Crackdown on Jamaican drugs gangs promised
Jamaica will launch a sustained assault on gangs that control poor communities across the island and fuel one of the world's highest murder rates, the prime minister has said.
Bruce Golding said last week's bloody raid on the West Kingston stronghold of reputed drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke will mark a turning point in the government's approach to criminal networks - many of which have benefited from ties to the two major political parties for decades.
"Gunmen who no longer flee when the security forces approach but engage them with vicious firepower must be confronted with the full force of the law. The time for equivocation is over," Mr Golding said.
He was addressing parliament as lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to censure him over his handling of the US extradition request for Coke. Mr Golding, whose Jamaica Labour Party has long counted on the support of gunmen inside Coke's Tivoli Gardens slum, opposed the request for nine months before reversing under pressure that threatened his political career.
Opposition leaders have complained that Mr Golding's wavering gave Coke and his supporters too much time to prepare for a confrontation that killed 73 civilians and three security officers over four days of fighting. Coke remains at large.
In his address to parliament, Mr Golding declined to say when the new anti-gang operations will begin, citing security concerns.
While Tivoli Gardens ranks among the most notorious slums, violent gangs are also deeply entrenched in Spanish Town, just west of Kingston, and the north-western coastal parish of St James, which includes the resort city of Montego Bay.
Fighting between the gangs for control of drug trafficking and extortion rackets was blamed for the vast majority of the 1,660 homicides last year on the island of 2.8 million people.
Many of the gangs have roots in political violence during the 1970s, when factions armed criminals to help intimidate election opponents, and affiliations with the two major parties have continued to provide a measure of protection. But Mr Golding said any such ties of loyalty will be irrelevant to his government's crackdown.
Coke is wanted in New York to face charges that he trafficked cocaine and marijuana as well as weapons between Jamaica and the US. Also known as "President" to the people of his slum, he served as community leader and enforcer in a gritty neighbourhood in an area the government acknowledged it had long neglected.