Heavily armed police and soldiers have been clashing with die-hard defenders of the drug boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke in Kingston, Jamaica, for three consecutive days.
Cook is wanted for extradition to the United States, where he faces a possible sentence of life in prison for drug trafficking and other charges.
Andre Wright, an editor for the Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper, spoke with msnbc.com by telephone from Kingston about what sparked the current clashes, who Coke is and how the media there is reporting on the crisis.
What is the background of the gang boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke? Who is he?
Cook is alleged to be the major drug lord here. He is linked to the "Shower Posse," which is responsible for mayhem in Jamaica, as well as in areas of the United States, particularly the East Coast.
His group allegedly peddled drugs and executed mayhem throughout much of the United States. They have been linked to be more than 1,400 murders throughout the 80s and 90s. Coke is also said to be in charge of Tivoli Gardens, a neighborhood of Kingston, which is the crime den security forces have invaded over the last three days.
|Andrew P. Smith / Reuters|
|Police patrol the streets outside the neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston on Tuesday.|
From there he is alleged to have tentacles throughout various areas of the country. He has other enclaves that are loyal to him because he has been a benefactor to communities, he has had political links and he has allegedly been able to extort money from businessmen.
He is said to be the number one criminal in Jamaica. And of course, the U.S. grand jury indictment indicates that.
(For more background from the Gleaner on Coke, see their article: "DUDUS: The Man Who Holds A Nation Hostage…")
What is the political connection between Coke and the political leaders in Jamaica?
"Garrison communities" in Jamaica are areas where gangs are able to enforce political commitment in terms of votes for politicians. In these areas, local gunmen and other gangsters are able to ensure that people vote a particular way.
So political parties have various garrison communities where they are able to enforce support by paramilitary muscle. Those who may support another party have to fall in line – or else.
Coke is from Tivoli Gardens, a section of Western Kingston, which is the constituency of the Prime Minister Bruce Golding. That constituency has always had political allegiance to the Jamaica Labor Party.
But police received a warrant for Coke's arrest on May 17 in connection to the U.S. extradition proceedings.
Since then, residents of the community – a mixture of gunmen as well residents of the community who are sympathetic to Coke – have barricaded themselves in insisting that they would defend Coke and protect that area.
Defenders of Coke have set booby traps and barricades using LPG cylinders and live electricity wires. The area has become a war zone.
The U.S. Justice Department considers Christopher "Dudus" Coke one of the world's most dangerous drug lords.
For nine months, Prime Minister Bruce Golding refused to extradite Coke. Why did he change his mind and suddenly support his extradition?
For nine months, the government claimed that the extradition was flawed because they said the wiretap was illegally obtained. Basically the government claimed that the U.S. had not gone through the proper judicial channels to get that wiretap.
The government never questioned the validity of the content obtained by that wire tap, but they questioned how the U.S. came to get the wiretap in the first place.
On those grounds, the government tried to block the U.S. request for Coke to be extradited.
But there has been significant pressure on the prime minister from the media, civil society groups and businessmen that he needed to take charge of this matter and he needed to deal with it.
And because of that overwhelming pressure, the prime minister decided to sign the extradition request and to expedite proceedings for the arrest of Coke.
Has it been an embarrassment for the Jamaican government that they can't get Coke now that they have approved his extradition?
That has been part of the embarrassment, but also the very fact that there has been mayhem in the capital for the past two days.
So far, the police said that at least 30 people have been killed in the clashes – civilians as well gunmen loyal to Coke. At least one soldier and two policemen have been killed as well. Security forces have also sustained over a dozen injuries.
The media have been unable to get into the actual war zone. The core area, Tivoli Gardens, where the major assault has been ongoing, is inaccessible to us.
We have been able to cover some clashes outside of that main area, but Tivoli Gardens is pretty much no one in, no one out, because the military operation is still under way.
Prior to these recent clashes, how dangerous was it for reporters there to cover the drug lords? In Mexico, we've seen journalists who report on the drug lords become targets of their violence. Is it the same there?
It is not as grave as in Mexico. Reporters have been threatened, even during this current conflict, but no reporter from the various media agencies here has been attacked so far.
At least three news agencies have been threatened, as recently as yesterday. But no reporters have been killed or injured.
There is an article on your web site that says: "A Gleaner news team was pinned down for more than 40 minutes at the intersection of East and East Queen streets in downtown Kingston as militants loyal to reputed gangster Christopher 'Dudus' Coke' traded bullets with the police." What happened?
They have been caught in the crossfires. Our headquarters are located in the center of the capital. So the shootings have been all around us.
When reporters have gone out into the field, sometimes they have gotten pinned down.
Sometimes they have had to abandon their cars for a period until things have died down and they were able to hop back in and drive to safety.
So it's very dangerous, very tense atmosphere.
For more from the Gleaner, click here:
All Out War - As Tivoli Assault Deepens, Casualties Rise
DUDUS: The Man Who Holds A Nation Hostage…