Consequently, the two governments were unable to strike a deal and the Jamaican Prime Minister cast his United Nations vote for a Cuban presence in Angola. Manley publicly accused the U.S. of supporting South Africa and apartheid and trying to destabilize his government by supporting the opposition with weapons and money. This was stated in the July 1993 interview Manley had with The Progressive magazine.
That same year, the CIA headquarters in Jamaica became the largest in the world, and reportedly helped arm political gangs supporting Seaga. The original organizers of the Shower Posse were the leaders: Claudius, who was killed in a shootout with the police in 1989; Massop; Karl “Byah” Mitchell, who died of an overdose in 1988; and Coke’s adoptive father Lester Lloyd “Jim Brown” Coke, who died in a prison fire in 1991.
Manley’s political enforcers helped the PNP. One well-known name is Burry Boy. Cuba also lent a hand including arms and military advisors. Each party defended their turf with bombings and fires and mayhem. In essence, there was another microwar fought by proxies– the Bear (Soviet Union) vs. the Eagle (the U.S.) according to JS Nye Jr’s article titled “Soft Power, Foreign Policy 1990.”
In 1980, after one of the bloodiest elections in Jamaica, Seaga won by a landslide. He agreed to support the U.S. counter revolutionary operations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Seaga also helped the U.S. with their anti-marijuana operation in Jamaica, as part of President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs campaign. At the same time, the CIA was importing cocaine from Colombia to help finance Nicaragua’s Contra war.
Jamaica was then one of the largest suppliers of marijuana (ganja) to the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. But with their ganja fields destroyed, growers and traffickers were forced to find other ways to make their money. Cocaine, with its higher demand and higher profits, was their pick.
During the ensuing years, Lester Coke, and fellow kingpin Vivian Blake, built a powerful international drug empire that reached Europe, Canada, and the U.S., with twin headquarters in Jamaica and the U.S. Coke senior ran the Jamaican operation from Tivoli Gardens, while Blake managed the American end of it. Blake’s turf included cells in Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, and other cities.
The Stamp Out
The spoils of drug trafficking eventually afforded dons like Coke senior enough power independently from the political party and elections. Reportedly, Coke senior was considered more powerful than Seaga within his ghetto fortress. Coke senior behaved both as a benefactor for the slum residents whom he helped with jobs, education, healthcare, and other services; and as an untouchable who, confident in his connections and resources, was above the law.
Nonetheless, at the end of Seaga’s term in 1989, the U.S. decided to stamp the Posse out despite their earlier cooperation.
In the early nineties, and after several high profile killings in Jamaica, the U.S. sought Coke senior’s extradition. In 1992, while waiting extradition, Coke senior died during a suspicious fire in a Kingston jail. Speculations about the circumstances of his death run from suicide, to a botched escape, to murder by the CIA.
Running from the U.S. authorities, Blake returned to Jamaica and was extradited back to the States, convicted, and jailed for some 15 years. He subsequently returned to Jamaica where he died of natural causes, in March of this year. Some Jamaicans believe his death to be suspicious.
Christopher “Dudus” Coke was next on America’s list to be extradited.
Coke junior is not the first Jamaican national extradited to the U.S., but his attempted and eventual capture is the first to unleash such gun fighting and bloodshed between Jamaican authorities and his supporters in Tivoli Gardens and neighboring Denham Town. It also unleashed plenty of controversy regarding his ties to key members of Golding’s JLP government.
Prior to Coke’s arrest, Golding had been under pressure. The nation questioned his credibility, and the PNP leaders called for transparency of his actions, while the U.S. threatened to withdraw and/or deny visas to affluent Jamaicans wanting to visit the U.S. After months of denial, Golding admitted to hiring and paying $50,000 to the U.S.-based Mannat Phelps and Phillips law firm to lobby the U.S. government to drop its extradition request for Coke.
Finally, on May 17, Golding announced that an authority to proceed with the extradition request would be signed. Some argued that the Prime Minister’s announcement served as a warning to the “President,” as Coke is called in his barricaded enclave, giving him time to flee.
Coke’s supporters took to the streets protesting his extradition. Ten died and dozens were injured, after an attempt by Jamaican police and military forces to capture Coke inside his concrete lair went array. Since late May and until he was captured on June 22, Coke’s sympathizers clashed with the authorities. The violence stalled both the local and national economies. Local commerce was affected by curfews, limited access to roads and communities while, nationally, hotel reservations and air travel in and out of the island was cancelled.
American Drug Enforcement Agents flew Coke to the U.S. on June 24. The Jamaican national had waived his rights to be tried in Jamaica, some say perhaps fearful that his father’s fate could befall him.
On Friday, June 25, he was arraigned in New York, and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
If convicted on the narcotics charges, the 41-year-old, who is considered “one of the world’s most dangerous narcotics kingpins” according to the Manhattan Federal Court indictment, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum of 10 years, as well as a fine up to $4 million or twice the monetary gain from the offense. He faces a maximum of five years in prison on the firearms trafficking charges and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the monetary gain from the offense.
The long and bloody history of lawlessness and illegal trade of the Cokes may well warrant them the infamous title of “Jamaica’s First Mafia Family.”
In addition to his father, two other brothers and a sister succumbed to violence between 1992 and 2005.
Another sibling, Leighton “Livity” Coke, who ran the nearby slum of Lizard Town, turned himself in to the authorities on June 10.
With no logical successor to take over, one cannot help but ask what’s next and if the CIA was involved in the destabilization of the Jamaican government and indirectly created the Shower Posse, did the ends justify the means and was the blowback on the east coast consisting of Dudus importing cocaine and guns to the inner city worth it? The U.S. won the Cold War, however, analysts from government think tanks in the intelligence community state that the Soviets were doomed towards the end of the 20th century and on the verge of extinction and destabilizing governments do more harm than good.
Critics of the Reagan Doctrine (stopping Communism by all means) note that blowback is inevitable and that such unilateral intervention causes Third World civil wars to expand beyond their borders and risks the long-term safety of Americans who may be killed in the resulting violence or affected socially by other after-effects of these actions.
Numerous calls were made requesting an interview with the current CIA Station Chief in Jamaica to no avail. We were informed, however, by one staff member at the CIA to refer to the following disclosure on their website: “We read every letter, fax, or e-mail we receive, and we will convey your comments to CIA officials outside OPA as appropriate. However, with limited staff and resources, we simply cannot respond to all who write to us.” A request was also made to former CIA Jamaican Station Chief Janine Brookner currently a Washington DC attorney, and she was unavailable for an interview at this time. Janine Brookner filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the CIA in 1994 and won. She is currently a successful attorney that specializes in suing government intelligence agencies. Maybe she will call?