The year is 2010.
An American military spy plane circles in the air
as soldiers fire mortar shells into densely populated civilian areas
while taking fire from heavily armed militias.
Over three days, over 70 civilians are killed.
But this is not a war zone in Afghanistan or Somalia.
This is a drugs bust in Kingston, Jamaica.
Police in Jamaica are calling for nationwide tranquility,
urging people to remain calm
following the arrest of a reputed drug baron and gang leader.
A few miles away,
tourists are sipping rum and smoking weed in resort hotels.
And, to be fair, this is no ordinary drugs bust.
This is the massive military operation
it took to bring down Dudus Coke, also known as “the President.”
His real name is Christopher Michael Coke.
Now the man considered to be
one of the world’s most dangerous drug kingpins
has been captured and brought to justice.
This is how a narco warlord
mixed drugs, violence, and political connections
to wield power throughout Jamaican society.
This is the story of Dudus Coke,
aka the secret president of Jamaica.
[THE WAR ON DRUGS SHOW]
[THE SECRET PRESIDENT OF JAMAICA]
Dudus Coke’s rise to power is rooted in the brutal gang violence
that has scarred Jamaica for half a century—
and how this violence has been manipulated and encouraged
by the country’s political elite.
When Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962,
the country quickly came to be dominated by two political parties—
the left-leaning PNP and the more pro-American Jamaican Labour Party.
In particular, two leaders,
Michael Manley of the PNP
and Edward Seaga of Labour,
divided power between them,
swapping stints as prime minister for decades.
On the Michael Manley campaign trail,
it’s a day of spot meetings
deep in the agricultural heartland of rural Jamaica.
He caps his message with a cry of, “Forward with socialism,”
but later denies that he aims to establish
a second communist Cuba in the Caribbean.
These two men emerged as the first political leaders
in independent Jamaica.
They had a kind of messianic aura about them.
People looked to them for new paths
for the independent Jamaican society.
And this political rivalry played out on the streets.
Each party made alliances with gangster bosses, known as dons,
who ran certain neighborhoods.
The semi-official deal was that
the don would deliver the votes of the people in their area,
and, in return, they could run organized crime syndicates
with protection from the police.
The Jamaican don really evolved for us as a political enforcer.
If you happened to be residing in a PNP community or a JLP community,
then the enforcer’s job is to enforce that that political loyalty sticks,
whether you like it or not.
These alliances between politicians and gangsters
would erupt into open gang warfare,
particularly in the run-up to elections,
as each party tried to intimidate the other's supporters.
One of the most important aspects of the election
has been the violence that’s marked the campaign.
Whilst politicians have argued,
gunmen have been shooting it out in the streets.
As the murder rate spiraled out of control,
rumors circulated that weapons were being supplied by the CIA
and Cuban paramilitaries.
Neighborhoods became known as garrisons—
literal fortresses which police couldn’t enter,
with gang bosses wielding almost complete control.
And just as the violence was getting so bad
that not even Bob Marley could fix it,
something happened to make it even worse—
the war on drugs.
This is crack cocaine...
seized a few days ago by drug enforcement agents
in a park just across the street from the White House.
Let there be no mistake, this stuff is poison.
In the 1980s, cocaine and crack cocaine
exploded in popularity across America.
Jamaica sits exactly halfway between Colombia and Southern Florida
and became a key trafficking hub.
This fundamentally changed the balance of power
between the politicians and the dons.
Instead of the gangsters waiting for handouts
and building contracts from the government,
they now found themselves at the center of
a multibillion-dollar trade.
By 1980, there is this influx of cocaine
coming through the Caribbean Corridor into the United States.
And these political enforcers,
they are now making a lot of cash from trafficking marijuana
and trafficking cocaine.
The most important garrison community in Jamaica at the time
was the West Kingston ghetto of Tivoli Gardens.
As the cocaine trade began to boom,
Tivoli was controlled by a gang known as the Shower Posse,
strongly allied to the Jamaican Labour Party.
The Shower Posse got its name because of its brutality.
The UZI and the TEC-9,
those were the guns that the Shower Posse really love.
They would take out their opponents by showering bullets.
Jamaican gangs like the Shower Posse
and their rivals, the Spangler Posse,
spread out across the US and the UK.
Unlike the Colombian and Mexican trafficking groups,
who concentrated on the wholesale side of the cocaine business,
the Jamaican gangs also began
taking control of street corner dealing in American cities.
And this brought them into bloody conflict
with local American dealers.
The Jamaican gangs were used to fighting full-scale street battles
with automatic weapons
and brought a whole new level of violence
to the American gang wars.
The US was already experiencing
a spike in homicides throughout the 1980s.
But the arrival of the Shower Posse and other Jamaican groups
is thought to have accelerated this,
with estimates of them being responsible for over 1,400 homicides
by the late 80s.
This was when Dudus took control of the Shower Posse
and massively expanded its drug trafficking operations.
It’s also when people started calling him the President.
Dudus dramatically reorganized
the Shower Posse’s operations in the US,
adopting a franchise model where individual cells
were free to run themselves across America,
as long as they sent money and guns back to Jamaica.
But, back in Tivoli Gardens, his authority was absolute.
He is the supreme leader of Tivoli Gardens,
this almost state within the Jamaican state.
The entrances to the garrison were blocked by barricades,
so police couldn’t enter.
The Shower Posse were the law.
And this is where the story gets complex
because, for a murderous gangster,
Dudus can also claim to have helped his community.
Dudus ran significant charity and welfare programs in Tivoli,
including after school clubs,
help for the elderly, and food handouts.
And through legitimate companies,
he put on major music festivals featuring Jamaica’s biggest stars,
as well as receiving over $1 million in government contracts,
through which he employed local people.
He provided access to things
which the Jamaican state has either been unwilling
or incapable of providing.
So there was a healthcare facility in that community,
there’s a sports complex, a very good one, by the way,
in that community.
He was loved in the community.
He was respected, but he was also feared.
Many people in Tivoli appear to have genuine loyalty
and even love for Dudus.
The Crips, we have Bloods
that are bigger terrorists than Dudus.
Leave him alone.
We’re not give up with Dudus.
We love him bad,
and we are going to die for him.
He’s name-checked in songs
by everyone from reggae legends like Bunny Wailer
to UK grime MCs like Skepta.
On the other hand,
Dudus was unquestionably responsible for murders
and extreme violence.
In his trial, people testified that
his form of justice involved cutting people who crossed him
with hatchets and chainsaws.
And eventually, Dudus’ power
brought him to the attention of the DEA.
Secret memorandums were drawn up
whereby Jamaican police would run wiretaps on the President,
but the operation would be run through Washington.
The investigation took over five years
and involved the US giving Jamaican police over $3 million.
But eventually, in 2009, the US issued an extradition request.
The then prime minister of the day, Bruce Golding,
happened to also be a member of parliament in Western Kingston,
which is where Tivoli Gardens is.
And Coke is from that area,
so the prime minister was hesitant with the United States
What you saw happening was a kind of international relations standoff.
These scandals proved too much for the government,
and eventually they sent in the police.
But Dudus commanded loyalty across Tivoli
and had an army of gunmen to back him up.
The police literally couldn’t enter the garrison to arrest him,
so the army moved in.
My fellow Jamaicans, good evening.
This afternoon, the Cabinet, in emergency session,
took the decision to advise the governor-general
to issue a proclamation
declaring a state of public emergency
effective 6:00 pm today.
The Americans supplied a military drone,
and soldiers even fired artillery into Tivoli housing projects.
A lot of human rights violations happened in that process.
Innocent persons certainly got caught up and were killed.
Several residents gave horrific stories
of what they had to undergo during that incursion.
They won’t let us out. We can’t come out and buy food.
We are hungry.
Can’t come out.
No one ever charged Dudus for murder,
racketeering, or political corruption.
This was a drug bust,
organized by the DEA on trafficking charges.
But it was a drug bust in which the army was deployed,
over 70 people were killed,
and which caused a political scandal across Jamaican society.
To police here, he was a drug dealer,
gun smuggler, and leader of a gang called the Shower Posse.
Coke was arraigned Friday in a Manhattan federal court.
He pleaded not guilty to federal drug and weapons charges.
Dudus eventually wound up in court in New York
and was sentenced to 23 years.
Not only is the don system still flourishing,
but despite all the people killed
and all the millions spent bringing down the President,
the drugs are still flowing into the US.
In fact, as America has poured resources into its southern border,
the Caribbean is now seeing a new uptick in drug smuggling,
particularly from the emerging narco-state of Venezuela.
Jamaica itself voted to decriminalize cannabis in 2015.
But as long as the American war on drugs continues,
its gangsters will continue to get rich,
rule the garrisons, and corrupt the island’s politics.
We’d like to congratulate drugs for winning the war on drugs.