On Friday, a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke to twenty-three years in jail, the maximum sentence allowed by law. The news hasn’t generated a lot of attention in the United States. But in Jamaica, where Coke lived until his arrest two years ago, the trial is making big waves.
Lord of the shadows
From his enclave in the Kingston slum known as “Tivoli Gardens,” Coke controlled Jamaica’s criminal underworld for nearly two decades and managed an unholy alliance with many of the island nation’s political leaders. He ruled with an iron fist, disposing of rivals with brutal tactics like dismemberment by chainsaw. That all came to an end in May 2010 when Jamaican security forces invaded Tivoli’s concrete jungle, intending to arrest Coke and extradite him to the U.S., where he was wanted on drug charges.
The kingpin didn’t go down without a fight. The residents of Tivoli (formerly controlled by Coke’s father) are fiercely loyal to the man they call “Boss” and his gang, the “Shower Posse.” Coke spent lavishly on the area, providing school fees, pocket money and medical expenses to many locals. Almost 70 of them died defending him in a week-long siege. A resident described the street battles to a BBC reporter as being “like Afghanistan, like Iraq.”
“Dudus” was captured by police after a month in hiding and pled guilty to racketeering charges in the US last August. He has been ordered to surrender $1.5 million worth of Jamaican-held assets.
Gangster with a heart of gold?
Some in Jamaica remain highly sympathetic to “Dudus.” Yesterday, The Jamaica Observer ran a piece highlighting Coke’s jail-house letters to a relative back in Kingston. In them, the crime boss repeatedly refers to his religious faith and his belief that God had used him for “good.” Another Observer piece contains interviews with Tivoli residents expressing their sympathy for the “Boss” and complaining that neighborhood crime has worsened in his absence.
But the BBC reports that violent crime is down across the island since Coke’s arrest, reaching an eleven-year low in 2011.
More change for the better
With Coke out of the way, Jamaicans hope to make progress on other fronts as well. According to an article in The Gleaner, the island is a major marketplace in the global slave trade. But because of an increased local effort to arrest smugglers, the U.S. State Department has improved Jamaica’s ranking in its country-by-country assessment of human trafficking.