HE is described as Jamaica’s most powerful man, an alleged drug lord with close ties to the island’s Government, revered as a God-like benefactor in the Kingston district that he rules – and wanted in the US as one of the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Christopher “Dudus” Coke inspires such loyalty in the impoverished neighbourhoods of west Kingston, a stronghold awash with automatic weapons, that thousands of his followers have vowed to fight to the death if police try to extradite him to America.
Such devotion appeared to become bloody reality yesterday after troops and police stormed Mr Coke’s Tivoli Gardens neighbourhood stronghold to hunt for him. After heavy gun battles, at least 60 people had died, mostly civilians.
When Bruce Golding, the Jamaican Prime Minister, who represents the Tivoli Gardens district in Parliament, announced last week that, after nine months, he would enforce a US extradition request for the alleged drugs kingpin, protesters took to the streets.
“After God, then Dudus,” one resident’s sign read. “Jesus died for us so we will die for Dudus,” another placard declared. Their fight-to-the-death passion is for a man who allegedly heads the “Shower Posse” gang, so called because of the way that it showers victims with automatic gunfire.
The extradition request, made after a New York grand jury indicted Mr Coke in August on charges of selling crack cocaine and cannabis and trafficking weapons in the US, threatens to topple the Jamaican Government; such is the political clout enjoyed by the man also known as “President”, “Pres”, “Bossy” and – at 5ft 4in (1.6m) – “Shortman”.
Tivoli Gardens, where Mr Coke hands out jobs, provides clothes and education for children and forbids street crime, is a stronghold of Mr Golding’s ruling Jamaica Labour Party.
Analysts said that the Prime Minister tried to avoid extraditing Mr Coke because, as one put it, “he knows too much” about corrupt ministers. Moreover, they said, Mr Golding wanted to avoid a confrontation with the people who put him in office.
Mr Golding was forced to admit that his Government had hired a US lobbying firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, to try to have the extradition order overturned. “I regret the entire affair,” Mr Golding said in a television statement last week. “In hindsight, the party should never have been involved and I should never have allowed it.”
The Robin Hood figure that Mr Coke, 41, cuts in his neighbourhood contrasts with his reputation in America. The US Justice Department describes him as “one of the world’s most dangerous narcotics kingpins”. Mr Coke’s gang is blamed for more than 1,000 murders.
Mr Coke is accused of using mainly women “mules” to ship drugs to US cities for more than two decades. In an affidavit used to support the extradition request, which was seen by The Times, one former mule, named as “Co-operating Witness 2”, said that women who travelled to New York to buy clothes to sell back home, were ordered by “the President” to carry cocaine hidden inside their bodies to the US. “If the girls refuse to do so, then their businesses will be threatened and the clothing they sell and the money that they earn will be stolen,” the woman stated.
If Mr Coke is extradited and convicted he faces a mandatory life sentence and millions of dollars in fines.
In Tivoli Gardens residents are preparing for all-out war to defend the man they revere. The last time police tried to storm Tivoli Gardens, in 2001, 26 people died in a three-day stand-off. The Jamaican Government had argued originally that wiretaps which the US used to record Mr Coke’s Kingston mobile phone were illegal.
A US State Department spokesman said: “All evidence … was acquired in a manner consistent with existing international agreements.”