As thousands of heavily armed Jamaican soldiers and police fought pitched battles for the past three days in a impoverished part of Kingston to arrest the gangland "people's president", the tragedy, including the deaths of more than 60 people, was not predicted.
According to Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who was forced to impose a state of emergency in the toughest ghetto of his capital city which he represents in parliament, the security forces are winning. The crisis was triggered by Golding's decision to reverse his previous position and order the arrest of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, 42, with a view to extraditing him to America to face charges of conspiring to supply marijuana, cocaine and firearms.
Coke, a close political associate of Golding's through the right-wing ruling Jamaica Labour Party, is alleged to be the most powerful "Don" (top criminal) on the Caribbean island of almost three million inhabitants.
Golding has apologised to the nation on television for his handling of the affair which has rumbled on for months and blighted relations between Jamaica and America. He says the bloodshed will soon be brought under control, and the suspected drug baron captured and handed over to American authorities for prosecution and the country cleaned up. But “Dudus” is still at large as parts of Kingston burn and people are killed, including soldiers and police.
The reality is: more than 60 citizens have been killed by their security forces, who are supposed to defend them against any aggression. Many of the victims are said by the authorities to have been gunmen loyal to Coke, the alleged leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang, but unarmed bystanders were also caught up in the violence.
Shops are being looted, hundreds of people have been injured, tourism has been badly damaged, hospitals are running out of blood, schools are closed and western countries have stopped issuing visas to Jamaican citizens until further notice while advising their nationals to avoid visiting Kingston.
Information escaping from the Kingston war zone, from those who managed to telephone their relations in the UK, said that many people, probably known to the armed forces, have been allegedly deliberately and systematically targeted in the shootout, men randomly seized by the forces and taken away to unknown destinations "naked", and people’s mobile phones were being confiscated by the police.
A source, whose update is being awaited, warned that she may not be contacted if her mobile phone was confiscated.
The facts are that Washington and Kingston have bilateral agreement on extradition. And Christopher Coke had been implicated in connection with the alleged offences in America, whose government reserve every right to formerly request his arrest and trial in New York. Jamaica may be obliged to comply with the extradition request after exhausting unsuccessfully all avenues to negate the protocol.
The question is: Why is the Jamaican Prime Minister now so impatient to capture Coke after holding out against the move for more than nine months? Would it not be conceivably thought that sending in thousands of armed forces into Coke's West Kingston stronghold would escalate the already tense situation?
Think about the fear and instability this draconian move has placed on Golding's country and people. And the chances are that even if Coke was eventually captured or killed, another baron will emerge from the ruins of his Kingston garrison. There is probably one such don waiting in the wings already.
If the Golding administration had taken a softly-softly approach, Coke may eventually have been arrested without such huge casualties and the ruining of the country’s fragile infrastructure and economy. (The actions of European nations and America have triggered the collapse of the Caribbean basin's agricultural economic base.) It would have been a different scenario if the PM had decided to carry out a long-overdue war against drugs and firearm trafficking in a linked operation.
What is happening now will lead to the distrust of the government by its people, who may accuse it of slavishly following American orders at a time when Washington is trying to win the trust and friendship of its neighbours.
There is also a sensitive problem of diversity – an area rife with teenage pregnancy and high unemployment v affluent neighbourhoods and political elites – bearing in mind that Coke had triumphed in the former. The embattled PM has been shamefully exposed as desperately needing Coke’s army of followers to keep himself rooted as the local MP for the troubled enclave in Kingston. (Previous PM Edward Seaga was his predecessor there). The PM’s offer to resign should be welcomed and the political stalwarts surrounding him, who flirt secretly with drug kingdoms, probed and dealt with.
If politics in Jamaica is cleaned up, it will be easier to clean up Kingston’s co-habiting underworld of crime and drug havens. As the hands of the elite continue to be tainted with drug money, the country's rulers should not rest until the war on the marijuana and cocaine trafficking empire is won otherwise more of the country’s blood will be needlessly shed.
America is battling the drugs trade on all frontiers from – as close to home as its Mexican borders, for which President Obama had requested $500m to combat the menace - to Columbia, Jamaica and as far away from home as Afghanistan, the home of opium manufacturing. Yet the elite citizens of the US are hooking up in droves to use illegal narcotics, an under-world trade worth billions of dollars. Washington seems powerless to stop drugs crossing its borders and those of neighbouring countries in its Monroe Doctrine "sphere of influence".
If Kingston wants to wipe itself off the world map for Washington to be drug free, so be it. By now, many nations would have realised that using overwhelming force to crush a minority does not produce a lasting solution. You can take out the ring leaders or scatter the entire group in the immediate but they will regroup and resurface and probably become a much more potent faceless, hidden enemy.
That was the case when America took on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the Taliban’s Afghanistan without providing viable alternatives. The vacuum created lethal suicide warriors who attack the west at home and abroad in a state of permanent struggle.
The best way to tackle the situation like that of Jamaica is to help poor people become gainfully employed so that they do not have to depend on their daily bread from robber barons who - in the absence of a welfare state - feed, clothe and pay for their education as Coke does. Only then will an attack by security forces on "criminal elements" defending their ghetto godfathers not be seen by the masses as a government assault on the people.