The US and Caribbean political delinquency

For most of this year, the United States has been visibly in pursuit not only of persons in the Caribbean allegedly involved in drug trafficking, but in so doing, the authorities seem to have been seeking to ensure that those perceived to be involved in behaviour deemed unacceptable, do not received the protection of  Caribbean governments. In the wider Caribbean, the saga of what seemed to be deliberate temporising by the Jamaican authorities in the Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke extradition request, has had the most dramatic consequences including the resignation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding, the selection of a new Jamaica Labour Party leader and putative Prime Minister, and the likely calling of general elections, which many had thought would take place in 2012.

There is a long history of United States-Jamaica relations involving Jamaican nationals perceived as being involved in the drug trade, and leading either to requests for transfers to the United States, or deportation after the offenders have served their sentences. Not long ago the well-known singer Buju Banton was apprehended, charged with extensive involvement in the drug trade and convicted and sentenced, the US legal process paying no heed to pleas for leniency because of his status as a Jamaican musical icon, famous, among other things, for a beautiful rendition of the 23rd Psalm. But the events surrounding Dudus Coke, a person without Buju’s international reputation took, as is now well known, a different turn as Coke, a notorious individual in Jamaica, seemed to be given much sympathetic consideration by the political authorities there.

It is now accepted by most observers, and seemingly by the Jamaican public, that the efforts apparently made by the Jamaican authorities, from Prime Minister Golding down, stemmed from the fact that the wanted man was a significant player in Golding’s constituency, a so-called urban garrison constituency held for many years by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and which Golding inherited. To Jamaicans, the term garrison has connoted a constituency dominated largely by one political party, organized along quasi-military lines with the appropriate armaments, and controlled by the representative in tandem with those dominating the drug trade with which such constituencies have come to be associated. Golding, originally a member of Parliament from the more rural constituency of West St Catherine, inherited from his own longstanding JLP father, seems to have felt on uncertain ground in the urban environment, still, in the eyes of many, controlled by Seaga.

In that context, Golding certainly seems to have had a sense of political weakness or even isolation; a sense that must have been reinforced when as Prime Minister, he took his courage in his hands, and ordered a police-military invasion of his own constituency in search of Dudus, to much criticism from Seaga himself. The conclusion must be that Golding’s feeling of political weakness, inhibited him from treating what would have been a routine extradition matter, in the appropriate manner. So domestic political considerations came to dominate, and then to sully, Jamaican-American relations. Domestically, Golding’s recalcitrance alienated more and more of the electorate in his own country, leading to a strong sense that he had compromised his own government, and compromised too, good Jamaican-American relations by which his fellow countrymen place great store.

It would appear that Golding made one fundamental error, understandable in these Caribbean states where politicians often feel that they can influence legal processes. Obviously he misunderstood the tradition of separation of powers that exists between the US legal process and the American political process. He therefore came to believe that political lobbying, in this case using a legal person with standing in his party, but not in the administration, could create a change of mind on the part of the American legal authorities. The roadblocks to this effort in effect paralysed Golding and led to condemnation at home and abroad.

In the course of the Dudus affair, the diplomatic visas of a Minister of the Jamaican government were revoked, and there are now indications that further action is to be taken against other Jamaican politicians. But contemporaneously, at the other end of the Region in St Lucia, after what has turned out to be much prevarication by the authorities, it has become known that, to their knowledge, including that of Prime Minister Stephenson King, the diplomatic and personal visas of Minister of Housing Richard Frederick, have been revoked by the American authorities. This has led to his resignation as Minister, much concern as to possible next steps by the Americans, and gathering internal disturbance within the ruling United Workers Party. Within the country there is now a strong sense that, by way of damage control, Prime Minister King will call a general election in the near future, ahead of the last general election date of December, though constitutionally the government is entitled to go on until March 2012.

The link between the Jamaican case and that of St Lucia is, fortuitously, indicated in released Wikileaks Papers. There, it is indicated, that as far back as early 2006,much concern was being expressed by the American Embassy in Barbados (which serves the Eastern Caribbean), about Frederick, continuously described during his participation in a by-election in March of that year which he won, as an “individual suspected of drug trafficking”. The allegation was made that he “is currently under investigation by the U.S. and St Lucia law enforcement authorities for involvement in a trafficking operation that uses St Lucia as a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine”. What has led, a little over five years later, to the revocation of Frederick’s diplomatic visas is up to now unknown. But both the public and his party seem to have drawn certain conclusions, Frederick having been recently refused permission by his Party’s authorities to sit on the platform during a mass political rally ahead of now expected elections.

Richard Frederick was asked by the Prime Minister to “clarify” his situation with the American authorities. But it is surely likely to be the case that they will find as an impediment to any political intervention the same rampart of the American separation of powers that Prime Minister Golding has found.

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