KINGSTON — A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable says the mayor of Jamaica’s biggest city acknowledged forging an alliance of convenience with an alleged drug baron to reduce crime in a sprawling patchwork of gritty slums.
The September 2009 cable says that Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie told a U.S. Embassy officer that his administration collaborated for years with Christopher “Dudus” Coke to fight crime, particularly in the powerful slum leader’s stronghold of West Kingston, the home constituency of Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
McKenzie, an influential figure in the ruling Jamaica Labor Party, warned of a doomsday scenario if Washington continued to push for the extradition of Coke, according to the memo, which apparently was written by Isiah L. Parnell, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission. It was released by WikiLeaks and published by the British newspaper The Guardian.
Coke was the alleged crime “don” of Tivoli Gardens, providing services and a lawless, violent sort of order in the slums.
McKenzie “predicted that there would be ‘severe repercussions’ and ‘collateral damage’ if Coke was arrested and that this would “risk destroying everything the government was trying to do on the economy and crime,’” said the U.S. communiqué, leaked Dec. 22.
In fact, at least 76 people died in battles between drug gangs and authorities when Golding finally agreed to extradite Coke after fighting a U.S. request for nine months, even to the point of hiring a U.S. lobbyist to oppose it.
The diplomatic cable was written in August 2009, days after the U.S. first asked Jamaica to extradite Coke to face federal drug and weapons-trafficking charges in New York. The U.S. indictment accused Coke of leading the “Shower Posse’’ — a gang with agents in Jamaica and the United States that was named for its tendency to spray victims with bullets.
Jamaica has a long history of politicians forging alliances with gangsters in vote-rich ghettos. The political parties built the gangs. Dons received government contracts and, in exchange, delivered the votes of their people. Slum dwellers were caught in the middle.
Still, the image of a powerful Jamaican mayor working for years on crime-fighting strategies with a man portrayed by the U.S. Justice Department as one of the world’s most dangerous drug kingpins is stark, especially since Kingston is a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere.
McKenzie did not return messages left at his office in the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation.
The government’s information minister, Daryl Vaz, did not immediately provide comment about the WikiLeaks cable.
Washington’s extradition request for Coke immediately became a problem for the Jamaican government because the reputed gang leader was widely known for loyalty to the governing party. The U.S. cable says that Coke was reputedly close to leading figures within Golding’s Jamaica Labor Party, including McKenzie.
In the cable, McKenzie apparently warned the U.S. embassy officer that his “contacts in the communities” had told him personally that they “would not take this lying down.”
The leaked cable said that McKenzie’s fears of repercussions were not groundless.
“He is easily the highest profile figure whose extradition has been requested in many years and his long-standing ties to the JLP have put McKenzie, Golding and other leading party figures in an extremely awkward position,” the cable read.
It also stated that “Coke’s gang provides social and welfare services and turns out the JLP vote in elections, while his business interests profit from lucrative government contracts.”
In another leaked U.S. cable that first appeared Dec. 22 on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian, Golding’s wife told a U.S. Embassy official that she believed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was under the “pernicious influence” of New York Representative Charles Rangel regarding the extradition request for Coke.
In what was described as an “often surreal and disjointed conversation,” Lorna Golding asserted that Rangel was a sympathizer of the opposition People’s National Party and was “whispering in Secretary Clinton’s ear” to hobble her husband’s government.
The blistering behind-the-scenes diplomatic assessment from December 2009 said Lorna Golding’s “rambling comments and penchant for sharing conspiracy theories” during a tea with an embassy officer was consistent with a “growing sense among many of indecisiveness and a lack of direction on the part of the PM and the JLP.”
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Yolonda Kerney declined to address specifics or confirm the authenticity of the leaked communiques on Dec. 22 but said that cables are “often preliminary, incomplete expressions of a single officer’s assessments” and they should not be seen as representing U.S. policy.
Photo: Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie