Days of fighting and at least 44 dead are a result of the Jamaican government's attempt to respond to a request from the United States to extradite an accused drug and gun kingpin to face charges in New York.
The alleged criminal "don" in question is Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is based in an area of Kingston, Jamaica's capital, that is part of the constituency of the country's prime minister, Bruce Golding, and a stronghold of his ruling party, the Jamaica Labor Party. The JLP narrowly won the 2007 elections. Armed criminal gangs play a role on election days in bringing out the vote and helping determine the winners of Jamaican elections.
The ties of Mr. Golding and his party to Mr. Coke were part of the reason, in addition to the charges against the gang leader, that the United States put pressure on the prime minister to clean up his government's act by extraditing Mr. Coke. It was for the same reason that Mr. Golding was for some time reluctant to do so -- that, and the fact that Mr. Coke's gang is large, well-armed and firmly installed in the neighborhood.
On Sunday Jamaican police and military went into the area in an effort to capture Mr. Coke to hand him over to the Americans. His people fought to protect him and, in the fray, schools and businesses were closed and some businesses looted by crowds. Mr. Coke has not yet been apprehended.
Mr. Golding has publicly reiterated his intention to bring gang rule in Kingston to an end. Beyond the scores of dead, an unknown number of people have been wounded and hundreds have been detained. One concern is the impact of the violence on Jamaica's tourist industry, which represents a fifth of the island's gross domestic product and much of its employment.
Mr. Coke is probably worth capturing and extraditing to the United States, although it's fair to question whether Jamaican authorities are paying too high a price to achieve that. It is necessary to put this case alongside the situation of Mexico and the United States for understanding. The United States is plagued by drug imports from Mexico, responding to the large market here. Mexico is rocked by violence among its drug gangs and the government, made possible by weapons exported from America.
It is necessary to grasp the full dimensions of this very large problem, between the United States and Mexico and between the United States and Jamaica, to put the present violence in Kingston in perspective. In the meantime, the Jamaican capital is wracked by deadly violence, which leaves scars all around.